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Plextronics, Inc. on
Source: Pop City ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Plextronics Inc of Pittsburgh, PA

"The world is moving toward a new energy generation," says Plextronics president and CEO Andy Hannah, "looking not only at energy conservation but energy production." Hannah's innovative high-tech company is tackling both problems simultaneously by creating new sources of high-efficiency lighting and producing green energy with cutting-edge solar cells.

When you ask Hannah, who helped found the company, exactly what Plextronics does, the answer is simple and yet oddly futuristic: "We design inks that are conductors and semiconductors, that you can put in typical printing equipment and print electronic devices. So depending on what kind of ink we use, you can print circuitry. Or put in different ink and print solar cells. Or use different ink and print a light. You can print light, power and circuitry using inks."

The scientific discoveries that led to the company's birth in 2002 took place here in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Mellon University laboratory of Rick McCullough, Hannah's co-founder. As the company has grown, they've remained committed to the city.

"When we decided to spin this technology out into a company," says Hannah, "we had to make the decision of where we were going to build the company." Pittsburgh was their choice for two reasons. First, he says, "when you print something, you have to put it on something. We put our materials on glass, on aluminum, on plastic and eventually we'll put it on thin steel." Pittsburgh is home to PPG, Alcoa and US Steel -- companies Hannah expects to work closely with in the future. Secondly, they were drawn to the cluster of chemistry companies in the Pittsburgh area and the impressive pool of scientific talent those companies attract.

Plextronics is young and their industry is still evolving. The company estimates that the market for printed electronics was approximately $1 billion in 2006 and will exceed $300 billion within 20 years. It seems Plextronics is poised to control a huge portion of that market. Right now, the company is thriving despite the sluggish economy.

But the recession has led other companies to outsource their development work to Plextronics, bolstering the company's profits. "Everybody's focused on new energy markets and so they're not slowing down their investment in that area," Hannah says. "We partner with a lot of big companies and those companies are actually saying, 'Hey we'd like you to do more, because we're not hiring additional people. If we want to move things along, we can pay you money and we want you to do more.'"

Timing, it seems, is on Andy Hannah's side. "Sometimes you need to be lucky," he says, "as well as being really good at what you do." Thus far, it seems Plextronics is both