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MTI Buys Rolith’s Business, Assets

The purchase, the terms of which were not disclosed, will help MTI produce large-scale sheets of metamaterials needed for industrial applications. But the deal also diversifies the company’s product offering, increases its talent pool and IP portfolio and gives it a Silicon Valley office and lab.

Founded by CEO George Palikaras, MTI is devoted to making special materials known as metamaterials that manipulate light as it passes through them. One of its subsidiaries, Lamba Guard is working with Airbus on the development of metaAIR, which can protect pilots from laser attacks. MetaAIR can fit over an existing windshield, and allows light to pass through it while filtering out laser beams.

“This [deal with Rolith] is a strategic acquisition for MTI,” said Palikaras in a statement. “One of the biggest challenges in our industry has been the absence of viable manufacturing tools to produce large-scale, high-volume optical metamaterial products. Rolith’s patented RML lithographic technology is the first of its kind and will allow us to scale-up our manufacturing to meet the industry demands.”

In an interview, Palikaras said one challenge facing MTI is achieving industrial scale production of its materials. It can produce enough material to fit over, say, the eyeglass lenses, but it’s more complicated to produce large sheets that can fit over a cockpit windshield. The purchase of the Rolith assets will increase the size of the sheets it can produce and accelerate the move to printing out sheets large enough to fit over a windshield.

Machine Learning for Chemists

The MTI press release said the company bought the Silicon Valley company’s proprietary manufacturing technology, it Rolling Mask Lithography and its NanoWeb products. MTI will set up an office in Rolith’s home town of Pleasanton, Calif., and will bring on board the target company’s state-of-the-art R&D facilities and key employees. Some equipment will be transferred to Nova Scotia, where the manufacturing operations will be based.

Palikaras said MTI needed a U.S. office to carry out sales with blue chip customers, and the Rolith facility gives the company not only a lab and sales office but also a demonstration facility where customer can witness the company’s products.

Rolith was founded in 2008 by Boris Kobrin, Julian Zegelman and Mark Brongersma of Stanford University to manufacture nanostructured products and devices to revolutionize for industries like solar, lighting, consumer electronics, energy and data storage. It allows cost-effective scaling of nanostructures fabrication.

“We are all excited to be joining MTI and its talented team. MTI is now well-positioned to be a leader in the commercialization of metamaterial optical products,” said Boris Kobrin, founder and chief executive officer of Rolith. He will become MTI’s CTO.

Rolith raised US$700,00 from Asahi Glass Corp. of Japan in 2010, and two years later raised a US$5 million Series A round by Asahi Glass and Moscow-based VTB Capital Investment Management. That $5.7 million (C$7.3 million at the current exchange rate) is far greater than the $3.4 million that MTI has raised, as listed on the funding data site TechCrunch.

Palikaras said Rolith’s business model had involved licensing its technology, and the founders were realizing the difficulties to licensing technology. So they saw the business advantages of joining a product-based company.

Palikaras said MTI – which previously raised money from Innovacorp, First Angel Network and the Wilmington Investor Network — has raised new capital to carry out the deal, and added the details of the funding round will be released later.