Sumedh Surwade could have launched his chemical startup SAS Nanotechnologies anywhere, including his native India. He chose Delaware.
When Sumedh Surwade was growing up in India, he rarely left his hometown of Mumbai. But since moving to the United States, he’s lived in multiple places, including Texas, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Tennessee. Delaware, however, has been his most extended U.S. address.
“I’ve been here for five years now, and I’m just loving it,” says the Newark resident. Indeed, Surwade likes Delaware so much that in 2017, he founded SAS Nanotechnologies in Wilmington’s Stanton area. SAS stands for “Smart, Advanced, Sustainable.”
The chemical startup is currently developing smart microcapsule technology for various applications, including anticorrosive coatings and biocides.
Delaware’s status as a science-driven hub has made the state an ideal location for the business. But, as he’s learned, there are plenty of other advantages.
Surwade’s route to Delaware started on another continent. As a child, he excelled at math and science, but it wasn’t until he was in middle school that science became a passion. “School projects, such as building a solar farm, got me really excited,” he says.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai, he headed to the United States, where he earned a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Texas in Dallas. He then earned a doctorate in chemistry and polymer science from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and followed that with postdoctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh.
Initially, the young scientist pictured his future as a university research group leader. But while at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee, he decided to forgo academia and dip his toe into the industry.
In 2015, Surwade took a job at FujiFilm Imaging in New Castle, Delaware, where he developed inks and formulations for inkjet printing applications. At the time, he knew little about the state except the little that he’d gleaned from friends who were University of Delaware graduates. That would soon change.
While working for Fuji, the innovative chemist grew restless. He had so many product ideas with the potential for commercial applications. Chief among them was a polymer that could inhibit corrosion on heavy metal in structures such as vehicles, bridges and industrial machinery.
He felt the timing was right. “Maybe I should be adventurous early in my career as opposed to later on,” he told himself. “Maybe doing something on my own would be more fun.”
In October 2016, Surwade secured lab space in the Delaware Technology Park, where he worked nights and weekends on his research. By the following fall, he was full-time with SAS Nanotechnologies. While developing the product, he still turns to the University of Delaware for specialty equipment that would be too expensive for him to purchase.
Surwade’s technology focuses on environmentally friendly microcapsules that gradually release an agent to heal damaged areas, such as scratches on metal. The agent can also be intentionally triggered. Similarly, these microcapsules could attack the fungus, mold or bacteria that damage materials such as roofs.
Surwade wasn’t the only one to see the advantages. With the Small Business Development Center’s help, he won a $225,000 National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant and the Emerging Enterprise Center’s Swim with the Sharks Pitch Competition. And those awards were just the beginning for the chemical startup.
The funding has been encouraging, but Surwade also has been inspired by the people he has met in Delaware. This includes members of the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance (DESCA).
“They had so many small workshops and meetings with former DuPont employees — high-level managers and executives,” he recalls. “They were sitting with me and listening to my ideas. It motivated me. Folks here are willing to help you.”
Delaware is known for being a state where it’s easy to network and discover resources. “You always can find someone who knows a key contact at a company,” Surwade agrees.
Since starting SAS Nanotechnologies, Surwade has watched as even more labs, accelerator programs, forums and resources have become available to startups like his.
“It’s a good time for a chemical startup to come to Delaware,” he says. “It’s an exciting time.”