You Are My Angel Investor

You probably don’t know it, but you are my angel investor. This piece is dedicated to every US taxpayer — congratulations! You took a big risk and it is paying off. You didn’t get any stock, but I hope to show that you’ve created tremendous value and it is starting to return dividends.

polySpectra just spun out of the Cyclotron Road program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Cyclotron Road is a hard technology accelerator program, focused on giving first-time entrepreneurs a launchpad to build cleantech and advanced manufacturing companies. The fellowship at Cyclotron Road provided me with two years to think critically about the kind of company I wanted to build, identify market problems, and begin conversations with our first customers. During our time in the program, we were able to take our technology from an academic publication to a prototype of our first product. I can safely say that we would not exist as a company without the Cyclotron Road program. Your tax dollars continue to support us at Berkeley Lab, through the Molecular Foundry, a government-funded user facility for nanoscience. The unique research culture of the Molecular Foundry is actually something money can’t buy.

You’ve been a very generous investor — thank you! As soon as we graduated from the Cyclotron Road program, we were awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation, to further develop the core chemistry behind our new additive manufacturing technology. The most unique thing about this program is that they only fund projects with scientific risk, but they also highly encourage scientists to get out of the building to engage the private sector. Those incentives effectively steer the priorities of their small business awardees towards applications that the market is excited about. The market is picking the winners; the government is just raising the batting average.

In fact, you were supporting me even before I was accepted into the Cyclotron Road program, and before I had even made the discovery that led to the birth of polySpectra. Specifically, you supported me through the NDSEG Fellowship from the Department of Defense. This covered my tuition and living stipend while I was in graduate school at Caltech, which gave me the freedom to work solely on problems that I was interested in. Many of these ideas were fully outside of any existing research efforts that my advisors had, including the core discovery that led to our current technology. You also gave me opportunities to practice applying my inventions to the commercial sector. Many years before I was contacted by Shark Tank, you funded the Department of Energy’s FLoW pitch competition, which was my first opportunity to create and present a business plan based on my research. Without these educational opportunities to try out my own scientific ideas and practice applying them to real-world problems, I would have never gotten started down this path.

So what do you get out of this? What is your return on investment (ROI) as a US taxpayer?

- Follow-on investment from the private sector of 4x the cost of our Cyclotron Road fellowship, which created six high-tech jobs within one month of spinning out and will create many more in the future.
- A breakthrough technology which unlocks the energy-efficient additive manufacturing of high performance advanced materials, with the potential to bolster the American manufacturing sector and promote US energy independence.
- Accelerated US innovation, by enabling the direct additive manufacturing of production-quality materials. Our customers can go from CAD to production parts in a single step, with rapid design-build-test cycles.

But, perhaps those metrics are too soft for you. You’re more of a numbers person. How is this a profitable financial model for the taxpayer?

- Your support led to the creation of a new American-owned small business, which pays both federal and state taxes.
- In addition to these corporate taxes, there is the income tax of our employees and contractors, sales tax on everything we buy and sell, and capital gains tax on our shareholders. That’s a lot, and we’re happy to pay it. Just the income tax paid by our employees and contractors will return more money to the federal government than the grants we’ve received in less than 2 years. That’s a pretty solid ROI for you, America.
- As a bonus, our advanced manufacturing technology uses 10x less electricity than traditional injection molding or milling, with zero waste. The carbon footprint of our engineering-grade materials is less than half of that of the injection molding polymers we seek to displace. Furthermore, we rely on a predominantly US-based supply chain. This means more on-shore advanced manufacturing and more sustainable products to bolster the US economy.
U.S. R&D Funding per STEM Doctorate (1950–2014). Image by Dane Boysen. Sources: [1] [2]

Our country needs to invest in innovation now more than ever. The current budget situation in DC isn’t pretty, but the problem is bigger and more pervasive than you might think. Just look at this graph of our current research and development spending per STEM graduate student. We have been underinvesting for decades.

Whether your priority is high-quality American jobs, energy independence, advanced technologies for our military, or improved quality of care in medicine — we need to be funding innovative efforts in research, development and technology transfer. Cyclotron Road is just one example of how we can utilize our country’s amazing technological resources to accelerate innovation; there are new opportunities popping up every month.

I believe this so strongly that I’m going to put some extra skin in the game. Throwing my life into developing this technology isn’t enough — I want to give you some extra upside. Today, I’m announcing that I will donate 5% of any capital gains I receive through the sale of polySpectra, via the Founder’s Pledge. If we have a successful exit, that will be a tremendous ROI for both of us.

Now I’m ready to fund your idea. What are you waiting for? Apply to Cyclotron Road, a SBIR grant, or your local business plan competition. Tell your congressperson that you want to see even more investments in transformational technology. I can’t wait to be your angel investor, I know the payoff will be huge.