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Alumni Spotlight: An Interview with Diane Kees of Micro Harmonics

Alumni Spotlight: An Interview with Diane Kees of Micro Harmonics

Posted on: June 27, 2024
Diane Keen and David Porterfield of Micro Harmonics

Right now,  there are radio telescope receivers in Italy and Korea that are operating thanks to highly advanced components developed in Fincastle, VA. The company responsible? Micro Harmonics

Micro Harmonics is a 2019 RAMP alumni company that specializes in ferrite components like millimeter wave isolators, millimeter wave circulators, and millimeter wave attenuators, for use at millimeter-wave (MMW) frequencies. While other manufactures are churning out copies from midcentury designs, Micro Harmonics has designed their components from the ground up using modern tools to achieve the most advanced performance on the market. 

Micro Harmonics is also a family run company. Founded by CEO Dr. David Porterfield and operated by his sister COO Diane Kees, Micro Harmonics is making waves in the global industry. Diane recently granted us an interview to discuss the history of Micro Harmonics and her experience on the path to commercialization in the Roanoke-Blacksburg innovation ecosystem.

Tell us the origin story of your company. What inspired you? 

My brother Dr. David Porterfield founded Micro Harmonics in Waynesboro, VA in 2008 after selling his shares in Virginia Diodes (VDI), a leading mm-wave terahertz company in Charlottesville. Micro Harmonics originally operated as a design consultancy until 2014. David recognized that the dearth of components for systems designers in mm-wave and THz frequencies was a hinderance to development of technologies that are trying to tap into that spectrum (50-400 GHz). It seemed like an opportunity to explore. 

I hold a master’s of engineering from UVA and he invited me to join him on a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to develop a line of mm-wave isolators. In 2015 we won a follow-on SBIR and the company moved to Fincastle. We have had 6 NASA SBIR’s to date and are releasing our fifth product line this summer. Our components enable next generation telecommunication systems such as 6G/7G, portal security, atmospheric observation, standoff detection, and more. 

Describe a typical client and the reach of your product.

Micro Harmonics is recognized as the foremost supplier of mm-wave ferrite components in the world. Our components are used in leading research labs and test & measurement companies all over the world and our market is growing globally at 30% per year. Our components are in radio telescope receivers in Italy and Korea. Our revolutionary hybrid circulator is patent pending.

What has it meant for your company to have participated in RAMP? 

We had developed the best mm-wave technology in the world, but had no idea how to run the business. It was a steep learning curve to learn how to sell, market, find a banker, find an attorney, etc. RAMP was an answer to a prayer and truly put us on the path to success. 

Who are some of the Roanoke-Blacksburg mentors that have impacted you?   

Ken Ferris and Doug Juanarena were—and still are—our primary mentors and words can’t describe how valuable their wisdom and guidance has been for us. Others who greatly impacted us are Mary Miller, Lisa Garcia, Tom England…the list goes on and on. RAMP opened up a world of business mentors and the associated wisdom to us.

What is one obstacle in the founding of your company that you’re most proud of overcoming? The transition from completely R&D to manufacturing. 

What piece of advice would you give early-stage tech/biotech entrepreneurs? 

Seek out mentors and apply for a RAMP cohort!

Tell us a fun fact about you!

I was a stay-at-home mom for over twenty years and home schooled my four children all the way through high school graduation.

What else would you like us to know? 

At Micro Harmonics, our mission is to honor God by prospering our employees and serving our customers through the advancement of mm-wave component technology. Our vision is to create superior components that enable the commercialization of technology in the mm-wave spectrum. Our core values are teamwork, respect, initiative, and character. We have twelve very talented employees who bring something different to the company and contribute to the culture here.

RAMP is committed to connecting technology and life science entrepreneurs to the resources they need to advance their technology and further development through our three levels of business accelerators. Our flagship accelerator, RAMP-in-Residence offers two cohorts annually, once in the fall and one in the spring. Ready to join the next cohort? Apply now.

Want to keep up with the latest from Micro Harmonics? Be sure to follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn for news and updates.

RAMP and RBTC are part of the Verge alliance, established to grow the region’s innovation economy, technology and life sciences sectors, and the supporting professional communities. It aligns the strengths and programming efforts of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC) and the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP). Verge serves GO Virginia Region 2 and works to form collaborations with government, business, academia, and other organizations to advance the region and grow a thriving innovation economy.