Phoenix, which develops and sells particle accelerator-based neutron generators and other machines, says it plans to begin constructing new manufacturing and office buildings in Fitchburg, WI, a few miles south of the startup’s current Madison, WI, headquarters.
The announcement does not come as a surprise. Phoenix president Evan Sengbusch said last fall that his company had outgrown its current home and planned to break ground sometime in 2018 on a new headquarters that can house all of its workers and equipment. It appears Phoenix will make good on that projection; the startup says construction on the first of its new facilities will begin in November.
Launched in 2005, Phoenix sells its neutron generators and other products to organizations in industries such as healthcare, aerospace, semiconductors, energy, and defense.
The startup’s core business model involves manufacturing generators in Wisconsin and shipping them to clients across the country. However, the first building Phoenix plans to construct in Fitchburg, which is expected to open in mid-2019, will be a “neutron imaging services facility,” Sengbusch says.
At the facility, Phoenix will perform neutron radiography services, which Sengbusch says is similar to X-ray technology, but uses neutrons rather than electromagnetic radiation. Becoming a services provider represents a “new addition to our business model,” he says.
While organizations still have the option to buy neutron radiography systems from Phoenix, Sengbusch says that also offering services gives the startup “access to a broader spectrum of customers because the barrier to entry for purchasing a system is relatively high.”
Under the service model, customers will ship prototypes of new products—a computer chip or solar panel, for instance—and Phoenix will test it for radiation effects and perform other analysis. Phoenix says it will also provide standard x-ray imaging as part of its new service offering.
“We are going to have some other, more advanced imaging techniques that are under development and ultimately will be available as a service, including neutron tomography and some neutron x-ray fusion imaging,” Sengbusch says. “But the primary thrust of the facility will be centered around neutron radiography.”
The first building going up at Phoenix’s future headquarters will be about 10,000 square feet and house 12 to 15 workers, Sengbusch says. The startup also plans to construct a 50,000-square-foot facility with offices and manufacturing space, which it plans to open in 2020.
Phoenix currently has 91 people on its team, 69 of whom are full-time employees. The startup’s headcount has risen more than 60 percent since October, when Phoenix raised a $12 million Series B funding round led by New York-based Deerfield Management. Sengbusch says Phoenix plans to add another 15 employees in the next 12 months.
Sengbusch says one thing that made leaders at the company feel confident in moving forward with its construction plans was signing contracts worth a combined $15 million-plus with two nuclear fuel manufacturers. Phoenix did not name either organization, but said in a press release earlier this month that one is “a major U.S. company that provides a wide range of nuclear power plant products and services.”
Under the terms of the contracts, Phoenix will build nuclear fuel scanners for the organizations. These scanners validate that fuel rods slated to go into nuclear reactors meet their design specifications—most importantly, that the uranium inside of them has been enriched to the proper point. The use of nuclear fuel scanners helps ensure that reactors can operate safely and efficiently, Phoenix says.