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Five Questions with Kevin Bouley

Nerac's president talks about the company's rich history in research and development and its new role as a business adviser.

Nerac president and CEO Kevin Bouley talks about the Toland-based company's bright future in these tough economic times. He says the company's comprehensive research in ground-breaking, technology-based fields keeps it relevant and in demand with its clients.

1. Can you give us some background on the company? 

The company dates all the way back to the earliest days of the space race. It traces its roots back to the Space Act passed by Congress in 1958. We were working with NASA to transfer the technology that was used for the exploration of space to companies within the six New England states, plus New York and New Jersey.

The benefit of that technology was to be more than just for space exploration. It was supposed to kindle imaginations and create innovations for products on Earth.

So that’s where our roots we began. We were hosted at the University of Connecticut. As a group, we found ourselves growing, based upon the characteristics of how people were consuming and using our information products. We got so large that in 1985 we spun out of UConn and became a private company, still working with NASA, but independent of the host relationship that we once had with the University of Connecticut.

We’re still good friends; we still do lots of work with UConn, but we relocated here to the offices in Tolland, and this is where we set up shop. We’ve been here since 1987. The organization today is a research and advisory services firm, that provides guidance, advisory opinion, analysis and insight related to companies that are looking to invent and innovate in specific area of domain and discipline areas.

2. In how many fields have you typically advised companies?

The stories are nearly countless. We were asked recently by an automobile manufacturer to assist them with the development of a concept vehicle.

They wanted to put heads-up window displays, so that when you look through the windscreen, you’re actually seeing the gages, the instruments and the dials. So rather than a dashboard, you’d be looking through the dashboard to the front of the vehicle. They also wanted to innovate in areas where the body panels of the vehicle would utilize shape memory materials. Those materials could be modified to change either the aerodynamics of the car, or to change its handling characteristics. We said we’d love to work on that project. 

The characteristics of the areas that we get involved with include specialty chemistry: paints, polymers, thinners, films, coatings, adhesives, all the usual suspects, plus things like food chemistry.

Advanced materials aren’t just for cars. You’ll also find advanced materials in most medical devices. If you’re going to have a heart stent: is it going to be coated, will you make it out of advanced metals, will you make it out of flexible fabric, will you make it out of plastics; if you’re going to infuse it with a drug, how do you insert the drug into the stent or coat the stent with the drugs so that it time releases slowly? The work that we do from a research perspective touches many things.

3. What fields do your employees specialize in?

The expertise generally falls into a couple of key areas including specialty chemistry. We have some individuals who not only specialize in a single domain, but they have degrees in chemistry plus intellectual property law. So they’re a patent attorney, as well as being a PhD chemist.

Or, in the case of some of the folks working on the medical device side, they are a biochemist with a Master’s in business administration. The characteristics of the interplay between those disciplines allows them to understand the nature of the technology interest and the areas that are being explored by the client, and be able to frame it in a way that resolves a business issue.

4. What do you see in the future for Nerac?

We see a bright future in providing guidance and an advisory opinion to customers. The current marketplace crisis, the current economic malaise, represents both a threat and an opportunity. And you might imagine with companies facing uncertain economic futures, they would hold off on hiring decisions for new employees.

Unemployment is running on greater than 9 percent. Companies are making decisions based on eliminating marketplace risk, but the nature of the work still remains. Research and development must still take place, and they’re forced to do it with fewer and fewer employees. As long as there’s a challenging economic environment, companies will look to a partner like Nerac to assist with their innovation and product development endeavors.

5. About how many employees do you have, and how many cases do you take on?

We have about 65 people. A little more than half of those are analysts. They handle anywhere from a 130 to a 150 requests per week of the fairly routine, on-demand type, and then another dozen or so larger projects on a monthly basis for clients that are all over the globe. 

For more information on Nerac, visit the company's Web site.

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