JOHN DAVIES: Route of innovation includes twists, turns

2013-02-10T00:00:00Z JOHN DAVIES: Route of innovation includes twists, turnsBy John Davies
February 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Are creative entrepreneurs self-taught?

Ask Eugene Smotkin, who teaches chemistry at Northeastern University in Boston and launched his company at the Purdue Technology Center. He believes this is a certainty based upon his experience with NuVant Systems.

Now in a manufacturing facility in Crown Point, his business has transitioned government R&D results to product sales. NuVant electronic devices, originally designed and assembled for government R&D, are now distributed worldwide.

NuVant potentiostats and galvanostats have a broad range of applications including corrosion, batteries, fuel cells, chemical production, sensors and more.

Moreover, NuVant is poised to be part of the renewable energy economy. Since June, his team has built nearly a 50-foot casting table to manufacture state-of-the-art conductive cloths and papers for fuel cells, flow batteries and other sectors. “There are perhaps three of us in the world producing this level of quality,” he added.

He considers ELAT the largest potential “upside” for NuVant. To date, he has not earned significant revenue from this technology. But he is preparing for his first big sale to a Brazilian company. Still, his main revenue stream from electronic devices is up 66 percent over last year.

His story reminds us of the twists and turns of every entrepreneur since Joseph Bailly opened a fur trading post on the Little Calumet River as our first permanent settler.

Smotkin had eight U.S. patents and 12 international patents when he started self-teaching himself the basics of analog and digital electronics. He then came up with the basic designs for all NuVant electronics.

He eventually teamed together with three Lake County residents to flesh out the electronics team and take the products worldwide.

This is part of the amazing story that led to him to being inducted as a Fellow into The Society of Innovators.

He founded NuVant Systems, within his academic laboratory, while a faculty member at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1999. He moved to the Purdue Technology Center in 2006.

Several years later, he needed to develop and market “something practical and affordable” to provide base revenue for NuVant. He called a colleague at Penn State who told him: “What the world needs is a low cost, user friendly potentiostat!” His team produced several products and distributed them. They were failures!

So Gene decided to learn electronics and do the basic design of these products himself. After processing years of “painful” customer feedback and assembling his current team, NuVant produced the products that are now sold worldwide. “I’ve grateful to the PTC for getting me started,” he said.

In the early days, when a challenge loomed large, he once thought it was the end of the world! “Now we innovate every day,” he laughed.

John Davies is managing director of The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, which was launched by Ivy Tech Northwest, and is president of Woodlands Communications. The opinions are the writer's.

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