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A jack of all trades, master of solar

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Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 12:00 am

Most doctors don’t have a background in electrical engineering, neuroscience and entrepreneurship and own a portion of the company they work for.

Most doctors, though, aren’t Patrick Marcus.

His diverse education has led to a senior management position at a local solar technology company. Not bad for someone only a few years out of college.

As with many technological ventures, General Plasma Incorporated started on a shoestring. Over the next decade, the Tucson company has since grown to more than 50 employees and provides a key component to the solar industry.

“We focus on solar because it’s a growing industry even in this economy,” Marcus said.

The company deals with vacuum coating systems, which could take the form of tinted skyscraper windows to the scratch-resistant layer on eyeglasses.

The solar industry, though, is lucrative enough for the company to make it the core of their business. 

Marcus started working for General Plasma in 2000 after receiving a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona.

“I became a part time employee rather than a contractor,” said Marcus, adding that working for a startup company broadened his skill set beyond engineering. “What happened was I started becoming a key member of the company.”

So much so, that on General Plasma’s website, Marcus is listed second from the top on the senior management page.

“He has great engineering skills, good common sense and super interpersonal skills,” said General Plasma President John Madocks. “As time went by he took on increasing responsibility within GPI.  When he completed his doctorate in 2006 we wanted to keep him.  Given his contribution, it was easy to offer him a senior position and part ownership in GPI.”

General Plasma doesn’t produce solar panels themselves, just the manufacturing components needed to make them.

One such machine is the R&D web coater, which applies clear, thin, conductive layer that is necessary in products ranging from LCD televisions to solar cells, which is needed to allow electricity to flow along the top surface of the cell so that the energy can get to all the connection points without the use of wires.

Although his official title is project engineer, Marcus wears many hats; working with marketing, IT and accounting, as well as helping the business grow.

“I was getting a tremendous education in business development,” he said.

This prompted him to seek more education on the business side of things. While he was pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering with a minor in neuroscience, he enrolled in the UA’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, graduatuing from both programs in 2006.

Though General Plasma focuses mainly in the solar side of their technologies, the broad application of plasma gave Marcus an idea.

While a student in the entrepreneurship program, he thought that other companies might want to employ the technologies into the areas General Plasma doesn’t focus on. Part of the center’s curriculum involves groups of students coming up with and marketing an entrepreneurial project.

Marcus’ team came up with an idea to create spin-off ventures based on General Plasma’s vacuum thin film coating technology. Though thin film coating isn’t in everyday language, it is in everyday products including DVDs, architecture glass and even candy bar wrappers.

Despite interest by a few venture capitalists, nothing came of the project as each of the other team members had their own career paths mapped out.

What Marcus likes the most about his job is the challenge of building and developing a small business, something he wouldn’t soon trade for a position at a larger company. 

If there is a local researcher under the age of 35 you think should be featured in a future column, contact Nicholas Smith at nsmith@azbiz.com or at (520) 295-4238. Next Generation appears the first week of each month in Inside Tucson Business. 

General Plasma Incorporated

Founded in 1997 by John Madocks, the company has since grown to nearly 60 employees. General Plasma designs and builds large-area vacuum coating devices, which are used in the production of solar panels, scratch resistent coating for eyewear and architectural glass. While the company has the ability to help contribute to all these products, their chief focus is on the solar industry.

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