By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Everything was going great.
A year ago, in collaboration with BriteShot, a TV and movie-industry lighting company in New York City, Custom Electronics was packaging its stand-alone lithium-ion battery packs to illuminate “Blue Bloods,” “Law & Order” and other hit TV shows.
The product, called The Luminator, made the future look particularly bright for Custom Electronics and its President/CEO Michael Pentaris.
Then coronavirus arrived, and most TV and movie production came to a standstill. But Pentaris’ Custom Electronics didn’t, instead pivoting to the new challenge.
Today, the collaboration with BriteShot is about to launch AirAffair, a product that uses lithium-ion batteries to power an apparatus that can scrub any enclosed space – from a movie set to a restaurant to an office – clean of the COVID-19 virus.
This year’s Otsego County Chamber of Commerce awards, due to be delivered via Zoom Thursday, Nov. 12, are dedicated to “The Entrepreneurial Spirit,” and Custom Electronics is receiving NBT Bank’s Distinguished Business of the Year Award.
Pentaris, a Horatio Alger figure, exemplifies that spirit. Raised in poverty in Lacarna, Cyprus, he received a scholarship to the American Academy there, and later won a scholarship to Brescia College in Owensboro, Ky.
There he met his future wife, Therese, and followed her back to her native Binghamton, where he earned a SUNY Binghamton MBA, and joined Graham Labs in Hobart. (The Pentarises raised five children in Oneonta.)
After participating in Graham’s stabilization and sale to Mallinckrodt, he stayed through its absorption by Tyco, then joined Custom Electronics, and by 2009 was president of the company and of a start-up, Ioxus.
The company’s shift in prime focus from The Luminator isn’t the only product Custom Electronics had added to its portfolio in a time of challenge. They are partnering with:
• GridEdge, whose product monitors the inflow of power from solar or wind systems into the regular grid. Based in Westford, Mass., its production is being done at the West Oneonta plant.
• BeTerrific Tech, whose product allows images to be projected from curved surfaces. An initial customer is the Museum of Mormon History in Utah, which finds the display helpful in leading visitors through timelines, to the University of Nebraska, where a display helps capture the movement of a football pass.
Custom Electronics continues to serve its original purpose when Peter S. Dokuchitz, engineer and former assemblyman from Oneonta, founded the company in 1964: Making machine parts that can no longer be bought off the shelf.
But the plant on Browne Street also manufactures high-tech products on behalf of Brite Spot, GridEdge and similar companies. Ideas are one thing, but “manufacturing is expensive,” said Pentaris.
Custom Electronics’ assembly lines help bridge the gap between the idea and the sale, and splits the profits with its partner companies.
For instance, last year Custom Electronics was creating solar-power lithium-battery packages that, for the first time, would bring electricity to remote villages in Mexico.
Once coronavirus arrived, contacts in the Mexican government stopped calling back. So Custom
Electronics in now in similar conversations with the government of Australia.
By the way, all 85 employees have stayed on the job throughout the uncertainty of the last eight months. No layoffs.
Friday, Nov. 6, Pentaris was hosting two BriteShot co-founders, Roy McDonald, vice president/product development, and Irene Conrad, rentals and sales manager.
During the interview, AirAffair’s McDonald and Conrad returned from the company’s Winney Hill site, where they were producing a demonstration video of the new product.
First, he explained, air entering the AirAffairs apparatus runs through a MERV-rated filter, fine enough to remove viruses and smaller bacteria. Then, in the machine’s chamber, it is treated to ultra-violet lights that kills viruses that made it through the filter.
Finally, the air moving out back into the room is treated so that it will interact and kill any particles still in the room.
“You have to adjust,” said Pentaris. “Markets are dynamic. Things change. I can change.”