Lawrence business wins Governor’s Exporter of the Year award

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Lawrence business owners Dave and Donna Johnson were awarded the Governor’s Exporter of the year award on June 4, 2019, in Manhattan. The siblings are the owners of Pinnacle Technology Inc.

A Lawrence company that designs, manufactures and sells laboratory research equipment for use in the field of neuroscience was recently awarded the Governor’s Exporter of the Year award.

Pinnacle Technology Inc., 2721 Oregon St., received the award from Team Kansas and the Kansas Department of Commerce earlier this month in Manhattan, during an annual celebration of Kansas businesses.

Team Kansas, according to its website, is a group of private business leaders, economic development professionals and state officials who work to attract companies, investment and jobs to Kansas.

Another Lawrence business, Primary Color Music, 832 Pennsylvania St., was a finalist for the award. That company has worked on more than 600 projects worldwide and created music for such global brands as Coca-Cola, Nike, Honda and Google.

Pinnacle’s founder is Donna Johnson, who started the company in 1995. Her brother Dave Johnson joined her the following year. Together they oversee the making and global selling of laboratory equipment used in neurophysiological studies on mice and rats.

“We make the equipment that enables researchers to study the brain,” said Donna, who has a master’s degree in biology and studied for a doctoral degree in oceanography at the University of Connecticut. She handles the business side of the company.

Their products help ensure data research is more accurate, said Dave, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering from Arizona State University. He handles the technical operations and research teams at the company.

Pinnacle provides equipment and systems for researchers to help understand what causes such illnesses as Parkinson’s disease, or why some drugs work for depression or schizophrenia when others don’t, Donna said. One product they build is the tiny head mounts with sensors that are placed on the heads of rats and mice during research.

Donald Gwartney, a biosensor technician at Pinnacle Technology Inc., works on June 13, 2019, at the Lawrence company.

“Our job is to make sure people get good information, so they can actually use their expertise to make decisions on how to develop cures for these diseases,” Dave said.

The company offers a range of systems for brain research and is continually developing new tools. It also offers supporting products ranging from cages to software analysis.

The Johnsons grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and both have had years of experience developing and marketing the electronic components for new products. They found themselves doing a lot of designs in the biomedical field, and eventually Donna decided to start her own company.

Although they sell their products to major research organizations in the U.S. — universities, hospitals and government research labs — about 40% of their sales have been to foreign countries.

Business has been good, with sales up 50% last year, Donna said.

“Donna has to make a profit with the products and keep everyone around here happy,” Dave said.

Currently, Pinnacle has 25 employees and is hiring two more. Spearheading overseas sales are Sam Kaplan and Shaheen Latif, both of whom have doctorates from the University of Kansas.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Pinnacle Technology Inc., 2721 Oregon St., won the Governor’s Exporter of the Year award on June 4, 2019, in Manhattan.

As they look to the future, their success could hinge on what happens with the current trade war with China.

“China can be a massive market for Pinnacle. We are right in the process of breaking in big time there,” said Donna, who returned in April from a business trip to China.

Currently, they are feeling the effects of the rising cost of imports not only from China but from other countries.

“Electrical components coming in from China are being hit with 10% tariffs right now. Aluminum and steel had tariffs put on them from many countries. Plastic prices have increased substantially,” Donna said.

Despite the uncertainties, they continue to grow their markets and have plans for Kaplan and Latif to head off to China and Japan for more business meetings in July.


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