Dr. Rama Rao

RRCM


EXCEL

Financial Physics

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September15, 1991
Vol.27 No. 16

LASER REPORT

COLLABORATING WITH A RUSSIAN technical institute is just one more step in Rama Rao's plan to take Excel Technology (Holbrook, NY) out of the garage, so to speak, and into the big time.

"I have one chance to prove that you can take a few SBIRs and turn them into a $10-$20 million company," Rao, Excel founder and president, said in a recent interview. Until going public last May, SBIRs -- Small Business Innovation Research grants -- have been Rao's primary source of funding for Excel.

Rao, who had to cancel his initial trip to the Byelorussian Polytechnic Institute (BRI-- Minsk, USSR) because of the attempted coup, will now leave Sept.21 for a week's visit to BRI's Laser & Electronic Engineering Department -- where, he said, some 60 Ph.D.-level scientists are working on laser-related research and development.

"These people are isolated completely from the outside world," Rao said. "They have many very qualified scientists who produce many brilliant papers, and the world doesn't know." Because BRI is a government-funded, self-supporting entity, he said, there is little money available to publish and distribute technical reports or purchase sophisticated equipment such as the latest computers. "They each make only $400 a year," Rao said of the scientists working there. Still, he said, BRI is strong in lasers and optics, though weak in electronics.

Rao is quick to point out that this trip is also a business opportunity for him. One of his goals for this collaboration is to bring to BRI the marketing and manufacturing expertise the institute currently lacks. For all its laser R&D experience, BRI currently has not one single commercial application utilizing one of the their laser products, according to Rao. "That is one of the things we hope to help them do," he said. He believes that once the Soviet countries open up, a great technological exchange will take place.

That exchange appears to have begun already for Excel. Among the projects Rao claims Excel and BRI have already begun working on (though the letter of intent was just signed last month) are the utilization of several crystals grown only in Russia; a more efficient holmium laser, and a new three-color Ti:sapphire laser for video displays and other forms of telecommunication. The latter, according to Rao, will be ready in time for this year's Optcon (Nov. 5-7 in San Jose, CA). Rao also claims Excel will have a diode-pumped Ti:sapphire laser ready by next year's CLEO show.

But Excel is still a young company. Rao is in the early stages of using the $4 million in capital raised when he took his company public to begin building for the future. Admittedly, he is doing things somewhat backwards, having started with the technology, then getting the financing, and now putting together his management and technical staff. In addition to hiring the Chicago-based public relations firm Martin Janis & Co. (which also handles San Francisco-based Phoenix Laser Systems, among other laser companies), Rao recently signed Keven Chittam as vice president of marketing and sales and Dr. Richard Sam as VP of scientific development.

And, despite the capital from the May stock offering, Rao and Excel still depend on SBIR and other grants to keep the company going. In fact, he said, Excel recently submitted 18 SBIR proposals in one month. And the money used to develop the three-color Ti:sapphire laser came from a new grant offered by the US Department of Commerce.

But as always, Rao is optimistic about the future, claiming to have a Ti:sapphire "vision." He believes his company's success lies in medical lasers, not scientific, and plans to focus on developing short-end solid-state tunable laser products that require shorter US Food and Drug Administration approval time and low doctor maintenance.

"I want Excel to be a tunable solid-state laser competitor," he said. "That is one of the main reasons for this collaboration with BRI."