FlexEl, a startup that markets batteries that are sometimes as slim as the width of three hairs, celebrated the opening of its 10,000-square-foot College Park facility Friday morning, with about 80 people in attendance.
The company is leasing the space from the University of Maryland on Paint Branch Parkway after moving out of the Technology Advancement Program building on the campus, where it was initially housed since the startup was created in 2008.
University professors Martin Peckerar and Neil Goldsman spearheaded the graduate research that created the company, which won the Maryland Incubator of the Year Award in 2010. The company designs batteries for medical use, such as flexible bandages that can deliver pharmaceutical drugs to the body or cause neural stimulation, said Bob Proctor, FlexEl's CEO.
"We essentially engineer batteries to meet the requirements of specific products," Proctor said.
At the opening, he demonstrated flexible batteries embedded in a safety vest resting on a mannequin. When he activated the vest, red lights lit up, showing some of the battery uses. The opening also included tours demonstrating how the batteries are made and how they can be applied.
University President Wallace Loh emphasized FlexEl's importance to those in attendance Friday morning, stating, "This is the beginning, and there is much more to come."
District 3 Prince George's County Councilwoman Dannielle Glaros said initiatives like FlexEl don't happen by accident, and that the company originally planned to move out of the state until university, county and state officials came together to find space for it.
The Technology Advancement Program building could no longer support the equipment FlexEl required, Proctor said, noting some of the equipment now used at FlexEl would not fit in an elevator in its old location.
"The challenge we had is that we can't really do the next level of scaling in that kind of building," he said.
Because company officials decided to keep the company close to the campus, Proctor said FlexEl continues to have access to advanced research capabilities at this university, which "really allows us to have the capability of a much larger company even though we're a young, early company."
"You actually have this window into what's going to be the future of technology in two to five years … because they're designing products that are not yet on the shelves," Glaros said.
Glaros said FlexEl brings high-quality jobs in engineering that work well with this university. While FlexEl has 10 full-time employees currently, company officials plan to add 50 new jobs over the next five years and continue to offer summer internships for students.
"They're really going to help anchor this new entrepreneurship that we're really pushing forward here in the county and in the city," she said.
FlexEl's new facility is also part of a greater initiative to invigorate the city's businesses and surrounding areas. Ken Ulman, the chief economic development strategist at this university, said the company is a great opportunity for graduates from this university to obtain jobs and then stay in the city to help anchor the economy.
"This is really important for the overall vision that we have as College Park," Ulman said. "There are more FlexEls out there that will continue to provide opportunities for students and for faculty."