NLight raises $35 million, prelude to possible IPO

Clark County business says market is hot for its laser technology

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Laser manufacturer nLight has raised an additional $35 million to expand production, capitalizing on what the Clark County company says is a hot market for its technology.

“We are growing, growing over 30 percent a year, over $100 million in sales last year,” said Scott Keeney, nLight’s founder and chief executive. “We’re profitable, but we’re continuing to invest in new manufacturing. We see opportunities for continued growth.”

Founded in 2000, privately held nLight has 400 employees split between its factory north of Vancouver and an office in Hillsboro, Ore. Keeney said the company has a number of open positions as it expands.

Laser technology is improving at a rapid clip, according to Keeney, analogous to the early days of the semiconductor industry. Laser capabilities are improving while costs are falling.

Keeney said new applications are emerging in industrial fields such as welding, cutting and 3-D printing. Meanwhile, lasers have become an essential component of electronics production, creating tiny features for smartphones, laptops and other devices.

NLight has disclosed $170 million in investment, making it among the region’s best-funded tech companies. Prior backers include venture capitalists and Korean electronics giant Samsung. Keeney declined to say who is funding the latest round, but he said it includes one major new backer and strategic and financial investors.

Other laser companies, such as Massachusetts-based IPG Photonics, have persuaded Wall Street there is a big opportunity in lasers, according to Keeney. IPG shares have soared from around $83 a year ago to $135 now. Keeney said nLight’s investors are mulling a possible public offering for the company, though he said they’re not seeking an IPO in the near future.

The region’s other large laser company, Washington County-based Electro Scientific Industries, reported a 13 percent jump in quarterly revenue Tuesday and forecast growth around 29 percent in the current quarter.