November 19, 2001
'Sukant's dream was to change the world'
VANESSA HUGHES Sun Staff
LOWELL -- Before he died last December, Sukant Tripathy was just one month away from launching a new company. He had been developing solar technology for 10 years at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and finally reached the point where his work could be translated into a viable product.
It would be a product that Tripathy hoped would improve the quality of life for millions in his native India.
"Sukant's dream was to use solar technology in rural India, where today, most people have no electricity," said Louis Petrovic, director of external funding, technology transfer and partnering at UMass Lowell. "He wanted everyone to be able to have one light bulb in their house."
But when an overpowering rip tide cut Tripathy's life short at age 48 while he was swimming in Hawaii, so too were his dreams of harnessing the sun's power to change lives.
Still rocked by the loss, Petrovic said he decided to bring Tripathy's solar technology to the university chancellor anyway, hoping to drum up support for continuing the commercial venture Tripathy inspired, but would never get a chance to see.
"We stopped and said, 'We still have something here,'" Petrovic recalled. "The potential was still exciting."
Paul Wormser had worked with Tripathy researching commercial applications for the technology. He was convinced to come on board as president of the business that would carry out Tripathy's vision.
Board members, including Nobel laureate Alan Heeger, soon joined the project. Many had been close to Tripathy. All had known of his extensive work, not just in solar technology, but in the entire field of polymer chemistry, which he taught at the university. Tripathy also founded the Center for Advanced Materials at UMass Lowell in 1992.
With the team assembled, the next step was to find money. The university pitched in and soon after came the first shot of venture capital funding from angel investors and ZeroStage Capital, a firm where some of Tripathy's former students had become decision-makers.
In July -- using Tripathy's contacts and the technology he developed --the company was born.
"We were trying to find a way to make his dream happen," Petrovic said.
The first task was to come up with a name for the business. Petrovic said company officials searched for a label that would acknowledge Tripathy's contribution. One of the first ideas was DST Inc., after Dr. Sukant Tripathy, he said, but the name didn't go over well. Instead, company officials called Tripathy's wife Susan for inspiration.
"She said his most favorite place was an area of India that he loved -- the temple of Konarka -- which was dedicated to the God of sun," Petrovic said. "When she said that, it was over."Konarka, a temple in Orissa, India, was Tripathy's favorite spot because of its beauty, Petrovic said. But it was more than fitting that the structure is also a dedication to Surya, the Indian sun god.Now with 17 employees and $1 million behind them, the Konarka team has more than hopes of profit to inspire them to make this company succeed."There are six billion people in the world: Two billion will never have electricity. They will never get an outlet in their house," Wormser said. "Sukant's dream was to change the world."
(c) 2001 The Sun (Lowell, MA). All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.