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Innovation Economy

Why did solar cell company Konarka fail?

Bic Stevens can remember his first glimpse at some dazzling solar power technology developed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell back in 2001. Scientists had produced a “little quarter-sized solar cell, entirely out of plastic, and it made a little propeller go,” Stevens says. The appeal of a “dirt-cheap,” pliable, and easy-to-manufacture solar material was that almost anything, from the roof of a bus to the top of an Army tent, could start generating electricity from the sun.

Stevens put the first $50,000 into creating a company that would commercialize the UMass research, and helped recruit a Nobel prize winner in chemistry to advise the new venture, Konarka Technologies. (The company was named after a temple in India built to honor the sun god Surya.)

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