Like ‘the good old days,’ you’ll get to check out startup companies with fresh ideas and new technologies at NPE2015

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Graphene molecular structure.

Back in January 2010, shortly after I became editorial director of Plastics Technology, I wrote an editorial headlined “Back to the Garage.” You might remember that time as a particularly difficult one for the industry, to say the least. In the piece, feeling either forlorn or nostalgic myself, I wrote about the halcyon days of this business, when innovations and breakthrough technologies literally were brought to market from the garages of entrepreneurs on a fairly regular basis.

Here’s a snippet from that five-year-old article:

“Maybe we’re past the garage phase of the plastics industry’s timeline. After all, we’re a fairly mature business now, and new technologies and products that have been introduced over the last 10 to 15 years or so are certainly more evolutionary than revolutionary.

“Still, I’m convinced that there is a ‘next big thing’ coming, and it’s going to change our business rather significantly. Don’t ask me what it is going to be, because I don’t have any idea. But… it’s going to be made out of plastics, in whole or in part, and it’s going to solve a problem or meet a need that we probably don’t even realize we have.

“I think you’re going to have to go back to the garage to make that happen. You’re going to have to untie yourself from an industrywide malaise that I believe has stymied innovation and creativity in order to recapture that ‘garage’ mindset and spirit that was the foundation of this industry.”

Well I’m delighted to report we’re going back to the garage at NPE2015 next month at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), which owns and runs the show (March 23-27), has partnered with a new-venture tracking firm called Startup.Directory to organize a special exhibit area called—get this—The NPE2015 Startup Garage. As of this writing, 12 startup companies have been selected to display their innovations in The Garage, which will be located in Room W203A in the West Hall, but because of marketplace demand that number is expected to increase.

“The response to our call for applicants has been met with an enthusiastic response by new companies doing exciting things at the forefront of polymer technology,” notes Brad Williams, SPI’s director of trade show sales and marketing. “While some of these startups propose new ways to address pressing issues involving renewable resources and waste reduction, others offer [technology that enhances] plastics [processing] and product performance. The quality of the exhibitors so far has led us to extend the call for more.”

The 12 companies exhibiting so far will highlight innovations in bioplastics, recycling, 3D printing, polymerization, resin processing, and antimicrobial polymers. Three of the startups report developments in the area of graphenes (photo), which are two-dimensional carbon-atom nanostructures used for formulating plastics composites with dramatically enhanced properties.

It’s good to see this entrepreneurial spirit coming back to the industry in the form of startup companies. So tell me, what’s in your garage?