City’s Marine and Science Technology Quest Center Graduates Its First Company

John Sladewski / The Standard-Times BIRNS Aquamate manufactures and markets underwater electrical connectors used on oil rigs, submarintes, and other aquatic apparatus. Eli Bar-Hai, operations manager of the BIRNS company explains some of the equipment on display.

Seaworthy Success Story
Maker of Waterproof Electrical Connectors Outgrows its Incubator
By Becky W. Evans, Standard-Times Staff Writer

A new marine technology firm that sells underwater electrical connectors is leaving the nest today to grow and prosper on its own.

BIRNS Aquamate is scheduled to move out of New Bedford’s Quest Center on Purchase Street into a new office at Howland Place on Orchard Street.

“We need a larger space,” operations manager Eli Bar-Hai said.

The Quest Center opened in September 2005 as an incubator for startup companies specializing in marine science and technology. The City of New Bedford, UMass Dartmouth and the SouthCoast Development Partnership created the center to nurture the region’s emerging identity as a marine science and technology hub.

BIRNS Aquamate is the incubator’s first success story, said David Sheehan, the center’s executive director.

The company moved into the incubator six months ago, utilized the center’s resources to connect with local customers and now plans to grow its business while remaining rooted in New Bedford.

“That’s the whole idea,” Mr. Sheehan said. “We expect to have them here in New Bedford for a long time.”

The company, which currently employs two people, is expected to hire an additional seven to eight employees within the next five years as it expands its operations to include manufacturing. Mr. Bar-Hai said he will likely hire and train three to four “technical people with electrical backgrounds.”

BIRNS Aquamate was founded as a joint venture between the Israeli firm Zevulun Marine Systems and California-based BIRNS Inc. Both companies manufacture waterproof electrical connectors used in submarines, sonar and video equipment and other deep sea applications.

BIRNS Aquamate was established to market the connectors to U.S. companies.

“We needed to be on the east coast, where there were no companies manufacturing underwater connectors,” Mr. Bar-Hai said.

Being located near customers is important since many of them need the connectors to be shipped quickly to avoid costly project delays, he said.

New Bedford was selected for its central location within New England’s growing marine technology sector and its proximity to research institutions such as UMass Dartmouth and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The city’s “whaling history and its colorful past” enchanted Mr. Bar-Hai, who said he splits his time between New Bedford and Israel.

“I think the city holds a lot of potential,” he said.

Since moving into the Quest Center, BIRNS Aquamate has established customer relationships with local entities such as Teledyne Benthos in North Falmouth and the UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford. It has sold and shipped connectors to companies in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Brazil, Australia and South Africa.

Christopher Jakubiak, a project engineer at SMAST’s marine turbulence lab, said he recently received price quotes from BIRNS Aquamate for electrical connectors that would be used on underwater instruments that are still being developed.

The school uses the connectors for underwater vehicles and other instruments that collect information on water temperature, depth and salinity.

The connectors are “definitely the kind of thing that almost everyone has some use for,” he said.

Ranging in price from $20 to $500, the connectors come in various shapes and sizes and are gold-plated to retard corrosion in seawater. They are in high demand by three growing industries: offshore oil and gas exploration, oceanographic and climate research and the military.

The Quest Center was a “very good place” to launch the company, Mr. Bar-Hai said.

He praised the staff for being helpful and creating networking opportunities. The few companies at the incubator shared knowledge and Fathom Research, a scientific diving company, recently placed an order with BIRNS Aquamate, he said.

For the concept to work better, the incubator needs to attract more marine technology firms, Mr. Bar-Hai said.

“When they have 10 companies that are related, that will make a big difference,” he said.

After BIRNS Aquamate departs, the Quest Center will have four tenants: the diving company, an alternative energy consulting firm, a Web development group and a company that designs launch and recovery systems for underwater robots.

Two additional companies that specialize in environmental science are “under consideration” for the incubator, Mr. Sheehan said.

Contact Becky W. Evans at revans@s-t.com
Date of Publication: January 28, 2007 on Page D01

www.birnsaquamate.com