Where Are They Now?: Kent Displays
This northeast Ohio startup believes in their groundbreaking writing tablet tech
By now, we’re all used to high-tech tablets. But they’re all about the same, right? Northeast Ohio startup Kent Displays would ask you to reconsider that notion. The company has been developing their patented Boogie Board since 2009 as an alternative to the popular tablets we all know. Rather than a typical screen, their product uses a unique liquid crystal display to deliver an experience like no other.
“The Boogie Board is very low power and very environmentally friendly because you’re saving a ton of paper, and it has this delightful erasing experience where you just have to wave your stylus,” said CEO Asad Khan. “It’s reflective and only needs light from within the room you’re in. It’s a completely disconnected device, unlike an iPad or typical tablet. Whether you’re in an office environment or a kid, that kind of connectivity can be distracting. But fundamentally, what’s happening with this tablet is that you’re freed from the burden of writing on a piece of paper or saving it digitally. You become more creative when you use this product.”
Boogie Board sells across the globe, but is developed and partially manufactured right at home in Kent. Since TechOhio last spoke to the Kent Displays team way back in 2016, the company has gone through a variety of evolutions, changing their target audiences, key markets and even their tech. They even dealt with the challenges of battling a barrage of “knockoff” products — a difficult but “flattering” speed bump. Now, they’ve streamlined their operation and doubled down on the Boogie Board, which has become their main product. As the company looks forward, they see themselves at the forefront of a new way for people to write and work.
“The next wave of our company is developing the same writing tablet product, but in a flexible form,” Khan said. “We’re trying to go to the next level and design of the writing tablet. We are launching tons of new designs and concepts and innovative products with lots of cool ideas for kids products. A lot of innovation is taking place here, and we’re headed toward a completely flexible version. The current, rigid model is good for some, but we’re imagining a new type of use model for this flexible technology.”
Over the years, Kent Displays has attracted a variety of investment, and recently landed a $380,000 grant to develop privacy screen technology. Khan said one of the major goals of the company is to expand corporate partnerships to get their work into more hands. And as the scope of Boogie Board and the company’s other products continues to grow, Khan is thrilled with what the future holds.
“It’s an exciting time to be here,” he said. “We’re an organization of about 80 people and the great partnerships and relationships within this company is what keeps me going. But playing with this technology and being able to modify and change things to delight consumers in different ways is a really powerful and rewarding experience. We can sketch up something and a few months later be ready for retail. On top of all of that is the way someone uses these products to express themselves. You’re pushing around the liquid crystal sandwiched between thin plastic sheets; that kind of direct connection in an analog way is extremely rare now. It’s exciting to know that our products are going into people’s hands.”
The company has spent 26 years in the city with which it shares a name, building decades-long relationships in the community and within its team. That connection is important to Khan, who credits Kent Displays’ connections not only with the development of its tech, but with the ongoing access to talent that helps the company move forward.
“We’ve grown our roots here, and a lot of that has to do with Kent State University and the liquid crystal research of the ‘90s,” he said. “Today, we have intern programs and workforce development with the local and regional institutes of higher education and economic development. The State of Ohio has been remarkable for us in supporting, funding and helping us move forward. We’re truly entrenched here and really believe in our community both inside this community and outside.”
Kent Displays’ connection to their home isn’t just about the company’s name and its nearby roots. With the most important piece of the company’s tech manufactured in their own building, the company is a perfect example of the new age of manufacturing taking hold in the Ohio communities that were once known for their manufacturing prowess.
“High-tech manufacturing is alive and well here in northeast Ohio, and we’re very proud of that,” Khan said. “This product has components from about 11 different countries, but the most important component is manufactured right here in this building. I think it’s important for us to know that and keep that in perspective. I hope people realize what we’re doing and what we’re about. You’re not just buying a product from us, but you’re taking a part in this whole system that is great for the environment, fun and functional and supports this community.”
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