"There is nothing faster made by man than a femtosecond (10-15 second) pulse," says Philippe Bado, president of Clark-MXR in Dexter, Michigan, and a former investigator at the University of Michigan-based Center for Ultrafast Optical Science. When he went to the Pentagon five years ago to solicit research funds, Bado explained that this was a time span so short "that the federal budget does not get any bigger. I think that's how I got my funding."
Founded in the early 1990s, through most of its history Clark-MXR designed, manufactured and installed lasers for academic research. Its customers were primarily universities, and its business included customer training and support because "most lasers are pretty sophisticated pieces of equipment, a big beast," says Bado. "Not exactly a user-friendly type of tool."
Then the company developed much more compact and reliable femtosecond lasers. "The most important thing is you don't need a PhD to make it work," says Bado. "You turn it on and it comes on. To most people, that sounds normal, but in the femtosecond laser business, it's not. This doesn't make it a consumer product because it still costs a quarter of a million dollars. But people in industry can start thinking of using it."
Reliability was another big plus compared to "traditional" lasers, says Bado. So, too, was the development by CUOS researchers of a new micromachining method that employs the Clark-MXR laser to cut, reliably and repetitively, very small holes, lines, and other features both at and below the surfaces of a wide variety of materials.
"That's where the synergy with UM came in," Bado says. "We developed that laser that can be used in industry, and meanwhile UM came up with an important application for it."
He also credits the UM Office of Technology Transfer for connecting him and his company with investors, specifically Ann Arbor-based Avalon Investments, founded by former Gateway CEO Rick Snyder. "We need a significant amount of cash to develop systems for the industrial market, and that's where Rick Snyder and Avalon come into play," says Bado. "In addition, Rick has a lot of business savvy that we can definitely use. He brings more than money; he also brings the knowledge of a growth economy that's going to be really useful to us."
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