EDA SUPPORT HELPS WOMAN-LED SOMERSET COUNTY TECH COMPANY THRIVE
TRENTON (March 31, 2015) – As March winds down, so does National Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions women make to society. Right here in New Jersey, numerous emerging and established technology companies are founded and staffed by women. Somerset County-based Chromis Fiberoptics, Inc. is a prime example of such a company.
Under the direction of a management team including Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Miri Park, Chromis Fiberoptics, Inc. pioneers the use of polymer optical fiber (POF) in active optical cables (AOC) for high-bandwidth, short-distance data/video links. Chromis Fiberoptics AOCs have the same electrical inputs as copper cables, but use graded index POF for data transmission “between the connectors,” and have unique performance and cost advantages compared to glass fiber and copper wire cables. Its POF product lines include AOCs with a variety of industry-standard interfaces (InfiniBand, HDMI, DVI, etc.) for high-speed links in data center, professional audio/video, consumer electronics and high-performance computing applications. Chromis also produces specialty optical fibers and cables for medical and industrial sensing applications. The company conducts all of its fiber manufacturing at its headquarters in Warren and sells its products around the globe.
Chromis Fiberoptics has taken advantage of several EDA programs and products throughout its life cycle. In 2007, the EDA provided a $625,000 loan to Chromis Fiberoptics through the Edison Innovation Fund to assist in the company’s growth. The financing helped Chromis Fiberoptics hire its key technical engineer, expand its production capacity, and execute its initial sales opportunities in the data center and industrial areas, and lay the groundwork for expansion of the business into other areas.
The company also twice benefited from the state’s Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer (NOL) Program. Administered by the EDA and the New Jersey Department of Treasury, this competitive program enables emerging tech and biotech companies to sell their net operating losses and/or research and development tax credits to raise cash to finance their growth and operations.
As Chromis Fiberoptics has continued to grow, Park has made quite a name for herself; she and the company were featured in a 2012 CNN Money segment that also highlighted one of its investors, Golden Seeds. Considered to be one of the nation’s largest and most active investment groups, Golden Seeds invests in women-led businesses.
Both Chromis Fiberoptics and Golden Seeds have also participated in the State’s Founders and Funders, a new initiative of the EDA that provides emerging companies with access to angel and venture capital investors.
“When we first saw Miri Park and [Chromis Co-Founder, President & Chief Technology Officer] Whitney White we were very impressed by their deep scientific pedigrees and their clear entrepreneurial passion,” Golden Seeds Managing Partner Peggy Wallace said when asked why Golden Seeds chose to invest in Chromis Fiberoptics. “This was one of the early deals we saw with such a scientific pedigree and over the years we have learned that women are receiving a very high percentage of STEM Ph.Ds and are forming and leading companies based on deep R&D and we have made many of these types of investments. We were also very interested in the large market that Chromis products can and do serve, as there is an almost insatiable demand for increasing bandwidth.”
The EDA spoke with Park about being a woman in technology, Chromis Fiberoptics’ experience in New Jersey and the company’s future:
Why did you choose to grow your company in New Jersey?
Chromis originated as a research effort at Lucent Technologies Bell Laboratories (headquartered in Murray Hill, NJ) in 1997 to explore the potential of POF for high-bandwidth applications. By 2003, the R&D team had developed a unique extrusion process for low-cost, high-volume production of graded-index POF and obtained several key patents. In January 2004, the core members of the R&D team founded Chromis Fiberoptics via a management buyout of the POF business. We were initially housed in the Bell Laboratories, and had our own first corporate facility at Warren, not too far from its original location. Our first key technical hire was a former Bell Labs scientist and a NJ resident.
How has Chromis benefited from the support it received from the EDA?
Chromis received a low interest loan for $625,000 from the Edison Innovation Fund. The loan provided us a much needed capital resource to build our fiber production line and initial operation. We found the EDA loan programs versatile and creative. The EDA understands challenges and rapid evolution that technology start-up companies like Chromis often undergo. We have especially appreciated its willingness to structure financing solutions based on the changing needs of Chromis, a small start-up, operation.
What’s in store for Chromis Fiberoptics in the near future?
Chromis HDMI active optical cables recently won a few awards in the A/V industry (InfoComm “Best New AV Accessory,” Commercial Integrator “25 Best of 2013,” EC&M Product of the Year). We will continue to be committed to provide innovative high-speed short-distance data link solutions based on our POF technology. Our product road map includes various external AOC products such as USB and Display Port for audio/video data transfer, as well as high-speed optical links with mobile computing and consumer electronics devices. Industry analysts estimate that a few billion tablets, smart phones and other mobile computing devices are being shipped every year. These computing and consumer electronic devices will create demand for embedded AOCs – as higher data rates, reduced power consumption requirements, EMI/RFI issues, and form factor aesthetics drive displacement of copper wiring. You bet Chromis is working on embedded optical link solutions.
What advice would you give to women breaking into New Jersey’s technology industry?
New Jersey has a supportive and friendly environment for women who would like to pursue careers in the technology industry. As an engineer working in a major technology firm in NJ, I had many female coworkers and managers. In terms of numbers, yes, there were more men than women in my field, but I always felt it was a fair game. As long as you work hard and contribute, you are appreciated for what you bring to the table. On the other hand, from my experience working at Chromis, I learned that the capital market is male dominated. However, investor groups like Golden Seeds have brought greater awareness to female entrepreneurship, and have begun to changes the landscape. In addition, the EDA has loan programs and funds that support women owned/operated small businesses in NJ.