Most tried, true and traditionally sound business principles are readily transferable to the new economy, which proves you can teach a young dog old tricks.
Consider a few highlights from a recipe for success endorsed by Edmonton’s Micralyne Inc.
1. Attract a board of wise and senior business pros to advise the management team.
2. Build a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other strategic plan that stresses carefully managed growth, quality control, responsibility to investors and customers, and profit, profit, profit.
|Jack Dagley, for Business Edge|
|Chris Lumb, president and CEO of Edmonton-based Micralyne Inc., holds up a microchip plate and the key to his company’s bright future. Micralyne, a former U of A non-profit organization, expects to generate $11 million in revenue this year from sales of its micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS).|
3. Stay ahead of competitors by anticipating developments within the field; and foster relationships with the
industry’s brightest young minds, with an eye to recruitment.
4. Heat, stir and serve on a rib-sticking platter of prosperity.
Let’s see how Micralyne, a privately owned developer/manufacturer of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), stacks up.
Well, the board’s collective pedigree is both blue blood and blue chip. It includes Fred Mannix, scion of the fabled Calgary clan of over-achievers; David Martin, CEO of SMART Technologies Inc.; chair Michael Welsh, the president of Almasa Capital Inc.; and University of Alberta engineering dean David Lynch, among others.
And the business plan must be a doozy. Micralyne’s on track to pull in $11 million in revenue for 2002, only four years after a management group purchased the former non-profit from the U of A.
Then, too, the company has forced most of the competition to eat its dust. CEO Chris Lumb believes Micralyne to be the only independent MEMS producer in North America – maybe the world – that’s turning a profit.
“We have a very strong profit culture. It gives us stability and enables us to concentrate on our customers rather than chasing financing,” said the personable Lumb, 43.
“We stuck to our strategy during the tech spurt, and I’m glad we did. In the last year, we’ve been able to pick up business from our competitors because many of them are in financial difficulty,” he added.
Micralyne’s client base is small but distinguished. That $11 million will be generated from sales to only 15 repeat customers, including JDS Uniphase and Applied Biosystems, which provided tools and instrumentation for the Human Genome Project. Last spring, a deal was signed with Kavlico Corp., which uses Micralyne parts to produce sensor units placed within Ford’s emission-control systems.
“The industry is still young,” cautioned Lumb. “And we’re still dealing with a fairly limited market. But we believe MEMS technology is entering the mainstream of product applications.”
If the market is limited, Micralyne has made the most of it.
The company rose from the ashes of a U of A non-profit organization,
originally set up to help make electronics technology accessible to Alberta’s private sector. By retaining a close association with the university – and by donating $500,000 annually to fund campus research – Micralyne stays on top of industry trends while forging ties with rising stars from the grad-student ranks.
Two years ago, Micralyne executives lucked into a sweet land deal that enabled them to set up a $30-million “fab,” or fabrication facility, which occupies 40,000 sq. ft. within the Edmonton Research Park.
For those who don’t know MEMS from mumps, a bare-bones explanation of what goes on within the Micralyne fab may suffice.
“We develop and manufacture tiny electro-mechanical components on behalf of our customers. Our parts go into the instruments they manufacture,” said Lumb.
“The technology is similar to semi-conductor technology. We use a lot of the same processes you’d see at Intel or Motorola, except that we make parts with mechanical properties.”
Most of Micralyne’s 85 employees are kept busy supplying product to the telecommunications and biomedical/bioanalysis industries.
(Although the telecom industry remains everyone’s favourite pariah, Lumb reminds us that bandwidth use continues to double every six months; that there’s a continued demand for new components; and that telecom companies that still have spare cash continue to spend it on R&D.)
But it’s the bio-medical applications that grab the imagination.
In Micralyne labs, technicians create layers of spun gold a few atoms thick, which may form part of a time-lapse drug-delivery system implanted beneath a patient’s skin.
Micralyne engineers develop such micro-fluidic devices as “lab-on-a chip,” described by Lumb as “a whole chemical analysis laboratory built on something the size of a microscope slide, to perform chemical analysis on a very small scale.”
In fact, everyone working in Micralyne’s fab is dedicated to the proposition that small is beautiful. Except, of course, when the subject is profits.