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U.S. SBA Funding Supports Kent State-based Flexible Electronics Cluster

Posted Sep. 21, 2010

Northeast Ohio’s emerging flexible electronics industry recently received a boost in the form of a $499,514 contract from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Innovative Economies initiative.  The funding was awarded to NorTech, a regional nonprofit economic development organization, leading efforts to develop regional innovation clusters in Northeast Ohio.  NorTech will use the funds to focus on small business growth and job creation in the region’s flexible electronics industry.

“Maximizing a region’s economic assets is one of the best ways to create long term job growth, and that’s what SBA’s new Innovative Economies pilot initiative is doing,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills. “Today we are announcing funding support for 10 regional economic clusters.  SBA’s support will help expand the opportunities and the role small businesses play in these regional collaborations, which are enhancing the ability to create jobs locally and compete on a national and global scale.  I am thrilled to announce the Northeast Ohio flexible electronics cluster’s participation.  They are creating jobs in the community and making Northeast Ohio an industry leader. ”

The flexible electronics cluster is focused on developing low-cost manufacturing of electronic devices printed on flexible substrates.  Northeast Ohio is home to companies and research institutions with technical expertise in polymers and advanced materials, flexible displays, printed sensors and circuits, flexible photovoltaics, and organic light emitting diode (OLED) lighting, all of which are developing a new class of flexible electronic devices.  Product applications for these devices can be applied to medical, advanced energy, military, industrial and consumer markets around the world.

“We are honored to be part of a select group of 10 regions that received these funds out of 173 applicants nation-wide,” said Rebecca O. Bagley, president and chief executive officer of NorTech.  “The Northeast Ohio region continues to transition to a more diversified, technology-based economy. The SBA funding will help us continue this diversification by leveraging the region’s existing research strengths and manufacturing base to create good jobs for our skilled workforce.” 

Northeast Ohio’s flexible electronics cluster is rooted in the world-renown, breakthrough work of the Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI) at Kent State University and the globally recognized advances in polymer science by the University of Akron. 

“In the 1970s, the first twisted nematic liquid crystal displays were invented at Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute, which initiated the multi-billion dollar flat panel display industry,” said Kent State President Lester A. Lefton.  “With the LCD applications in flexible electronics, Northeast Ohio’s economy and workforce will benefit from the next evolution of this technology.” 
“The University of Akron will continue to play an active role in the flexible electronics cluster, given our world class polymer science and engineering research capabilities and educational commitment to producing top engineering talent for industry in Northeast Ohio,” said Dr. Luis M. Proenza, president of The University of Akron.

A number of spin off companies have been created as a result of the region’s research strength in this sector.  This includes Kent Displays, developer and manufacturer of Reflex™ No Power LCDs for consumer and OEM markets.  Kent Displays was the first spin-off company and licensee of Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute.  Based in Kent, Ohio, the company is a member of Northeast Ohio’s flexible electronics cluster.

“Initiatives funded by this contract will provide a catalyst to attract more resources, capital and talent to Northeast Ohio to fuel the continued expansion of the flexible electronics industry,” said Albert Green, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Kent Displays, Inc.

According to a recent report by the SBA Office of Advocacy, small businesses account for nearly 65% of all new jobs created by the private sector in the U.S.  Dr. Green continued, “Kent Displays has added over 50 new employees since 2007, ranging from scientists to administrative support staff, all of which play an important role in helping us develop, manufacture and market our liquid crystal display products to meet strong global demand.” 

To spur more small business growth and job creation, NorTech will engage in cluster-sourcing, a unique approach to working with small companies to develop joint commercialization projects that result in commercial products.  NorTech will work closely with the Manufacturing and Technology Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Kent State University on this effort.  The SBDC, funded by SBA and the Ohio Department of Development, will receive a portion of the new SBA funding in order to provide grant counseling assistance to small companies as well as identify other small businesses to become part of the flexible electronics value chain.

NorTech is a regional nonprofit technology-based economic development organization serving 21 counties in Northeast Ohio.   As a catalyst for growing Northeast Ohio’s emerging technology industries, NorTech is leading efforts to develop regional innovation clusters that create jobs, attract capital and have a long-term, positive economic impact.  NorTech FlexMatters is a cluster initiative established in 2006 to grow the region’s flexible electronics industry. www.nortech.org