REDWOOD CITY, CALIF. —Don’t look for high-tech razzle-dazzle at Advanced Polymer Systems Inc. (APS). Unlike most of its entrepreneurial neighbors located in the creative ferment of the San Francisco Bay area, APS is not built upon some headline-grabbing new technology. There are no genetically engineered organisms here, no new drugs poised to save the world, no superconducting substances ready to revolutionize electronics. Founded in 1983, APS is anchored upon a relatively humdrum piece of work known as the microsponge.

The story of the company emphasizes yet again the importance of having the right combination of imagination and hard-nosed practicality in a startup. On the one hand, the original management team of APS was family grounded in reality. They realized that the entrepreneurial fever they had to offer could take a company only so far; eventually the time would come when they’d be required to bow out alet big-league management complete...

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