Registration now open for Graphene Connect venture capital and SME workshop

Europe’s Graphene Flagship has released details of its 6th Graphene Connect workshop, which aims to introduce business angels to graphene and create an arena for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and venture capital (VC) firms to interact.

‘The purpose of the flagship is not to perform research — it’s to bring research into society,’ Helena Theander, a senior member of the Graphene Flagship’s innovation team, told Translational Materials Research (TMR) in a recent article highlighting the need to engage SMEs in materials commercialization. ‘Graphene Connect is a process to get more industry players interested in graphene and related 2D materials.’

This latest installment in the Graphene Connect series coincides with Graphene Week 2015 and will take place in Manchester, UK, on Monday 22 June.

The workshop programme includes –

  • Presentations by firms operating in the graphene sector.
  • VC talks on investing in graphene given by industry representatives, followed by a panel discussion.
  • Matchmaking activities for SMEs and entrepreneurs to meet and interact with the venture capital community and explore business opportunities.

To register for the workshop, visit the event website.

Related articles from TMR

Graphene Connect underscores the importance of engaging SMEs in materials commercializationTransl. Mater. Res. 2 010203 (2015)

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Graphene Flagship highlights commercialization opportunities in 2D materials roadmap

Video highlights from Graphene Week 2014 (Gothenburg, Sweden)

Fullerex talks graphene pricing; identifies growth areas and supply targets

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Chancellor officially opens National Graphene Institute (University of Manchester, UK)

10 tips to help materials start-ups succeed in the market

Access to venture capital is frequently identified as a key factor in moving ideas beyond the lab and enabling start-ups to turn functional prototypes into market-ready devices.

“Venture capital can bring not just money to a project, but also business skills and technical knowledge, which are different from the connections and advice that the state and the region can provide,” Serdar Sariciftci, a leading researcher in the field of organic photovoltaics, told Translational Materials Research (TMR) in a recent interview. “Experienced venture capitalists (VCs) who have done this thing before in similar sectors are invaluable to a scientist like me.”

VCs are well-placed to examine what it takes to translate research breakthroughs into products and TMR is fortunate in being able to draw upon the experience of Andrew Haughian, partner at Pangaea Ventures and a member of the journal’s Editorial Board. Haughian is a regular contributor to TMR, and has written for the journal on the topics of ‘Focus’, ‘Licensing’ and ‘Funding mathematics’, with more articles in the pipeline.

Here are 10 tips from the discussion so far, with links to the original opinion pieces after the bullet points.

Highlights from the VC desk

  • On the one hand, there is a temptation to ‘add value’ by demonstrating as many applications as possible. On the other, there is the repeated message to do one thing and do it well. The reality is that the key to building an important and valuable company usually lies somewhere in between.
  • The 80:20 rule applies to start-ups. 80% of the effort is focused on getting the first product to market, while 20% is spent on what’s next. The first product should meet minimum market requirements, and market entry should primarily facilitate organizational learning about the market and operations while at the same time building a brand.
  • An ideal licensing situation is when there are levers in addition to intellectual property (IP) that can be incorporated into the licensing negotiation. One lever is the control of a key ingredient(s) used in the production process.
  • Getting technology into the market as soon as possible is critically important, while the real game-changer continues to brew. The key here is that the next-generation technology must be substantially differentiated in terms of IP and product benefits, such that a ‘Gen One’ licensee does not effectively undermine the possibility of successfully commercializing ‘Gen Two’.
  • There are many considerations in picking the best licensee partner(s), but picking a brand name that will lend credibility should be at the top of the list.
  • A licensing deal can create a significant draw on management and technical resources, so care must be taken to ensure core activities are not disrupted.
  • When mergers and acquisitions is the likely endgame, acquirers are unlikely to pay a technology premium unless they truly believe that buying a company gives them a long-term sustainable advantage.
  • In many cases, new materials technologies are competing against incumbent commodity-like products. Usually these incumbent technologies are well along in bottoming on the cost reduction curve, whereas the new technology is starting at the top.
  • Poor consideration of value chain issues usually ends up being the Achilles’ heel of even the most exciting materials technologies. Finding the right set of partners that complement the core value proposition is vital for eliminating the cost and time of reinventing the wheel.
  • There are a lot of moving parts in getting focus right. The good news is that this critical commercialization skill is transferable to other technology industries, and so a vast network of management talent can be tapped.

