A Texas venture capital firm owned by the Hunt brothers of Texas oil country this week invested $6 million in a fast-growing Shoreview company headed by a retired University of Minnesota scientist.
MSP Corp., founded by university researchers Benjamin Liu and Virgil Marple in 1988, makes test equipment for the drug-inhaler and semiconductor industries. The 45-person firm, which is profitable on about $15 million in sales (which have doubled over the past three years) is known for its expertise in the use of micro/nano particles and its creative approaches to complex measurement and technical problems.
"I'm pleased our business has earned the support of Hunt Growth Capital, and I look forward to their collaboration as we build MSP into a leading provider of particle-measuring instruments and technology products and services to the semiconductor and pharmaceutical industries," Liu, 73, said.
Liu came to the university in 1956 to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering after graduating from the University of Nebraska. At Minnesota, he started the Center for Particle Technology.
Liu said Hunt Growth Capital is buying a "small minority share" of the company with the $6 million and that the proceeds will be used to provide cash to the founders as well as financing for next-generation products.
MSP, which exports products to Asia and Europe, makes advanced aerosol measuring instruments and products for testing pharmaceutical inhalers. In semiconductors, it focuses on vapor-generating apparatus for thin-film deposition and semiconductor device fabrication.
Liu and Marple set up the company as a way to commercialize promising technology, but MSP was not very active until Liu began a phased retirement in 1997. Marple, 68, is in the process of retiring from the university.
"The Hunt investment gives us access to connections and guidance on how to grow the company," Liu said Wednesday. "We're transitioning from an entrepreneurial-stage company. I will continue to run it and we will beef up in certain areas, such as business management, sales and marketing. The investment is kind of a vindication of what we have done."
The investment was secured by Aethlon Capital, a boutique investment bank that also has raised money for other Minnesota-based companies, including Cirrus Design of Duluth, Granite City Food & Brewery and Appliance Recycling Centers of America.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144