With $71 million in fresh funding and ties to appliance maker Haier and UNC Rex Healthcare, Durham-based Phononic could be poised for a breakout year. Started as a “science experiment” managing research underway at three universities, Phononic develops semiconductor technology that makes refrigerators and cooling products operate more quietly and consume less energy. The company led by co-founder and CEO Tony Atti has raised more than $160 million since it was started nearly a decade ago.
Raleigh-based UNC Rex Healthcare said in March it would outfit its new 300,000-square-foot Heart & Vascular Hospital with Phononic’s Evolve refrigerators, which provide more reliable temperature control to protect drugs, vaccines and other medical products. Rex Health Ventures is a Phononic investor, and UNC Rex’s main hospital has helped test some company products.
“They were a first-market adopter and tester for us, built our reputation, built up our credibility,” says Atti, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Southern California.
Originally focused on consumer products, Phononic hooked up a few years ago with Haier, which recently launched a line of wine chillers using the N.C. company’s technology under its premium Casarte brand, sold in Asia and Europe.
One of the world’s biggest appliance makers, including a plant in Camden, S.C., China-based Haier has struggled to build its brand in the U.S. Its $5.6 billion purchase of General Electric’s appliance business last year could lead to more business for Phononic. “There’s a whole level of branding, pricing and product-positioning discussions that are now happening,” Atti says.
Aside from wine chillers and medical coolers, Atti says Phononic is looking to commercial and retail beverage refrigeration as its next extension. “The opportunities there to displace compressors with solid-state alternatives are just simply dramatic.”
Semiconductor components are made at its 115-employee Durham facility, while finished products are made in Asia. Last June, the company landed at No. 18 on CNBC’s 2016 Disruptor 50 list, ahead of better-known innovators including Spotify, Lyft and SpaceX.
Having UNC Rex as a partner is prompting other hospitals to take a close look at solid-state products. “For the first time ever, people are doing a head-to-head analysis of a semiconductor-cooled product not thought possible against a 150-year-old compressor-based legacy unit,” Atti says. “And we’re winning.”
DURHAM — Ravila Gupta was named president and CEO of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. Gupta has been president of Umicore USA, a global materials-technology and recycling company, since 2011. She replaces Joan Siefert Rose, who is now a senior partner at Creo, a Research Triangle Park-based consultant.
LOUISBURG — Palziv will add 40 jobs and invest $5.2 million in an expansion of its local plant. The Israel-based company employs about 100 people at the facility making foam for packaging, insulation and other uses. The new jobs will pay an average annual wage of about $27,500, lower than Franklin County’s $37,851.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — G1 Therapeutics filed for an initial public offering that could raise as much as $115 million. The company develops cancer drugs. Largest shareholders include Durham-based Hatteras Venture Partners and Wilmington-based Eshelman Ventures, according to the securities filing.