Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the
December 12, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
Life in the Fast Lane
Jay Patel left a secure academic job for a start-up
in the seemingly risky telecommunications industry, an industry where
both young and old companies face an uncertain future. But he sees
leaving academe as the right decision: "Running a business is
more in line with what I like to do."
When he founded Optellios in the fall of 2000, Patel was on the
at Penn State. Earlier this fall he moved it from State College,
to the Phillips Boulevard space previously occupied by another
firm, ADC Telecommunications, formerly known as Princeton Optics.
Optellios aims to develop innovative optical components (gain
and polarization encoders) for next generation fiber optic
networks. "Since we are small, we are focusing on components,"
Last month he closed on a followup round of venture capital funding
from HIG Capital in Miami and Joel Adams of Adams Capital (a
firm with which Tony Warren, of State Road, is also affiliated). In
addition Patel has a Phase II grant for $750,000 under the Small
Innovation Research program.
He brought six employees with him, and his first new hire was Barry
Zhang, whom he had met when Zhang was still at ADC. Zhang, 36,
his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1994 in mechanical and aerospace engineering
and has a master’s degree in physics from Tsinghua University in
"I recognized that this is someone I would love to work with,
a person of quality and integrity," says Patel. "That sat
in the back of my mind. Then when we formed the company I needed
who can help me build the company and who shares my visions."
When Zhang was hired, he told Patel about ADC’s vacated space.
The company has 15 employees now but has canceled an aggressive hiring
schedule. "We had very big plans until the market fell," Patel
admits. "There is no doubt in my mind that the market will
but it will be a year before things begin to turn around."
Goal setting is top on his priority list. "What I tell my students
and people who work with me is to remember what your goals are in
life. If you do not know where you are going, when you get there,
you will be lost. You won’t know you have reached your goal."
Patel was born in Nairobi, Kenya, the second oldest of four boys.
His parents had come to Nairobi from the Pujarat section of India
so his father could get a railroad job. His brothers all live on
continents now. Patel went to IIT in Bombay (Class of 1974), and he
earned his Ph.D. from New York University at Stony Brook, where he
met his wife, Susan. From 1981 to 1987 he worked on display technology
at Bell Labs. For about seven years after that he worked at Bellcore
on liquid crystal technology. But when research efforts dried up at
Bellcore, he and some of his cohorts began leaving to join
"After 15 years I knew the value of basic research and knew
I figured that the next stage of my life was to teach people what
I learned," he says. He took a job at Penn State as full professor
of physics and also taught in the electrical engineering and materials
"On average, undergraduates are not as motivated as I would like
them to be," says Patel. "People in the old Bell Labs are
incredibly motivated, incredibly bright people, and that is what I
"Also I realized life in university was at a slower pace than
I was used to. To keep myself more occupied I started a company,
funded by SBIR grants, and sold the technology. I knew that
the technology would be very difficult because we didn’t have
Then he helped raise $8.5 million for another technology company,
with which he is no longer associated.
At age 50 he is going in a completely new direction.
"We don’t talk too much about what we are doing for competitive
reasons, but one of our main components is fiber optic wave length
management." Different colored lights go through the same fiber
on a fiber optic network, he explains, and if one of the signals is
too strong it may overwhelm the other signals. Optellios’ components
try to manage the power in the fiber on a wavelength by wavelength
At the source, when the light is injected into the fibers, all the
signals have the same power, but different wavelengths lose intensity
at different rates. Periodically the energy has to be boosted with
an amplifier. Patel compares this boost with fructose handed out to
a marathon runner. "The strongest runner may get the biggest
but the weakest person may never make it to the fructose source. You
need a way to equalize the power before giving the boost, so everyone
has a fair chance."
His device, a Gain Equalizer, manages the power. It costs thousands
of dollars and will be bought by the thousands. Competitors planning
to make similar products include Chorum Technologies in Texas and
Novera Optics on the west coast, as well as Corning and JDS Uniphase.
"The current way to do this is to separate out the runners,
the energy, and boost each one appropriately. For ours, you zap the
whole group and equalize the power, saving money, management, and
cost." Patents are pending, says Patel.
His goals are to return value to the investors, either through an
IPO or getting bought out. Yet he points out that in addition to
investments there are emotional investments that employees make.
are hardworking people, and our goal is to make this company an
success. Our goal is to have a big building and to become a big, very
successful company, where people have pride in what they created."
"I am having a very good time," says Patel. "The best
part: motivating, encouraging people to do the best possible job that
they possibly can, encouraging them so they learn from their mistakes,
and move forward. In a way, it is like what I did at Bell Labs,
and sharing ideas with people. I am trying very hard to create that
"When I first joined Bell Labs in 1981 they had a slogan `People
are our strength,’" says Patel. "If they don’t have a sense
of pride, are not being challenged, I don’t think you can expect much
out of them. `The day you feel you don’t want to come to work, come
talk to me,’ I tell them. Respect is what makes cohesion. We all have
our squabbles but at the end of the day we have respect for each
— Barbara Fox
08628. Jay Patel, founder. 609-671-9800; fax, 609-671-9801.
Boulevard, Ewing 08618. Steven Abramson, president.
fax, 609-671-0995. Www.universaldisplay.com
A public company on Phillips Boulevard has signed joint
venture agreements with Sanyo and Kodak. These firms join Sony
and Samsung SDI in asking Universal Display Corporation to develop
next generation display technologies.
"This bodes well for an emerging industry which promises to
computing and communications over the next decade," says Sid
CFO of Universal Display Corporation (UDC). "The alliance
the rapid development of organic light emitting devices (OLEDs) and
underscores the need of OLED research firms to work closely with
to compress the time to market for these quickly developing
With its portfolio of more than 400 patents, UDC uses
materials that are up to four times more power efficient than
fluorescent small molecule technology. UDC also says it has a
relationship with Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries to commercialize
and produce its proprietary materials.
Road, East Windsor 08520. Zsolt E. Lavotha, president and CEO.
fax, 609-371-9174. Home page: www.lavipharm.com
Lavipharm Laboratories Inc. has agreed to act as a big
Japanese firm’s entry point into the United States drug delivery
Kobe Steel Ltc. will provide new business development support and
pharmaceutical industry partnering opportunities for Lavipharm’s
Fluid (SCF) technology portfolio in return for Lavipharm’s doing
and clinical studies in the United States. Lavipharm will also take
the lead in making deals.
Lavipharm Laboratories Inc. has 60 employees in 50,000 square feet
on Princeton Hightstown Road. It is the research and development
of the parent company, based in Greece.
Its SCF technology helps solve problems with drugs that do not
easily. It can also form molecules and help make the drug better and
safer for patients. "Further, it can allow our partners the
to bring drugs to market that would otherwise not have launched or
met their full potential — or it can increase the effective life
of a current drug through improvements to the drug’s
says Zsolt Lavotha, Lavipharm’s president and CEO.
Kobe Steel already uses SCF technology for industrial purposes, and
it can introduce Lavipharm’s expertise to its own customers as well
as the Japanese pharmaceutical and biotech industries.
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