UA program gives entrepreneurs a home to develop businesses

April 18, 2011
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Ionic liquids are a liquid salt that have a growing number of applications in various industries. They have been used in products ranging from humidity sensors to batteries. And they have the potential of being used even more widely as the auto industry embraces electric battery-powered vehicles.

Ionic liquids can make batteries safer and higher-performing, Beyersdorff said of the future potential of Iolitech’s product.

And if electric batteries someday replace gasoline engines in vehicles, Iolitech could be manufacturing ionic liquids in Alabama to serve the automotive industry.

That is one of the goals of AIME, or Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs. As UA’s business incubator, it helps entrepreneurs develop their technology, products and business plans so budding companies can grow into viable businesses that AIME hopes will stay in Alabama.

On Tuesday, the incubator’s six companies highlighted their efforts at AIME’s third annual open house.

In his presentation, Beyersdorff said he came into AIME as a tenant last year after Iolitech’s small German-based parent company decided it needed a presence in North America.

The company makes its ionic liquids in Bremen, Germany, and ships them to Tuscaloosa, he said. Beyersdorff then fills the orders for North American customers.

Most of the orders are for small amounts with about 60 percent going to academia, he said.

Beyersdorff has a Ph.D. in chemistry, but said he spends most of his time marketing the ionic liquids as he builds up Iolitech. He personally fills the orders he receives in a small laboratory in the AIME building.

In 2009, Iolitech sold $60,000 in ionic liquid in the U.S. from sales made out of Germany. After opening an office at AIME in April 2010, it was able to more than double its U.S. sales. From April through December 2010, its U.S. sales were more than $150,000, and so far this year, its sales exceed $80,000. If it continues at that pace, Beyersdorff said Iolitech will more than double last year’s U.S. sales.

The American market is the world’s biggest for ionic liquids, and if the company can increase its sales at a certain level, it will be more economical to open a plant in the U.S. rather than ship from Germany, he said.

But how soon that might happen is hard to say. A major problem for startup companies is tapping into major companies that are big buyers.

 

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