Thursday, August 02, 2012
Posted by John Dearborn
Northeast Ohio has long been a place where hard-working tech entrepreneurs can thrive and grow. While this can involve sequencing genomes or turning waste products into energy, the entrepreneurs at Darkside Scientific saw an opportunity to make their mark by introducing innovative applications that capitalize on the region’s manufacturing history and infrastructure.
Darkside Scientific’s main product is LumiLor. An electroluminescent paint coating, LumiLor glows in bright, neon colors when energized by an electrical current. The effect resembles a bundle of long-lasting glow sticks—or a firefly on steroids. However, the environmentally friendly coating can also be applied to various shapes and materials, including wood, metals, fiberglass and plastics.
As you might imagine, the practical applications of this product are limitless. (In fact, one can just picture what the team at West Coast Customs—talk about an entrepreneurial success story—could do with this technology.) Very soon, Darkside Scientific anticipates it will launch two LumiLor-based ventures. The first is LumiLor/Rolls, a network of partners/ aftermarket automotive shops who will customize cars, motorcycles, and bicycles with the paint coating. Later in the year, Darkside anticipates launching LumiLor/Rocks, a custom line of solid-body electric guitars augmented with the technology.
Both traditional manufacturing practices and forward-thinking technology were essential to the invention and development of LumiLor, according to Darkside Scientific CEO, Shawn Mastrian. You can even say the company is a classic “guys-in-a-garage” story. “Andy, who invented LumiLor, is a really smart guy with a background in the auto body business and electronics,” he says. “But literally, he’s been working on this for two years in a storage shed.”
Initially, Andy had created a spray-on photoluminescent system to customize a friend’s bike. However, like most photoluminescent products, its glowing effect was only temporary. “It was actually a good-looking bike, but Andy started thinking, ‘It’s only interesting 15 minutes after you’re in the light,’” Shawn remarks. "'What if I could do this with electroluminescence?'"
Despite having a great idea—and technical know-how—Andy wasn’t sure how to take LumiLor to market. That’s where Shawn’s diverse background came in and made him the perfect partner. “I started off doing management training in a factory-type environment,” he says. “I’ve experienced delivering and understanding the inner workings of manufacturing. I’d also done IT consulting and sales for various technology companies. I was basically collecting business acumen.”
Though Shawn says Darkside Scientific has garnered notice from investors and many potential customers, the company still needs capital. He came across my organization while researching his options and very quickly realized that JumpStart could provide his company with much more than money.
“Growing businesses like ours need a lot of resources,” Shawn says. “As we figured out what was available, it became very clear to us—because we’re just three guys doing the best we can—that a lot of our deficiencies as an organization could be handled addressed with outside support.”
Consequently, Darkside joined JumpStart’s mentoring program, which pairs clients seeking knowledge and expertise with mentors – all of whom are accomplished business leaders, investors and/or entrepreneurs themselves. These advisors are currently helping Shawn and Andy strategize their IP. “Our mentors help us cement our value and make sure the big guys play nicely with us,” Shawn says. “The concern of a small company is that large companies could just lawyer us to death. We want to make sure that fate doesn’t befall us."
Still, access to entrepreneurial support is just one of the reasons why Shawn believes Northeast Ohio is a great place to grow his company. “A lot of major coating companies either have headquarters or a presence here,” he says. “It’s huge for us to be around them.” Shawn thinks Darkside Scientific eventually could partner with one of these companies—or even license its technology to them. But in the meantime, becoming a part of the region’s rich tradition of manufacturing progress—and harnessing its resources to facilitate innovation—is helping Darkside grow. The hard work these two are putting in, when coupled with their passion, ensures you should be on the lookout for a paint job like none you’ve ever seen before—coming soon to your neighborhood.
John Dearborn is President of JumpStart and brings experience as an entrepreneur, founder and CEO at companies across the US and Europe over the last 25 years to the pursuit of economic transformation in Northeast Ohio.