Every Company Has An Origin Story

Some are certainly more lively than others. Some never get told. Some end up becoming movies. Here’s Brokkr’s origin story.

 

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Ok, actually, let me skip ahead a bit. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Newell C. Cook at General Electric invented this metal coating technology in their Schenectady, NY research labs. During this time in GE’s history, however, the company didn’t know quite what to do with what they discovered. As the story was told to me, the technology was shopped around from lab to lab at the time. But, no one was in a position to really take the process and commercialize it. GE decided, after some time, to give these patents to Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. While we don’t know the precise details, GE, who had a very strong presence in Erie at the time, must have had good relations with Gannon. Dr. Carl Hultman was afforded the opportunity to work with the coating technology at Gannon while, at the same time, teaching as a chemistry professor at the University. Over the years he’s had a couple of different coating machines up and running and has made some attempts at commercializing the process himself.

 

My background is, of course, in hydraulic system design. Over my career, I’ve come up against a number of wear-related problems that I thought could be solved via some coating process. My research into coating technology was continually frustrated by the fact that most processes, though they may create great surfaces, are just not commercially viable in mass production environments. Through the magic of Google searches, though, I eventually found Dr. Hultman and his work with what we’re calling the Draupnir process. The distinguishing feature of this process is, beyond all other things, its ability to be scaled and automated. So, not only did the Draupnir process create the hard coatings that were needed to solve these tribology problems, it was a process that could also be automated. Once automation is applied, the cost of producing parts with these superior coatings would become manageable for a wide variety of industries.

However, my timing of discovering Dr. Hultman and this process was out of sync with his activity in this field. He’s a man of many talents, so we were not able to chase this down immediately following that first contact. As time went on, I once again came across a need for the process to solve hydraulic wear problems. Once again I was out of sync with his involvement in this work and his work with nanotechnology. When he was commercializing the Draupnir process, I wasn’t in a position to follow up with him. When I was looking for parts to enhance, he was cycling out of commercialization efforts. This went on for about ten years! I’d call him up every other year or so and see if we could try the process out to solve one problem or another. Finally, I saw yet again a need for his assistance on a new application. Now, in that intervening decade, Dr. Hultman retired from Gannon and was yearning for time to play music, which is his highest passion. Starting a company was not appealing to him. When I called him up, his answer was different this time. He said to me, “Why don’t you commercialize it? We can work together on it.”

 

I have to admit, I didn’t expect him to suggest that. But, when we discussed the idea further, it started to make a lot of sense. I was passionate about the technology and saw uses for reducing wear and enhancing corrosion resistance every time I turned around. He was willing to be a consultant to my company. I was already headed down the path to forming a business. So, a pivot was initiated. I licensed the rights to use the intellectual property from Gannon and we formed Brokkr Technologies to commercialize the Draupnir process.

- Andy Hessler