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Hatsopoulos brothers powering tech company

Hollywood has nothing on Greater Boston’s technology world when it comes to an obsession with youth. From Kendall Square to the Innovation District, companies trip over each other every day to recruit new, fresh-faced tech talent that can help them go public.

In that culture, John and George Hatsopoulos stick out like a couple of sore thumbs. John, the chief executive of Tecogen Inc., is 79 years old, which makes him George’s kid brother. This chief executive is playing tennis — not extreme sports — during his spare time.

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But the brothers, who together own slightly more than half of Tecogen, are chasing the same dream that drives countless Cambridge twentysomethings to work deep into the night — building a company around developing technology and taking it public.

Talk to John for five minutes and he’ll convince you of two things: Age and enthusiasm are not issues at Tecogen.

“I’m 79 years old and I work more than 60 hours a week,” John said a couple of days ago. “This is the best time I’ve ever had in my life.”

John and George, a Tecogen director at 86, have more than a confident attitude. The Hatsopoulos brothers have the kind of track record most up-and-coming technology executives can only dream about. They’ve spent a half century creating businesses out of new technology and taking them public.

Their first public company, Thermo Electron Inc. of Waltham, was based on George’s research developing a device for the direct conversion of heat to electricity while attending MIT in the 1950s.

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That business was a success in its own right, but it also spun out another 20 public companies that worked on everything from medical equipment to bomb-detecting devices.

If John and George don’t sound particularly glitzy, neither does the company they run today. Tecogen doesn’t create flashy apps to control heating and cooling systems. It builds power systems that can generate electricity and run heating or cooling units for big buildings. Their niche: customers looking for especially high efficiency and low emissions.

Tecogen traces its roots to an old Thermo Electron unit that served as the company’s general research division in decades past. The company operates in Waltham — just a mile or so from what is today known as Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. — the epicenter for a technology boom of another generation.

The Hatsopoulos brothers bought the business from Thermo more than a decade ago and brought many of its employees with them.

That includes Tecogen’s president, Robert Panora, who ran product development, engineering, and operations functions when the business was owned by Thermo Electron.

Today, Tecogen is a growing but modest-sized business. It generates about $15 million in annual sales and employs about 66 people. Like many small technology companies, it is losing money while it increases business.

Over the summer, Tecogen filed paperwork to raise $20 million in the stock market and aimed to launch its initial public offering last week.

The timing, amid choppy markets and a government shutdown, was not ideal. John Hatsopoulos says offers to buy Tecogen shares were lower than expected so he withdrew the IPO.

“We’re not about to give our company away,” he says. “We’d be doing a lot of damage to our existing shareholders and employees who have stock options.”

Tecogen’s short-term solution for its cash needs is a direct line to the chief executive’s checkbook.

John Hatsopoulos, who is paid $1 a year as chief executive, extended a $1.1 million letter of credit to the company in July, according to Tecogen IPO documents.

He said the company would look for other private financing and hopefully try again to go public next year.

Skeptics might view Tecogen’s public stock plans as a way out for older owners tired of funding a business from their own pockets.

John Hatsopoulos insists Tecogen’s IPO plan was about raising money to expand and capitalize on technology advances the company has made in the last few years. And the chief executive says he doesn’t have plans to go anywhere.

“As long as I’m healthy, I have no intention of retiring,” Hatsopoulos says.

“Maybe nature will change my mind, but I have a goal of being around for 10 or 20 more active years.”

The Hatsopoulos brothers have always had big ambitions. Maybe that’s what keeps them young.

Steven Syre is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at syre@globe.com.

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