The purpose of Client Tell is to spotlight the groundbreaking work of our clients, and to help businesses learn from and connect with each other. We spoke with Steve Wilcenski, Co-Founder of BNNano, to learn how this Burlington startup’s product is revolutionizing multiple markets and industries.
An Idea Comes to Life
Material Scientist and Chemist Steve Wilcenski and his partner Jason Taylor have worked together for more than 20 years. They’ve dedicated their careers to developing new materials and emerging technologies, but they always talked about starting their own business.
In 2016, the entrepreneurs began researching Boron Nitride Nanotubes and their possible uses across multiple industries. “We dove into figuring out how to make the product, because we knew if we could do it, there would be a market for it,” said Steve. After about nine months of research, we felt comfortable enough to jumpstart BNNano, Inc.”
At the start of 2017, Steve and Jason were fortunate enough to have the seed money they needed thanks to 2 Angel Investors and investors from a friends and family round who believed in their idea. They moved into their facility, an old historic textile plant in downtown Burlington.
Small Tubes, Huge Impact
Today, BNNano is the premier supplier of Boron Nitride Nanotubes, small hollow tubes with exceptional properties. They are electrically insulating and thermally stable to very high temperatures, making them an attractive material for wide-ranging markets from aerospace to automotive and defense biomedical. Steve explained:
“If you think back to Bible stories when they were building the pyramids, they had to put straw in the bricks to make them stronger. Our Boron Nitride Nanotubes are like a high-tech straw strengthening high-tech bricks. They’re different than anything out there because of their high temperature resistance. They’re also 100 times stronger than steel, fire-proof, and oxidation resistant up to 850 degrees Celsius.”
BNNano is a small operation with just four employees. “We’re a tight group, but we’re all focused on the same things, and we really trust each other,” said Steve. It’s an atmosphere of collaboration, with none of that corporate, watch your back stuff.”
While Steve was always part of the startup world, it was always working for bigger companies. That’s why he views it as such a privilege to create a completely organic company from the ground up. “It’s pretty amazing to get to be the ones creating and inventing things that have never been done before. It’s also incredible to watch your ideas turn into actual products that make a difference,” he said.
Putting the Time In
Steve wants other entrepreneurs to know the value of doing your homework on the front end of launching a startup. He and Jason put hours into poking holes in their product, anticipating technical questions, and honing their business presentation. “We spent close to a year trying to make sure our idea could be a real business,” Steve recalled. “Sometimes high-tech people forget that they have to actually be able to sell their product.”
When the company first launched, they used an out-of-the-box legal service. They partnered with a local law firm to raise funds but were not happy with the numbers or the service. Finally, they found the legal counsel they were hoping for in the team at Fourscore Business Law, and the relationship has grown from there. “Take the time to find a trusted partner, and not just the first person you hear about,” advised Steve. “We could have saved a lot of money by investing in finding the right person up front.”