Scientist's Research Fuels Private Industry
The University of Central Florida closes the 2017 calendar year by sharing one of its biggest bench to market success stories to date.
The story began in the 1990s when a Russian scientist moved to the United States to expand his research in optics and photonics. Leonid Glebov arrived in 1995, set up his lab in the College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL) and began working with UCF’s technology transfer staff to take his inventions to the marketplace. After decades of hard work and determination, IPG Photonics, the world’s leading producer of high-power fiber lasers with annual revenue surpassing $1 billion, acquired OptiGrate, the company Glebov and his team founded.
Under the agreement inked this year, IPG Photonics will also fund additional research at CREOL.
OptiGrate is providing IPG Photonics with the components to enable new generations of laser systems for manufacturing at superior speeds and with the precision required to manufacture electric vehicles and smartphones as well as medical devices, which are pushing for lighter materials and production on a micro scale.
“OptiGrate offers an industry-leading technology that we believe will be beneficial in helping us penetrate new end markets,” said James Hillier, vice president of Investor Relations for IPG.
OptiGrate will remain in Oviedo while IPG Photonics plans for expansion, Hillier added. And some of the founders of the company will remain as part of the new organization including Glebov, his son Alexei Glebov, president and CEO of OptiGrate since 2008, and Chief Technology Officer Vadim Smirnov.
The company’s primary product is made from holograms formed in the ultra-pure glass originally developed by Leonid Glebov and his group at UCF/CREOL, including his wife Larissa Glebova, a chemist, and Smirnov, Glebov’s graduate student at that time.
The glass is used in a type of grating or optical component that manufacturers can use to separate laser light by wavelength so the lasers can be finely tuned to precise frequencies for use in military and security applications such as explosive detection, materials processing for manufacturing and biopharmaceutical production.
Glebov said his training as a scientist both helped and hindered his approach to commercializing the technology he ultimately developed.
“I had no specific training in industry development,” Glebov said. “As a scientist my approach was to invest all profits in research and technology development. This approach enabled us to make decisions based on our vision of technology development and to create an efficient company without borrowing money.”
He said he relied heavily on the UCF commercialization team, especially M.J. Soileau, who was vice president for research and commercialization at the time; Dean Bahaa Saleh of the College of Optics and Photonics; Tom O’Neal, associate vice president for innovation; Pallavoor Vaidyanathan, assistant vice president for research; and John Miner, assistant director in Technology Transfer; to walk him through the maze of legal issues surrounding incorporation. The company was introduced to UCF’s Business Incubation Program and Gordon Hogan, incubator director.
After OptiGrate was started in 1999, Smirnov and Glebova moved from UCF to the company, converting scientific results to a technology enabling fabrication of components that could be delivered to customers. The company won a number of government contracts and produced unique holographic elements for government agencies, universities and industry.
Today, OptiGrate is a vertically integrated manufacturing and R&D facility whose team includes six Ph.D. and 12 master’s engineers. More than half of OptiGrate’s 40 employees came from UCF.
“We are a widely international team from 10 different countries and we manufacture here in Florida a range of unique holographic components with unmatched characteristics,” said Alexei Glebov, currently the president and general manager of the OptiGrate business unit of IPG Photonics. The company ships to more than 600 customers on five continents, numbers that will likely grow substantially with the IPG acquisition.
“UCF and the Florida High Tech Corridor have worked with OptiGrate since its inception through the UCF Business Incubation Program and The Corridor’s Matching Grant Research Program,” said Edward Schons, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.
“We anticipate many new opportunities and growth for this home-grown company,” Schons said.