18. Phononic

Quiet cool

Founder: Tony Atti
Launched: 2009
Funding: $90 million
Valuation: $183.2 million
Disrupting: heating and cooling
Rival: Embraco

How's this for something different: a company that actually makes stuff. Durham, North Carolina-based Phononic is a semiconductor manufacturer that has developed a new, solid-state cooling and refrigeration technology that can replace older, less-efficient refrigeration systems. Right now the company is selling medical refrigerators that are used in labs and hospitals, but later this year it will enter the consumer market.


Founder and CEO Tony Atti was a director at MHI Energy Partners, a boutique private-equity firm, when he recognized the opportunity to improve cooling and refrigeration systems back in 2009. His company's solid-state technology replaces the mechanical compressors and heat-exchange systems that power traditional refrigerators. By eliminating these moving parts, Phononic's units are nearly silent and use about 25 percent less energy.

"We work with the customers that are just as crazy as us – those open to creative approaches – so that we can grow and innovate together." -Tony Atti, founder and CEO

The company claims that the medical-grade refrigerators and the units for home use, coming out later this year, will be comparably priced with what's on the market now. So far, the company has raised close to $90 million in venture funding from Oak Investment Partners, Venrock Associates and Tsing Capital. Looking ahead, Phononics said it sees great promise in working with fiber-optics manufacturers to make semiconductor devices that cool the lasers that transmit and receive data in fiber-optic networks.

Tony Atti, co-founder, president and CEO of Phononic
Source: Phonomic
Tony Atti, co-founder, president and CEO of Phononic

Latest Special Reports

  • More than ever, the hope for a sustainable world has gained traction among the next generation of businesses, policymakers and investors. CNBC’s Sustainable Future focuses on how smart investments, new ideas and tech innovation can generate commerce — and a world — with staying power.

  • CNBC’s Women & Wealth explores ways that women can increase their income, save for the future and make the most out of current opportunities.

  • Innovative female entrepreneur examining prototype

    In an era of rapid technological advances and demographic change, how do legacy companies adapt, innovate and evolve? CNBC Evolve features iconic global companies and executives who are embracing change and transforming for the future.