UI-incubated company to use $3M in new funds to scale up product

UI-incubated company to use $3M in new funds to scale up product

CHAMPAIGN — After launching its first commercially available product, a company that makes micro-encapsulated self-healing agents for paints and adhesives has raised about $3 million as part its third round of funding.

This round was led by Solvay, a Belgian chemical company, and will be used to help Autonomic Materials scale up its first product, CEO Gordon Fischer said.

"We're finishing up the last part of our Series C at the end of this month," he said.

Last year, Autonomic Materials introduced its first commercially available product, a self-healing paint intended for use in industrial facilities, and started producing it in commercial quantities this year.

"It's for any structure that's made of metal that's prone to corrosion," said Fischer, who has been with Autonomic Materials for about two years.

Autonomic Materials is going to use the new money to market the product, increase staff, and scale up the product, Fischer said.

The company was incorporated by Dr. Scott White, a University of Illinois professor, in 2005, and then started at the UI Research Park's EnterpriseWorks incubator in 2007.

It raised its Series A round of funding around 2009, and then its Series B in 2012, when it "graduated" from EnterpriseWorks and moved to a former Syngenta facility 3 miles south of Bondville southwest of Champaign.

It now has nine employees, Fischer said, including two of the earliest, Magnus Andersson, the company's vice president of business development, and Gerald Wilson, the vice president of technology development.

"I applaud the perseverance and persistence of Magnus Andersson...and Gerald Wilson...in working tirelessly as entrepreneurs and scientists bringing their revolutionary product to the market," said Laura Frerichs, director of the Research Park. "It is a long journey to take scientific discovery to commercial product, and AMI has been able to pursue that path in Champaign-Urbana with low costs of operations, revolutionary engineering and a passionate team."

The company's first product is conceptually similar to what Dr. White developed a decade ago, Fischer said.

"But there's very little that's the same," he said. "What Scott was working with, the chemicals cost more than gold and would never be commercially viable and would have presented insurmountable challenges to scale up."

For an industrial product that's a "sea change in performance, it always takes more time than one thinks," Fischer said.

"It wasn't a lack of hard work," he said. "It has to do with having enough money, enough resources, and transitioning something from academia, where you care less about whether it's commercially viable," and then getting it "to the point where it's inexpensive enough to sell and simple enough to manufacture in large scale."

While Autonomic Materials doesn't manufacture its product, it uses its facility for research and development, small-scale sample manufacturing and administrative work.

It has many ongoing R&D projects, including some that could eventually lead to products aimed at consumers, such as a deck paint that could heal itself and prevent peeling.

"If it's a very, very thin scratch, it would close, up to a point," he said. "The polymer flows out of these little capsules and reseals the wood that's been exposed. The damage isn't going to disappear, and if it's a larger scratch, it would prevent it from growing by sealing the edge."

The technology is similar to what is used in carbonless copy paper.

"What was in the sheet beneath was little capsules of ink" that would rupture when pressed, Fischer said.

He praised the latest round of funding from a large corporation such as Solvay.

"That's great for us. It shows that a major company sees some value in us," he said.