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nLight employees celebrate the company’s first day on the public market at Nasdaq in New York City. (Photo via nLight)

Shares of nLight spiked more than 68 percent from its offering price on the first day of public trading, signaling strong investor interest in the Vancouver, Wash.-based semiconductor laser manufacturer.

nLight priced its initial public offering at $16 per share on Thursday, above its expected range, and the stock (LASR) finished the day at $26.95. The company raised $96 million as part of the IPO.

“It’s been a great day to have the team together here at Nasdaq to celebrate this milestone,” nLight CEO and co-founder Scott Keeney said in an phone interview from New York City.

The company, which makes lasers used in aerospace, defense and manufacturing, now has a market capitalization of nearly $900 million. Its fiber laser technology helps more than 300 customers manufacture everything from electric vehicles to smartphones. nLight has customers like Samsung, Raytheon and BAE, with 66 percent of its business is generated outside of the U.S.

(Photo via nLight)

Numerous software companies have gone public this year to positive market reaction, but there haven’t been as many hardware technology IPOs. Keeney said there was no pressure to take nLight public but that it was always the plan to have an IPO.

“It’s not a typical outcome,” Keeney said of taking a company like nLight public. “One of the things that has been quite rewarding is that as we went around the country meeting with investors, there was a very strong interest and a very thoughtful and strong perspective on this market, with how important lasers are to opening up new applications in so many different markets.”

nLight CEO Scott Keeney.

It’s been quite the journey for nLight, which launched in 2000 and went through a substantial pivot in its early days. The company originally planned to use its technology to help telecom companies improve communication signals, but a market downturn and the dot-com bust forced it to focus on manufacturing.

nLight kept its core technology but changed much of its roadmap.

“We didn’t expect the industrial market to be interesting for some time, but we were forced to pivot to those markets very quickly,” Keeney said.

Fast forward to today, and that shift turned out well for nLight. It posted revenue of $138.6 million in 2017, turning a profit of $1.8 million. That compared to revenue of $101.3 million and a net loss of $14.2 million in 2016.

“There was definitely some luck, but also just a lot of real tenaciousness and doggedness about this,” Keeney said. “We had this vision and we didn’t give up — we could have when we saw the telecom downturn, but we stayed resolute and hunkered down for more than a few years while developing the technology. I really credit the team — we’ve all stayed together and built a pretty special company.”

nLight originally started in Seattle but relocated to the Vancouver area, where it has a factory and employs half of its 1,000-person workforce.

Keeney has longtime roots in the Seattle region. He was previously CEO of Aculight, a Seattle-area laser technology company that Lockheed Martin acquired in 2008.

“There are some exciting things going on in Washington in this tech hardware space,” Keeney noted.

nLight is the latest company with Washington state roots to file to go public this month, joining electronic signature powerhouse DocuSign and enterprise software maker Smartsheet — both of those companies are expected to start trading Friday.

“It’s a really, really great time for Washington state,” Keeney said.

The Oregonian reported that nLight’s IPO is the first for a Portland-area company in nearly 14 years.

nLight employees will ring the closing bell Friday at Nasdaq.

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