November 2, 2007
Most Promising New Enterprise
Solid Sealing Technology Inc.
By ADAM SICHKO
THE BUSINESS REVIEW
The founders of Solid Sealing Technology Inc. are quite serious when they say they “knew nothing” about starting a business back in January 2004.
Even so, their track record makes it tempting to call their bluff.
Three years ago, they shipped their first order. Now, this year’s revenue at the 24-person company is approaching $5 million, after jumping more than 80 percent in 2006.
Turns out that’s all according to plan for Gary Balfour and Alan Fuierer. As president and chief operations officer, respectively, the pair has piloted their start-up company into a global player, with 175 clients spread across 19 countries. The company has adhered to its aggressive, meticulous business plan for designing and manufacturing high-tech industrial parts, often involving complex ceramic bonding and airtight sealing techniques. Even now, the firm is boosting capacity and adding new scorching-hot furnaces as planned.
“It’s just rock and roll,” Balfour said. “It’s better to be aggressive than let the market pass you by.”
Defining the market for Solid Sealing’s products is straightforward. Describing exactly what Solid Sealing makes is another matter.
The company often produces specialized, made-to-order parts for equipment manufacturers. Much of its business comes from the electronics and semiconductor markets, as well as the homeland security, medical and nanotechnology fields. The company sells to Fortune 100 companies and university research labs alike.
As for the complex parts Solid Sealing makes, Fuierer readily admits that “it’s not something you can explain in a 30-second elevator ride.”
Put it this way: Solid Sealing doesn’t make semiconductors – it makes parts that someone else uses to produce a semiconductor.
The company has a catalog of about 1,100 items, but the majority of its business comes from creating products such as high-tech tubes, plugs and connectors – with a microscopic margin of error.
“We can build two of something and it could be a $20,000 part. Or, we can build thousands of something that might be a $100 part,” Fuierer explained.
Added Balfour: “Our part will never fail.”
Such flatly stated confidence has its roots in the rigorous cleaning and testing that the company puts its products through. One measly particle that squeaks through one supposedly ultra-airtight pin on a Solid Sealing product could ruin a multimillion-dollar semi-conductor, for example.
“When you’re new, you have to be right. You have to be 99 percent successful the first time, or else someone says, ‘You’re new. I’m not going through with you,’” Balfour said.
Although the company was new in 2004, its founders were well-versed in running a high-tech ceramics engineering business. Balfour and Fuierer previously held front-office jobs with CeramTec North America Corp., leaving when the firm moved from Columbia County to South Carolina.
The two decided Albany was the place to make their niche products, citing the region’s technology network. The company has mainly operated out of the spotlight, along with other firms that are largely overshadowed by the potential arrival of computer-chip giant Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Balfour said.
“I don’t know how you ever found us, because we don’t have a big neon sign out there that says, ‘AMD wannabe,’” he said. He added that he’s excited at the prospect of AMD’s arrival, but “It’s gotta’ be simpler than, if AMD comes, we’re successful, if AMD doesn’t come, we fail.”
Failure, however, was a possibility as Balfour and Fuierer tried to envision future growth when determining what equipment to buy, where to locate and whom to hire to design and produce their products. Every step in Solid Sealing’s growth has been planned with a purpose – down to the paperless office.
“For us, there’s a lot of factors that can pull you in and crush you quickly,” Balfour said. “You kind of bet the farm.”
Balfour said the company avoided those pitfalls primarily by finding manufacturing space that the company could grow into, even though such a move was costly early on when the company spent months designing products, but not selling them. The approach seems to have worked; the company expects to roughly double annual revenue within three years.
“Are we perfect? No. But we’re within the envelope,” Balfour said.
And, they’re on schedule.
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