Konarka lands $20M

03/15/2006
By From the Lowell Sun

By TOM SPOTH, Sun Staff

LOWELL -- Konarka Technologies, the UMass Lowell spinoff company headquartered in the Boott Mills, has raked in another $20 million in venture capital, bringing the company's five-year total to about $60 million.

Konarka received Popular Mechanics magazine's Breakthrough Award last year for its work on products that convert light to energy. The company's flagship product is Power Plastic, which could allow products such as laptops and cell phones to be recharged with solar energy without being plugging in.

The $20 million in funding is a substantial amount, especially for a company outside the biotechnology and software industries, said Matthew Littlewood, a partner at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The larger rounds in the state last year were in the $30 million range, including one that went to a Woburn company called Lilliputian that is working on fuel-cell technology, Littlewood said.

"These alternative-energy companies are really rising," he remarked. "It may be a significant area for future investment."

Konarka's photovoltaic fibers and plastics could also allow clothing, or structures such as tents, roofs and windows, to generate power. Using nanotechnology, Konarka has made solar cells that are more flexible and portable.

"Energy is one of the greatest problems facing the world this century. (Konarka) is uniquely positioned to deliver innovative solar energy," said Marko Maschek, a partner at 3i, the venture-capital firm that led the latest round of funding for Konarka. "We are delighted to support the company to fulfill its vision of providing low-cost, universally available sources of renewable power."

Daniel McGahn, Konarka's chief marketing officer, said a partnership with the U.S. military is the only deal Konarka has disclosed to date.

Konarka CEO Howard Berke said in a statement that the latest round of funding will "provide long-term financial support for ongoing process and product development" and allow Konarka to forge new partnerships to integrate its technology into commercially available products.

In addition to 3i, several existing investors, including Chevron Technology Ventures, gave Konarka money.

Konarka was born in 2001 out of research conducted at UMass Lowell.