Paint technology company moves from incubator to south of Bondville

Paint technology company moves from incubator to south of Bondville

CHAMPAIGN — A company seeking to commercialize "self-healing" technology for paints and coatings has graduated from the University of Illinois business incubator and moved to a site southwest of Champaign.

Autonomic Materials, which uses technology developed by UI Professor Scott White and colleagues, has relocated to the former Syngenta Crop Protection facility 3 miles south of Bondville.

There, the company plans to continue research and development on paint and coating technologies that help protect cars, bridges, ships, oil refineries and other structures against corrosion.

This month, Autonomic Materials announced it raised $2.4 million to complete its $3.9 million Series B round of funding.

Phoenix Venture Partners, based in San Mateo, Calif., was the lead investor for the latest raise. Its general partner, Zach Jonasson, will join Autonomic's board of directors.

The money will be used to commercialize self-healing additives for paints and coatings — and to branch out into the field of sealants and adhesives, said Chief Executive Officer Joe Giuliani.

In the past 18 months, the company has grown from three to seven employees, and it's looking to hire a principal scientist and development scientist, he said.

"Over the next 12 to 18 months, we plan to double again in size," Giuliani said.

He said he expects to hire more sales, business development and administrative help and eventually more in finance.

In seeking a new home, Autonomic Materials wanted to remain close to the UI, Giuliani said.

"Our first goal was to stay here," he said. "We made a commitment to grow the business locally since the technology came out of the UI."

But there were inducements for Autonomic Materials to go elsewhere.

"Lots of arms were pulling us to go to other states," Giuliani said. "Some were offering incentives to move the business, but we were pretty committed to staying here."

Giuliani said Autonomic Materials has 40 nondisclosure agreements with clients. It's doing development work with 40 percent of those clients and is in talks with the others.

Consequently, Autonomic Materials is working on more than 30 coatings products, he said.

Giuliani said the company does research and development as well as sales and marketing. But it doesn't do its own manufacturing.

Instead, it relies on two companies to make products to its specifications and ship those to customers.

Autonomic's revenue comes from joint development agreements with coatings companies and large end-users that want to develop their own products.

"We have big deals for joint development with one of the top 10 worldwide auto manufacturers," Giuliani said.

The company also has development agreements with a leading paint manufacturer and an oil-and-gas exploration and drilling equipment manufacturer, he said.

Plus, there are applications for the technology on boats, ships, barges, oil and gas tankers and drilling structures — all of which face harsh environments.

"Anywhere there's corrosion, there's potential opportunity for us," Giuliani said.

When structures are treated with coatings that include Autonomic's microencapsulated self-healing agents, the agents can deliver an "automatic healing response" when damage occurs.

As a result, the product lengthens the lifetime of coatings, reducing maintenance costs and limiting the down time associated with recoating.

Autonomic Materials was incorporated in 2005 and was located in the EnterpriseWorks business incubator from 2007 until this fall. Giuliani — a Champaign County native who is a veteran of the coatings industry — joined the company about a year and a half ago.

Giuliani grew up in Rantoul, attended Parkland College and worked as an industrial painter at Kraft Foods in Champaign before majoring in marketing at Illinois State University.

After graduation, he worked for several companies, most recently for Duron Paints as vice president of sales and as vice president of sales and operations.

After retiring from Duron Paints following its sale to Sherwin-Williams in 2004, Giuliani and his family moved back to Champaign County, where his mother still lived.

He was drawn back into business when IllinoisVentures — an investor in Autonomic Materials — recognized he was a good fit for the company.

"I hooked up with John Regan at IllinoisVentures, and he recruited me here," Giuliani said. "I fell in love with the technology. ... This was groundbreaking technology by anybody's stretch. I got cranked up. I had more fuel in the tank, and this was the spark."

At Autonomic Materials, Giuliani joined Magnus Andersson, the company's vice president of business development, and Gerald Wilson, the vice president of technology development.

In a news release, Phoenix's Jonasson called Autonomic Materials' technology "a potential game-changer for the coatings industry and beyond."

He said the high-performance coating chemistries field is a $10 billion worldwide market.

Joining Giuliani and Jonasson on the company's board of directors are Scott White, John Regan and attorney Curt Burwell, whose family was among the Series B investors in Autonomic.

White, a professor of aerospace engineering, is leader of the Autonomous Materials Systems Group at the UI's Beckman Institute — the group that developed the self-healing technology.

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