Original articles from the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR)

From the VC desk: striking a balance on focusTransl. Mater. Res. 1 010202 (2014)
From the VC desk: add licensing to the materials start-up toolkitTransl. Mater. Res. 1 020201 (2014)
From the VC desk: venture capital funding math, making it workTransl. Mater. Res. 2 010201 (2015)

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Hauser review recommends expansion in translational infrastructure
Show report: Commercialization of micro, nano, and emerging technologies – COMS 2014 (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Commercializing physics: turning ideas into products
Innovation in Europe: an update on Horizon 2020

Show report: Commercialization of micro, nano, and emerging technologies – COMS 2014 (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Through its flagship COMS event, MANCEF brings together academia and industry to promote the commercialization of micro-, nano- and emerging technologies, and encourage entrepreneurship. This year, the conference was hosted and co-organized by the Center for Engineering Innovation at the University of Utah. In his welcome address, Tom Parks, vice president for research, emphasized that spin-outs are a key part of the university landscape. “Enterpreneurship offers career development for faculty and students,” he explained. “It’s not just about the money, there are longer term benefits.”

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Opening remarks: Steve Walsh (University of New Mexico), Florian Solzbacher (University of Utah) and Maggie Janat-Amsbury (nanoUtah) welcome attendees to COMS 2014

Talking venture capital
As regular attendees to the conference will know, COMS is a practical meeting featuring a mix of talks and Q&A events designed to explore the process of taking a product to market, finding new customers and identifying development partners. Highlights on day one included the investor and venture capital panel discussion chaired by David Blivin of Cottonwood Technology Fund. In the session, funders described what they look for in a start-up and panel members included James Smith, who helped run the CIA’s venture fund dubbed In-Q-Tel.

Smith likes to see start-ups with a clear product definition and a data sheet to go with it. He’s encouraged when founders know who their customers are and have orders on the horizon, which reduces the risk for investors. Even with these points ticked off, uncertainty remains in the ability of an early-stage company to deliver. The panel agreed that a start-up’s technology lead needs to be aware of the different skill sets required for the journey beyond the lab. “It’s unlikely that a founder will take a company from cradle to grave,” commented Todd Stevens of Renewable Tech Ventures, who also sat on the panel. Like many investors he looks not just at the technology, but also at the people leading the project. “Market conditions may change and the management team needs to be able to adapt,” Stevens told the audience. Smith added that it’s important for founders to be self-aware and know their limitations. As the panel highlighted, one way for a firm to expand its expertise is by forming strategic partnerships to help with tasks such as manufacturing scale up and distribution.

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Supporting technology translation: Deborah Jackson of the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Promoting innovation
Spurred on by the theme of the morning plenary session on day two – The new age of materials: why translation matters – given by George Grüner of UCLA, attendees gathered after lunch for the sequel event chaired by the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR). Deborah Jackson of the National Science Foundation (NSF) spoke first on sizing up your innovation ecosystem and pinpointing strengths and weaknesses so that appropriate support can be provided. “We don’t try to apply the silicon valley model across the board,” she explained.

Joining Jackson on the programme were Fiona Jamieson of the Institute of Physics (IOP), who presented key findings on graphene commercialization in the UK and Europe, and Deb Newberry of Nano-Link, who updated on progress being made in upskilling workers for careers involving nanotechnology. To close the popular session, Xiao Zhang of Hitachi High Tehnologies, reported his team’s work on upgrading TEM apparatus to operate under industrially relevant conditions, which he hopes will accelerate the translation of materials discoveries into robust products and devices.

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Prize-winning technology: Bernd Vinke of Tide Microfluidics receives both audience and judges prizes at the 2014 Young Technology Award.

Show time
Evening entertainment at COMS includes the Young Technology Award where attendees get to vote on a series of 3 minute pitches given by entrepreneurs attending the conference. This year, the audience and the judging panel were in agreement as Dutch start-up Tide Microfluidics, which has developed a platform for producing highly monodisperse microbubbles for applications in medical imaging and drug delivery, won both prizes and grabbed valuable media attention along the way (see news links and tweets below).

For more information on COMS and for announcements on the 2015 event, visit the MANCEF website.

Related stories

COMS 2014 big success for local and international researchers (College of Engineering, University of Utah)

Tide Microfluidics grote winnaar van de COMS/Young Technology Award 2014 in Salt Lake City (Powered by Twente)

Related articles from the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR) –

Editorial: Welcome to Translational Materials Research (George Grüner 2014 Transl. Mater. Res. 1 010101)

From the VC desk: striking a balance on focus (Andrew Haughian 2014 Transl. Mater. Res. 1 010202)

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MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part three

Entrepreneurial excellence was the focus of Technology Innovation Forum VI and Matthew Norden, who co-founded market analyst Lux Research and is now vice-president at venture capital (VC) firm Venrock, began the session by spelling out the formula that VCs use to evaluate start-ups –

technology + market + team

Everything has to add up, but even then it might not be enough. Winning VC funding is tough if you’re pitching against firms that require much less investment and offer quicker returns, such as internet start-ups.

