At the Sage Electrochromics plant in Faribault, glass is everywhere. Sheets of it lie on conveyor belts waiting to be cleaned, inspected and coated. Samples of glass lie in FedEx boxes, awaiting the eager eyes of architects. And of course, glass covers the exterior of the building, so much so that, on a clear sunny day, outdoors seems to be indoors. In the middle of this glass castle sits Chief Executive John Van Dine, who pauses for a moment to sum up Sage's prospects.
"We have a company in Faribault that is a global leader in a technology that will have a big impact on the world," he said. "But no one knows it."
That soon may change. Sage is generating buzz among investors for its "smart glass" technology, which allows users to adjust the tint of windows depending on a building's temperature and energy needs. With the press of a button, users can tint windows during the summer to reduce glare and solar heat, eliminating the need for ugly curtains or blinders. Users also can brighten windows in the winter to trap more heat. For building owners, that means lower air conditioning and heating bills. For bleary-eyed cubicle drones, that means more natural light and a view of the outside world.
"I think they have a very unique and interesting technology that will have a high value in the market place," said Steve Mercil, chief executive of Rain Source Capital, a St. Paul venture capital firm and a major investor in Sage. "Anyone who has a window they want to look out of ... will value the technology right from the start."
The company recently secured $16 million in venture capital financing, snaring nearly 22 percent of all the VC money Minnesota firms raised in the third quarter, according to a MoneyTree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.
Sage, which employs 51 people, declined to disclose financial figures.
Though it was founded in 1989, Sage may be only just hitting its stride. With growing concern about climate change and dwindling oil supplies, investors are flocking to "clean-tech" companies that specialize in alternative energy, pollution, recycling, power supplies and conservation. Venture capitalists invested a record $844 million in 62 deals during the quarter nationwide. Clean-tech firms captured three of the five top deals in the quarter, with one for more than $100 million. Sage was the only local clean-tech company to receive financing in the quarter.
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