By Will Soutter
It was announced today that Cientifica PLC has agreed options to invest up to 49.9% in Rainmaker Technology, an developer of advanced materials products based in Cheshire.
Cientifica is an incubator for early-stage advanced materials companies, currently focused primarily on graphene. AZoNano caught up with Cientifica CEO Tim Harper to discuss this latest investment.
Will Soutter: How is Cientifica approaching the graphene market?
Tim Harper: Our focus at Cientifica is really on the applications of graphene. Recently we have been seeing the same thing with graphene that happens with many advanced materials - everyone jumps on the technology first because it's really exciting, and then tries to work out where the market is afterwards.
Tim Harper, CEO of Cientifica
Our approach is really to identify a clear market need first, and make sure we have channels to market available. Then we determine how disruptive the product will be - we are interested in true game-changers, not incremental improvements. Only then do we worry about the technology.
When it comes to graphene in particular, funding for technology at the academic stage is relatively easy to come by in the UK and in Europe, and we have a huge number of people working with graphene at that level within our network, so getting hold of the technology is not really the issue.
WS: How does the Rainmaker investment fit into this strategy?
TH: Both Cientifica and Rainmaker have both been looking at a whole range of different potential applications for graphene, from infrared heating, to filtration, to personal wellness. Rather than setting up these different interests as separate companies, with their own management, scientists, design teams, etc.,
Rainmaker will allow us to bring all these technologies under one roof. This will allow them to share facilities, iterate much faster, and get to a viable product much faster. Aggregating technologies also reduces the risk - if one of these applications fails, there will be three of four more in the pipeline.
WS: Will Cientifica be making more of this sort of investment?
TH: Yes, certainly. We keep our ear very close to the ground, and we are interested in all kinds of things. We are not looking for things that might turn into a 10-year research program, however. We have seen that sort of thing in the past, with field emission displays for example.
They looked fantastic, but there were technical issues that took a few years to resolve - by the time they were viable LCDs had advanced so much that there was no longer a rationale for bringing FE displays to market.
That's always a risk you run with technologies that will take a long time to get to market. With graphene now, people are looking at touchscreens, or terahertz electronics - those things might be 5, 8, or 10 years away. Right now we are looking at applications that we can get out into the market in the short term.
Rainmaker will work closely with graphene supplier Perpetuus Carbon Technology to provide materials for its products, and plans to bring new products to market within the next year.