Thinking Big with the Extremely Small
Every year, researchers develop and discover innovative ways to make technology faster, more efficient and cheaper. And of course, smaller. It is entrepreneurs like Chris Morton who identify these technologies and develop them into companies that benefit millions of people worldwide.
Morton has more than 30 years of entrepreneurial and corporate leadership in the communications industry. Originally an electrical engineering major, Morton obtained his Ph.D. in Communication Systems from the University of Pennsylvania and was awarded a doctoral fellowship in this field by GE, one of two issued nationwide at the time.
“I thought it was a great area even then because of the lower cost of living for employees we would hire and the access to technology from the Space Coast and local universities,” Morton said.
While Morton enjoyed his work as an engineer and rose through the ranks, he developed an interest in mapping technology into successful businesses. “The whole issue of how to take technology, decide which markets it would be competitive in, then to create and modify that technology to best perform in those markets, and how to decide who your customers or partners ought to be in those markets really captured me,” he said.
Morton’s resume’ reflects his expansive technological expertise with a significant number of successful companies he cofounded and developed, including SkyCross, a leading communication antenna company aimed at the smartphone industry. Morton also has held C-level positions at AT&T and Allen Telecom.
His favorite venture is his current baby, NanoPhotonica, which was created in 2011.
Finding New Technology
While researching new technology, a chance visit to the University of Florida’s research labs budded the idea for NanoPhotonica.
“I visited the University of Florida and I was really impressed with their nanotechnology and what it could be used for,” Morton said. “What was interesting to me was that I thought the technology could be used for a variety of products that touch people’s lives directly.”
Morton decided to start NanoPhotonica for a few reasons: first, the potential impact nanomaterials could have if commercialized effectively. Second, was his experience and relationships with previous customers in the personal and home electronics space that he could leverage to ensure the future success of his new project.
Nanoparticles Have Large Benefits
NanoPhotonica’s vision is to replace the OLED and LCD lighting display systems in smartphones, tablets and TV screens, with Quantum Dot-Light Emitting Diodes (QLED).
“As an example, if you look in today’s paper, you’ll often see TVs with these new display technologies that are still thousands of dollars for big flat screens,” Morton said. Instead, this new technology could drastically reduce cost and produce higher quality displays. “Our way, displays have all the bright, pure, HD-like qualities we have come to expect, but without the much dreaded cost penalty.”
The nanomaterials Morton and his team have developed and patented are sub-microscopic crystals, only nanometers [one billionth of a meter] in diameter, that when applied in layers as liquids at room temperature and pressure, convert electricity to light or light to electricity. The light generated from the particles is extremely bright and pure and equally important, very cheap to manufacture.
NanoPhotonica is partnering with several major display companies in Asia, hoping to release a QLED display in the next 24 months. NanoPhotonica provides the nanomaterials and their method of applying and combining them to the display.
“What you get is the ability to have even brighter, very high definition displays that are about 70 percent cheaper to make and to sell to consumers,” and that won’t use a large cache of electricity. “So, it’s really groundbreaking stuff.”
Diversifying Technologies into Profitability
NanoPhotonica’s technology is not limited to one application or market. The company also plans to develop cost-effective next-generation lighting and solar panels.
“If you go to a lighting store or Home Depot today, there are those funny-looking next-generation lights that last a long time, but the problem is they’re expensive,” Morton explained.
With their application, NanoPhotonica aims to lower the cost of lighting while increasing the efficiency of the bulbs. The same idea is targeted towards solar panels.
“Obviously, everyone wants affordable energy, but solar is still not cheap enough using current technology,” he said. “So, we have several directions to go in the company over time.”
Central Florida Advantages
When a business proposition brought Morton to the area 15 years ago, he recognized the area’s potential and put down roots. “I thought it was a great area even then because of the lower cost of living for employees we would hire and the access to technology from the Space Coast and local universities,” Morton said.
NanoPhontonica’s corporate office is located outside of Orlando in Lake Mary. Since proximity to new technologists and expertise is important for their continuing materials development, most of the company’s employees and laboratories are near Gainesville because of the connection to the researchers at the University of Florida.
“We have a great team that’s made incredible progress in a short amount of time,” Morton praised. “They’re creative, they work well together, they’re highly committed, and we are really excited about doing what we’re doing.”
The company is looking to expand their locations in the future, including to Asia, where many of their customers and partners are based.
An active member in the entrepreneurial community, Morton mentors and gives talks at Catalyst, a collaborative-shared workspace for entrepreneurs, in Downtown Orlando. He also spends time at Canvs, another co-working space in Orlando.
Morton is also on the advisory board for GrowFL, a program developed to assist second-stage growth companies in Florida, and serves as Senior Advisor to Focus Bankers, a middle-market investment banking firm with offices throughout the United States.
“I’m engaged with these co-working spaces and their accelerator programs, as well as GrowFL, because I believe that Florida, and central Florida in particular, has all the ingredients necessary to become a real ‘new economy/high tech’ hub,” Morton said. “I’m happy to do my part in making that a reality.”