A shiny round motor has spun its way around the world, from an impoverished Russian laboratory to an Israeli science park to a Californian manufacturer. Thanks to the determination of a young researcher and a program designed to tap the know-how of immigrant scientists, this invention may power new growth in the production of compact electric motors.
Alexander Sromin's disc-shaped motor, the smallest version of which weighs just 700 grams and is as thin as a slice of bread, is one-third the size of a conventional electric motor. Yet it supplies twice as much power. The lightweight and efficient design makes it ideal for bicycles, wheelchairs and fans, as well as robots and mobile industrial machines.
Sromin created his company, Samot Engineering, through the Kiryat Weizmann Incubator for Technological Entrepreneurship, the first of 26 such incubators established in a
nationwide project in which the Weizmann Institute played a pioneering role. The motor he invented is now being checked against U.S. technical standards by a Californian firm manufacturing battery-run bicycles which plans to order 10,000 motors for sale with its bicycles this year.
Israel's incubator program was launched six years ago to help immigrant scientists with few financial resources get their ideas off the ground. Financed primarily by the Chief Scientist's Office of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, it gives promising entrepreneurs office space, guidance and seed money for two years. Then, they must fend for themselves.
The Kiryat Weizmann Incubator, established and run with the help of the Weizmann Institute and Africa-Israel Investments Ltd., is headed by Dr. Shmuel Yerushalmi, an alumnus of the Institute's Feinberg Graduate School. Seven of its 10 completed projects have proven successful, and 10 more are still in the incubator stage.
Thirty-five-year-old Sromin started working alone out of the incubator office space in the Kiryat Weizmann Industrial Park in 1992, just one year after immigrating from St. Petersburg.
In 1995, he signed a financing deal with German investors who took on a quarter stake in his company for $250,000. Now Sromin has seven employees and high hopes for the future.