Dr. Craig Bailey, President of Novum Nano, will admit that his company’s products aren’t exactly sexy. “But they are exciting!” he adds. The company has filed for several patents with the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and currently has plans for around 10 separate product families, several of which are already in the advanced research and development stage and ready to be commercialized.
Novum Nano is an offshoot of VRC Metal Systems, an industrial equipment manufacturing company in Box Elder that makes cold spray systems, who graduated from their original startup space at Ascent Innovation. Craig was their Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President. When they moved out of the Innovation Center and into their renovated headquarters at the old Vandenberg Elementary school building, Craig started up Novum Nano and ended up moving into most of VRC’s old space at Ascent, after going through the same application process as its own startup.
Craig works closely with Dr. Greg Christensen, Chief Nanoscience Officer, as well as three SD Mines interns. “These guys are the geniuses,” he says. “I just find ways to help make money in real-world applications off of their brilliant innovations.” Showing the interns how their ideas can be moved into industry is value that school alone cannot teach.
The company’s flagship product now is Novum Oil (also trademarked as Snake Oil for the civilian market). It incorporates a proprietary method of mixing nanomaterials into synthetic oil in order to increase fuel efficiency and reduce the coefficient of friction in internal combustion engines. To understand this, it helps if you have a basic understanding of processing nanomaterials—admittedly a complex topic, but Craig breaks it down with an analogy for the typical person.
“Think of baking a cake and trying to get the flour mixed up really well,” he explains. “What happens if you don’t? You get a big chunk of flour in your piece of cake. Nano is somewhat like that analogy in that the nano materials like to clump together when being mixed into liquids; they don’t like to separate. Once they’re separated and mixed in with the oil, they stay that way.”
In addition to the synthetic oil additives, some of the other products Novum Nano is focused on include thermal and electrical greases, nano-based electrically conductive paints and coatings, and insulating materials that absorb heat.
The applications for these products are far-reaching, and having an office in the Ascent Innovation Center has proven extremely beneficial. Easy access to faculty, students, and interns provides Novum Nano with a steady pool of talent and resources from which to draw. The company plans to hire some of the best students after they graduate to keep them in Rapid City, and hopes to attract people back to the area who have moved away. There are other benefits to working at Ascent, too. Little perks like coffee and popcorn, for sure, but also, more substantive benefits such as connecting with other tenants, professionals, and support agencies throughout the community.
“It’s a great location,” Craig says. “The building is great as far as the brain trust of people you hang out with. Being in the incubator is fun...it’s a little bit like a fountain of youth: lots of energy and brain power.” There is also plenty of support from the personnel: Mitch — the client manager and Terri — the executive director, a sentiment echoed by most tenants with space there.
As for the future of Rapid City, Craig is excited...and feels fortunate to be one of the companies helping with workforce and economic development. “There’s lots of good stuff going on here,” he says. “As some of these advanced manufacturing technologies become more commercialized and add more employees, they will continue drawing and keeping people here in the Black Hills.”