by Doug Childers
When Sen. Mark R. Warner wanted to meet Charlottesville-area entrepreneurs to talk about innovation and competitiveness, picking a site for the meeting was easy.
He chose Charlottesville-based Mikro Systems Inc., in part because it had established an impressive record as a manufacturing technology company. In less than three years, the company, which currently manufactures parts for CT scanners and gas turbines, has expanded its work force from 15 employees to 40.
Perhaps more important, Mikro Systems has taken bold steps to keep those jobs in Virginia.
Last year, a major manufacturer of CT scanners “wanted to buy a licensing agreement from us and set up their own manufacturing plant in Europe,” says Michael Appleby, Mikro Systems’ co-founder, CEO and president. (He declined to name the company.)
Appleby made a counteroffer: Let Mikro Systems make the parts for the equipment in Virginia. Mikro Systems now is preparing to make 60,000 parts a year for the European company. “When we founded Mikro Systems, we made a commitment to give back to the community and the state that nurtured us,” Appleby says.
Mikro Systems’ work in advanced turbine blades is going to bring more jobs to Charlottesville, too. “We’ve licensed our technology to Siemens Energy, which is putting their facility in Charlottesville to produce the parts under a licensing agreement,” Appleby says.
The Siemens facility, which should begin operation next year, will create 50 to 100 jobs.
The ability to generate jobs makes Mikro Systems the kind of high-value manufacturing company Virginia needs, Warner says. “By some estimates, close to 90 percent of all the new jobs in the last 20 years have been from startup firms, so it’s incredibly important for us to encourage small businesses and startups to grow and succeed.”
Mikro Systems got its start in 2001 with investment through a small group of angel investors, Appleby says. Additional funding has come through commercial contracts as well as more than $8 million in small business research grants.
“It’s a real success story for government funding,” Appleby says. “It’s all about job creation and spurring growth.”
The company isn’t resting on its laurels. “We recently got our first grant from the Department of Defense for lightweight composite materials” for use in the aerospace market, Appleby says. “So we’re just now starting to do in the composite arena what we’ve done in the medical and turbine markets.”
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