Thirty years ago James “Jim” Rancourt was a graduate student in the final stretch of the Ph.D. Chemistry program at Virginia Tech. He had two young children at home, both less than three years old. He also had an emerging dream. This dream was to have his own polymer testing company to solve materials science challenges in the “here and now.” He also had a dream of being able to live in the New River Valley, a place he had come to love over the course of his studies at Virginia Tech.
Now, Jim has fulfilled his dream and so much more. It has been 30 years since our company was founded. Jim is now Dr. Rancourt; and his hair isn’t as black as it used to be (or black at all for that matter). He also went from having two small children to having four adult children and four grandchildren. A lot has changed in 30 years.
Specific to the growth of Polymer Solutions Incorporated (PSI), there have been many exciting changes, some Jim never saw coming.
Building Our Own Space
In the early days, Jim worked from home. He set up an in-home office and rented lab time from Virginia Tech to conduct analysis. Over the course of the last 30 years PSI has continuously outgrown spaces. The first “real” office space was at the Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, VA. While there, the company expanded or moved a total of three times. Then, PSI relocated to the Blacksburg Industrial Park and stayed for a few years, also expanding as needed (i.e. bursting at the seams). Ultimately, in 2015, PSI celebrated “The Big Move” and began occupying a custom-built, state-of-the-art testing lab designed to specifically meet our needs.
This was a huge milestone for our company and represents the big growth we have experienced over the years. “Our building exactly suits the caliber of our company, supports our workflows, and meets the expectations of our life sciences clients,” Jim said. Our space is a true testament to Jim’s hard work, business acumen, and dedication to PSI.
Testing Materials from In and Out of this World
Over the years the types of materials we have tested have changed and grown in exciting ways. The materials we test literally go all over smallest of materials. Jim said, “Being able to see the iron atoms on the end of a bioactive molecule is a great demonstration of our ability to analyze nanomaterials. When I started PSI “nanomaterials” wasn’t even a prevalent term for describing materials.” We test materials that go deep into the earth for energy exploration purposes. We also test materials that leave this earth and journey to outer space. How amazing is that?
Working with Family
Jim never established or grew PSI with an expectation of his family joining the business. “As the business has grown opportunities have been created that utilize the unique skill sets of some of my family,” he shared. Perhaps most notably is how Cynthia, Jim’s wife, joined the PSI team and is now the CEO. Cynthia started in a support position with an affinity for quality systems. She grew in this role and became Director of Operations, COO and is now CEO.
Big Ticket Instrumentation
To go from renting lab space at a local university to owning a Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometer is a big jump. Acquiring a wide range of analytical capabilities over the last thirty years has been a steady process. Jim knows there is tremendous value in having control over the instrumentation to make sure it is maintained properly at a level that supports our work for highly regulated clients. Jim recalled, “The first equipment we purchased was a GC and a UV-VIS. At that time, my idea of a big-ticket item was owning a GPC, now we have many GPC instruments. “ He continued, “Never did I imagine LC-MS or SEM-EDS would even be a possibility, we now have both.”
A Brilliant Staff
When Jim first started PSI he expected it would always be just him and maybe someday, an office support staff member. If he was feeling really daring he might allow himself to envision one day having a laboratory technician working under his supervision. In Jim’s wildest dreams he never imagined the level of talent and expertise that comprises the PSI team today. Our team has come to be known for our expertise in polymers and for being excellent problem solvers when it comes to materials science challenges. Jim has tremendous respect and admiration for the level of talent that surrounds him daily. “Anytime I can work directly with my staff it’s a thrill,” Jim shared. “I get to see first-hand how smart they are.”
Reflecting on the last 30 years brings up feelings of nostalgia and admittedly a healthy sense of pride for what our team has accomplished over the last three decades. We are proud of Jim and his willingness to dream big—and when that dream is achieved, continue to dream even bigger.
Do you know what is more exciting than reflecting on the last 30 years of PSI? Looking ahead to what is in store for us in the coming 30!