Since making its first presentation at last year’s Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, SurClean Inc. has hit the refresh button on its product offerings, target markets and investor pitches. “We feel our story has changed dramatically,” explains CEO Susan Sprentall, who spun out SurClean from her parent company, American Laser Enterprises, in Wixom, Michigan. “The last time we pitched to investors, we were still just an idea, working with the Air Force Research Lab to develop our technology for one of their aircraft applications.”
Fast forward 12 months, and SurClean has come a long way toward advancing its disruptive laser-based technology for removing paint and other coatings from multiple surfaces. Market research conducted by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center for SurClean showed the U.S. market for coating removal approaches $10 billion and spans many large sectors well-suited to laser-based systems.
“We have ground-breaking technology, and this is a huge, worldwide market,” Sprentall reports. “Many traditional chemical-based removal methods cannot be used because they destroy composites and alloys while producing large amounts of hazardous waste. Our system offers an environmentally safe way to precisely remove coatings on any material without generating any hazardous waste. It also reduces the time spent on maintenance, producing a high ROI and short payback for our customers.”
To realize the company’s market potential, Sprentall invested additional founder’s capital, now totaling $1 million, to build and test a robotic version of SurClean’s laser-based coating removal system at KUKA Robotics in Sterling Heights, Michigan. “We’re exploring new uses for our system in the manufacture of products as well as the maintenance of existing equipment,” she explains. “We’ve already sold one unit of our proprietary components to a company in Russia for their cleaning application.” In recent months, SurClean has entered into nondisclosure agreements with different aviation companies to discuss possible commercial uses for its system. It also is pursuing a potential joint project with the U.S. Navy.
At the 2013 MGCS, Sprentall was assisted in revamping and retargeting her investor presentation by the symposium’s coaches. In addition, she met and started conversations with angel investors from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and two private-equity investors. Her initial networking efforts have paid off. “We’re looking to complete a $1.5 million round, allowing us to hire more employees, start building equipment and ramp up sales,” says Sprentall, who is holding a demonstration day at Kuka Robotics in May to show off the laser system’s coating-removal capabilities and ignite investors’ interest in a proven technology.
“People who have engineering and technical backgrounds are in love with the technology and don’t think like investors do,” she says. “I’ve found that angels are wary of investing in new technology because they see a high risk in it. That’s why I would advise entrepreneurs to complete working prototypes before they start pitching.”