Planar Energy Devices Secures $4 Million Venture Funding

ORLANDO, FL--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Power-storage start-up Planar Energy Devices, a spinout of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), has secured $4 million in a Series A venture-financing commitment from Princeton, NJ-based Battelle Ventures and its Knoxville,TN-based affiliate fund, Innovation Valley Partners (IVP).

Planar "is developing the next generation of thin-film lithium battery technologies by bringing together innovative and scalable technologies from a variety of research organizations," explained founder and company CEO Scott Faris, who noted that Planar had received $1.3 million, with another $2.7 million committed, "based on milestones to be achieved."

Faris said, "While there is a lot of experimentation with new exotic energy-storage materials, the company's investors and I believe that lithium has significantly more potential than today's batteries utilize and can be to power storage what silicon is to semiconductors."

"Thin-film batteries are projected to grow into a multi-billion-dollar component of the overall $55-billion energy-storage market, driven by wireless communications and such applications as smart cards, RFID and sensors," said Battelle Ventures General Partner Kef Kasdin. "We believe that Planar has great opportunity for success in these target markets, as well as in opening entirely new market applications for energy-storage solutions."

Kasdin, who, with Faris and IVP General Partner Glenn Kline, sits on the Planar Board of Directors, added, "we look for capital-efficient investment opportunities where there is significantly differentiated, breakthrough technology addressing key problems in a sector, and Planar meets those criteria."

Noting that the $220-million fund's sole limited partner, Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), manages or co-manages facilities of the U.S. Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, she said that the way this investment developed is "an excellent example of how we can leverage our unique position and act as 'founder capitalists,' building companies from the ground up."

Kasdin explained that she had become aware of a differentiated power-storage technology created at NREL and that Battelle Ventures and IVP had funded a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement that validated it and financed prototype development.

She said that she hired Faris, who had been CEO of Waveguide Solutions, a developer of planar lightwave circuit and microsystem products that was a spinout of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and COO of Ocean Optics, a precision-optical-component and fiber-optic-instrument spinout of the University of South Florida, to help develop the business plan for an NREL spinout to commercialize the technology and manufacture thin-film batteries.

She then recruited him, she said, for the chief executive position and introduced Planar to researchers doing complementary work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee. Today, Planar is a licensee of both NREL and ORNL technologies.

"Battelle Ventures and Innovation Valley Partners have the right combination of venture and operating experience to appreciate the challenges of early-stage tech companies," said Faris, a former director of the Florida Seed Capital Fund.

"Having been entrepreneurs themselves, they understand it's not about only about financial engineering, but also about a journey that involves an often bumpy and unknown road to create jobs and wealth from superior technologies," he added.

"Had Planar Energy Devices started on its own in Florida," he continued, "I doubt it would have been successful in raising local capital or attracting out-of-state capital, given the complexity and early stage of the transaction. I do, however, see later-stage Florida-based funds interested in Planar as we achieve commercial success."

"But, while Florida lacks in seed financing for technology companies, it does have the right university resources and a great talent pool from the state's large defense-contractor base," said Faris, noting that the company has received a $50,000 Florida High Tech Corridor Council (FHTCC) industry matching grant for a Planar-University of Central Florida (UCF) collaborative research project.

"Planar has great promise to deliver technology that is safe and highly compact, and greatly extends the cyclic stability of batteries," said FHTCC President Randy Berridge. "The thin-film devices have the capability of opening new markets in medical technology, aerospace, defense, transportation and electronics. This is exactly the type of innovation we like to support in the Corridor."

Said Tom O'Neal, associate vice president for Research and Commercialization at UCF, "FHTCC, is dedicated to attracting, retaining and growing high-tech industry and the workforce to support it within the 23-county corridor that covers the service areas of UCF, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida."

He said that Planar also is taking advantage of the university's technology incubator program, which currently accommodates more than 50 young technology companies adjacent to the university.

"We couldn't be doing what we're doing this cost-effectively in Silicon Valley," said Faris.

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