Tiger of the Week: Conor Madigan ’00

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Conor Madigan ’00 (Courtesy Kateeva Inc.)

When Conor Madigan ’00 started studying organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) as a Princeton undergraduate, he saw a potentially brilliant technology for everything from flat screen TVs to mobile phone displays. But the hype surrounding it, he says, was “wildly premature.” 

Fast-forward 12 years. Madigan is now the CEO and co-founder of Kateeva Inc., a leading startup in the OLED field, and he thinks that by 2013, the technology will bring brighter, crisper, and more energy-efficient flat-screen TVs to the marketplace. Kateeva’s job, he says, will be to “address one of the key manufacturing challenges that’s slowing down the adoption curve.”

Kateeva’s solution — a technique that uses inkjet printers and a micro-dryer to deposit the light-emitting organic materials used in OLED screens — earned the 32-year-old Madigan a spot on Technology Review‘s 2010 list of the world’s top 35 innovators under age 35, released this week.

Madigan, an electrical engineer who earned his Ph.D. from MIT, initially planned on a career in the academy. In fact, he was interviewing for faculty jobs in 2007 when he started drafting the business plan for what would become Kateeva. Relying on what he’d learned from a couple of entrepreneurship courses that he took at MIT’s Sloan School of Business, he began talking with investors. With each step, Madigan says, “I started to get more and more excited about it.” He set aside the job search, negotiated licensing deals with MIT, and started securing venture capital.

In the last two years, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based Kateeva has grown to 31 employees. Madigan is quick to point to the people around him as the keys to his success, from his MIT mentors, professors Vladimir Bulovic ’91 *98 and Martin Schmidt, who were among the company’s founders, to Kateeva’s executive chairman, Sass Somekh, who has shared a wealth of knowledge from his career in the semiconductor industry. With their help, the onetime aspiring professor is making the most of his new life in the startup world. “It’s been fantastic,” Madigan says. “I could not have picked a better first job.”

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.

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