It was the mid-1990s, and Jayesh Doshi was working in corporate America when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) became law.
“The writing is on the wall,” he concluded at the time as a chemist at DuPont’s plant in Chattanooga. “I won’t have a job,” correctly concluding that jobs would move to Mexico or overseas.
For Doshi, the law’s enactment provided both the challenge and the opportunity to pursue his passion for electrospinning by founding his own company, eSpin Technologies, Inc. Some 15 years later, he says that the company’s “foundation is very strong” in spite of the challenges that he faced along the way.
eSpin has developed technology to commercially manufacture nanofibers and nanofiber-based products. It does so by partnering with federal agencies and manufacturers with a strong focus today on filtration and environmental remediation.
The journey that eSpin’s founder described to teknovation.biz in a recent interview has been one of persistence and patience.
Doshi was born in India and after his undergraduate education came to the United States to get his Master’s and PhD. At the University of Akron, he became the first doctoral student in the polymer science program for a professor who had previously headed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
“His background was physics,” Doshi said. Together, they looked at the results of stretching a single polyethylene and eventually a single polymer molecule. Their work led to Doshi presenting a paper at an American Physical Society meeting where he first used the term ‘electrospinning.’
Armed with his PhD, Doshi accepted a position with DuPont and moved to Chattanooga where he “learned the real life experience of spinning fibers in a plant.” It is clear that he enjoyed the work with DuPont, however the long-term implications of NAFTA on manufacturing and innovation continued to concern him.
For those who know Doshi, he is not a person who is prone to waiting for something to happen. In this case, he decided to act,
“I decided to quit my job one day and start a business,” he said. He sold his car, withdrew some of his investment money, and moved into space in the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Business Development Center.
“My inspiration came from Silicon Valley and co-workers saying jobs (at DuPont) will end,” Doshi said of the decision. “They were right.”
He admits that he had no income at the start and no idea about raising capital or starting a business. “I was focused on making fiber,” Doshi admitted.
Yet, eSpin secured its first revenue from a small contract with Kimberly-Clark Corporation 89 days after its founding. More significant was Doshi’s growing knowledge of federal grants, particularly the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
“I wrote a couple of SBIRs, and they were turned down,” he says, adding that he “got a break with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2001.” Starting with its initial Phase I SBIR award from NSF, eSpin eventually won Phase II and Phase IIB awards.
The early years of the new century were also a time of growing interest in nanoscience, and eSpin teamed with a larger company as a partner to develop filtration systems. Doshi also looked at other sectors such as aerospace and drug delivery.
The company’s real breakthrough occurred in 2003.
NEXT: The breakthrough that made a significant difference for eSpin.