Phoenix Nuclear Labs looks to expand medical isotopes product

An investment from BrightStar will help Phoenix Nuclear Labs move a bit away from research and focus more on its commercial opportunities.

The Monona company’s technology generates neutrons for uses ranging from creating medical isotopes to detecting explosives and illicit nuclear material. And the company is looking to add on more customers.

“The goal for this year is to transition away from doing a lot of research and development and move to more commercial technology to grow our revenue and improve the reproducibility of this technology,” said Evan Sengbusch, PNL’s vice president of business development.

PNL began its research and development operations in 2005, when it was a one man shop founded by former Gillware Inc. chief technical officer Gregory Piefer. It sold its first technology to a company in the United Kingdom in 2014 and has now grown to 30 employees.

For a long time, the company relied on federal grants, but private investors have since come out of the woodwork as the company keeps growing. So far, it’s raised about $5 million from private investors and brought in $15 million through other funding.

PNL was actually spun off from another notable Monona company, SHINE Medical Technologies, which uses PNL’s technology. SHINE is looking to become a domestic supplier of molybdenum 99, an isotope often used in medical imaging.

The combined team’s technology works similar to an X-ray machine but can be much more effective.

“It can work with a lot of less dense objects, but it’s better used penetrating dense things,” Sengbusch said.

The market for making neutrons for medical technology is slim, but PNL says they are one-of-a-kind in the field. They compete, for example, with nuclear reactors, which are more expensive and less effective at creating enough neutrons needed for imaging technology. There are other similar accelerators out there, but Sengbusch said PNL makes neutrons at 1,000 times the rate of their competitors.

“The advantage our company brings is that because we have so many more neutrons we can produce more pictures and more high resolution images at a more commercial rate,” he said.

The investment from BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation marks the organization’s first investment of 2016.

“This is the type of investment opportunity that BrightStar was created for — innovative, market changing technology that creates high quality jobs here in our state,” said Jeff Harris, BrightStar’s board chair.

— By Jordyn Noennig,