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Janesville tech firm is on the move

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

JANESVILLE—Nate Ellsworth is picturing a day soon when he can remotely chat with employees at his Janesville tech company, N1 Critical Technologies, using a Segway scooter equipped with a video chat screen on top.

Spitballing on the idea, Ellsworth's partners at N1 dubbed the roving scooter, which would feature Ellsworth's disembodied face, “Segway Guy” or “Segway Nate.”

“At least, that's what we'd call it to its face,” N1's Chief Financial Officer David Farrell said.

In an interview Tuesday, Ellsworth, Farrell and N1 Critical Technologies Director of Operations Matt Hess came off as both jocular and excited, and they have reason to be.

The partners say their 2-year-old company has grown by leaps and bounds in recent months, with N1 absorbing more and more of the space available at its home, the Janesville Innovation Center on the city's south side.

Now, N1 is eyeing a move out of the Innovation Center, a local business incubator that Ellsworth said has been instrumental and “amazing” in helping the company launch and grow.

The company is planning a new product launch that Ellsworth said would make the company a true 21st-century innovator, and it would do that in a new location: the vacant former Red Cross service center at 211 N. Parker Drive in downtown Janesville.

N1 bought the 9,000-square-foot building in August for about $250,000, Ellsworth said.

In tandem with buying the new building, N1 has worked with a Chinese partner to develop and ready for market a new series of uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems that would run on lithium-ion batteries, Ellsworth said.

UPS systems are used to protect computer systems and large electronic data and telecommunications centers from power interruptions that can damage equipment or lead to massive data loss.

Ellsworth said N1 would be the first IT company he knows of to customize and sell such systems with lithium-ion battery technology.

He said lithium technology would simplify and improve the way UPS systems are powered and create a new class of systems that could run up to five times longer compared to systems that use standard, lead-acid batteries similar to traditional car batteries.

As he spoke, Ellsworth, 34, adjusted a Milwaukee Brewers ball cap that topped his attire, which included a sport coat; an untucked, button-down shirt; fashion jeans; and cowboy boots.

“We're the only one out there doing this. I haven't slept in months, and all I can say is that I'm excited,”

Ellsworth, a Westfield native, said he decided to take N1 on a plunge into lithium ion after a revelation he had that was based at least in part on the battery technology in his own car, an electric Tesla Model S P90D.

As N1 plans to get its new digs in downtown Janesville renovated and move-in ready—possibly by the end of 2017—Ellsworth and his partners are set to unveil a new product line, which includes new racking systems and connection components.

The company could begin to build the units in Janesville soon, and Ellsworth and Hess said their company is hunting for a third facility where it could ramp up building UPS systems and racking equipment and store the products.

N1's projects that in the next three or four months, it could begin to build 1,000 of the new systems along with the traditional systems it continues to sell, install and service.  

Eventually, Ellsworth said, the company could grow to build and sell several thousand units a month, although it's not clear how soon the company might dive into full manufacturing of the products yet. Some of the systems it customizes are built by other tech firms.  

Now, N1 has sales offices and operations in several suites inside the Janesville Innovation Center, and a move downtown would allow the company to do hiring it needs to tackle an expansion and new product launch.

Under N1's own projections, it could need to grow its employee base from 20 people to 30 or 40 within a couple of years, Ellsworth and Farrell said.

That hiring would largely be to handle accounts the company expects to gain through its regular business and its entree into lithium-ion-powered products. Ellsworth said N1 already has a national sales presence that includes business with Raytheon and Google.

Ellsworth said N1 liked the location of its future downtown headquarters, and he says its two-floor layout would allow the company to set up open-air sales office space, along with an operations, data and customer support center, while having leftover space to add some Silicon Valley-style flourishes.

Some ideas to that end include an adult-sized slide that would span both the building's floors, a kitchen, gym and locker rooms, and a chill-out area where employees could play video games, race drones and relax.

N1 is also working on turning the building into a technology-smart facility with copious videoconferencing setups and a lobby equipped with a giant touch tablet that would allow visitors to electronically summon N1 officials.

“Every employee is going to get a hoverboard. It will be like a Willy Wonka factory come to life,” Ellsworth said

Ellsworth and Farrell said N1 is now working with the city of Janesville on a potential tax-incentive deal they said could help with an exterior facelift as the company makes re-use of a building downtown that has sat vacant for more than a year.

A rehab of the building's interior could cost N1 $300,000 to $400,000, Ellsworth said. He said the idea is to gear the building to be N1's corporate headquarters, regardless of where growth might take the company.

Farrell said despite what could be a tricky renovation project and exterior re-design, N1 so far views the city as an “ally” in the company's plans to grow downtown.

Two maintenance workers at the Garden Court Apartments, which is adjacent to the former Red Cross building, were curious Tuesday about recent activity they've seen next door.

One of the men, who did not identify himself by name, was surprised to hear it was a local IT firm moving into the former Red Cross.

“It's good to have a tech influence in downtown,” the man said. “Something like that … that's Janesville moving forward.”



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