For this reason, early-stage companies working with advanced materials are more likely to go through specialist funds, or use corporate backers to raise capital. Another way to develop the business is to form strategic partnerships.

And it’s here that James Ashman of SouthWest Nanotechnologies (SWeNT) – a spin-out from the University of Oklahoma, which has developed manufacturing processes for carbon nanotubes – took up the discussion.

Driving growth through partnerships

SWeNT has benefited three times from this approach. Its first partner put new applications on the table, a second alliance opened up distribution and provided new sales channels, and then the firm’s latest collaboration is helping to expand operations by bringing in a production partner to generate material (in this case a plastic/multiwalled-carbon-nanotube composite) in volumes that would have otherwise required a huge investment in scale-up infrastructure.

“Strategic partnerships are a much more fertile area than institutional investors for the materials sector, but it takes time so plan ahead and start negotiations early,” Ashman told the audience, adding that for SWeNT its partnerships had each taken 6-12 months to set up.

Protecting your ideas

After lunch the discussion switched to patents and Chinh Pham of law firm Greenberg Traurig had some useful information for developers.

Pham works regularly with the Harvard innovation lab and made the point that patents can be expensive ($10,000 – $15,000, or even up to $20,000 in some cases). The costs can soon add up, so you need to have a strategy.

“Don’t just file away, file early and around your core technology,” he advised.

Video snapshot

Further reading on TMR+

MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part five (final)
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part four
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part two
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part one

From lab to market: translational materials research high on the agenda at MRS Fall 2013

Information station: IOP Publishing booth 114

Information station: IOP Publishing booth 114

Next week, TMR+ will be reporting from the MRS Fall meeting in Boston, US, so do bookmark the blog and check back from Monday (2 Dec) evening for daily highlights from the show.

Topics on the radar include – synthesis and energy storage properties of 2D materials; nanomaterials design for advanced rechargeable batteries; bio-inspired synthesis and assembly of functional materials; efficient, high-speed roll-to-roll CVD of graphene; and skutterudite materials (and modules) for automotive waste heat recovery.

But that’s just a taster, you can find the full programme at

Unlocking materials innovation
Organized by John Busbee (Xerion Advanced Battery Corporation), Alan Brown (ICStrategies), Jeffrey T. Glass (Duke University) and Patti Glaza (Arsenal Venture Partners) – Technology Innovation Forum VI is all about the art of translating materials science innovations into successful businesses.

The day-long event, which takes place on Wednesday (4 Dec), brings together industry leaders, venture capitalists (VCs) and developers to examine what it really takes to get ideas out of the lab and into the market.

Here, Matthew Nordan of VC firm Venrock will start the session by looking at ways to short-cut the long adoption cycles and high-capital requirements that can make the materials science sector a tough environment for start-ups.

Partnerships are one way of navigating around some of these obstacles, and Nordan’s opening talk is followed by a panel discussion looking at the ways that large and small companies can work together.

Production know-how
Another session not to be missed is – Transitioning new materials from lab to manufacturing – which explores how researchers can develop and find the expertise to scale-up their concepts to market volumes in a cost-effective manner. On hand with ideas and know-how will be Travis Earles (Lockheed Martin), Robert Kumpf (Plextronics), Susan Babinec (ARPA-E) and Manish Mehta (National center for manufacturing sciences).

Other highlights in the technology innovation forum programme include – “Perks and pitfalls”, “Resources and support”, “Roadmaps for early-stage entrepreneurship”, and an unvarnished look at the “Life and times of a serial entrepreneur”.

See you there.

And if you can’t make it to Boston, don’t forget that you can watch the live stream via MRS OnDemand.

The dash for cash: a new funding landscape for high-tech start-ups

Steve Walsh and Ray Quintana at COMS 2013

Ray Quintana (left) and Steve Walsh discuss funding options (Credit: Eric Brinkhorst, COMS 2013)

Business experts speaking at COMS 2013, an annual conference that focuses on the commercialization of micro- and nanotechnologies, offered a stark reminder of the ongoing impact of the global financial crisis on scientists and engineers who want to convert their research into a business venture. Jelto Kromwijk Smit of the Dutch investment firm Prime Ventures said that venture capital funding in Europe has fallen from €8bn in 2007 to €4bn in 2012, which in practice means that most VCs are targeting their investments towards established companies with products that are almost ready for market. Banks and institutional investors have also steered away from the start-up sector as they seek to reduce risk and stabilize their balance sheets.

So far, so pessimistic. But speakers also highlighted several new ways for early-stage companies to raise some cash. Continue reading