What exactly is graphene? We didn’t know the full capabilities of the material was until PlanarTECH launched its crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. As it turns out, graphene is thinner than paper, over 100 times stronger than steel, and arguably one of the most pivotal materials in the future of physics, engineering and tech.
An allotrope of carbon, arranged in a hexagonal manner, graphene’s electrical capabilities, flexibility and transparency give it powerful potential in scientific manufacturing spheres. We sat down with Patrick Franz, founder of PlanarTECH, to discuss the future of the material, and how the company plans to capitalise on it.
What is PlanarTECH’s vision, in your own words?
We want to be the market leader in the space of 2D materials, such as graphene. And our vision is to enable the movement of the applications of these materials from research labs into everyday products.
What encouraged you to build the company?
I kind of fell into graphene by accident at a time when I was actively looking for new opportunities. I had the advantage to be in the right place at the right time and was very fortunate to have the support of my family – especially my father who was willing to invest in my idea to start the business.
Was this the career path you had always envisioned taking, and if not, why?
When I was younger, I never really thought I would start a company. I’ve now had experience launching several startups and have always enjoyed the fast-paced, dynamic environment. Entrepreneurship has become part of my DNA, and each new venture solidifies that.
What has been the greatest challenge for PlanarTECH so far?
By far, the greatest challenge has been managing cash flow. As a provider of capital goods, our revenues and cash flow can be very periodic and “chunky,” which has made it difficult to obtain traditional financing historically. And to be honest, I’ve never had the right amount of capital to run the company smoothly. This is a problem we’re hoping to address with our crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. Bringing passionate investors on board will help us grow and execute our vision in international markets.
Where do you see the most growth potential in the near future within your industry?
We see potential growth in two areas. Firstly, in regard to research, we’re observing an increasing movement away from graphene and into other emerging 2D materials among our customers. We plan to move and grow tangent to that trend, to supply our customers with new systems for these materials. This will give us insight into new applications that we can help commercialise in the future. Secondly, the graphene industry has moved past the phase of hype and disillusionment – we’re now seeing companies starting to release tangible, applicable products that use graphene. We want to be part of this development.
What was one of the most exciting successes for PlanarTECH?
Our most exciting success came in the early days when we were able to win projects at some of the leading research institutes in the space of 2D materials, such as the University of Manchester and the National University Singapore. This helped us build a stronghold for our brand, as customers started taking us seriously. This was a catalyst toward a significant milestone in 2015 when we surpassed £1M in annual turnover.
What will be the greatest challenge going forward?
The main challenge will be moving graphene (and other 2D materials) from the research lab to actual product manufacturing. It’s starting to happen, and we are working together with many customers to achieve it. However, many people don’t actually realise how difficult it can be and the length of time it can take to build a comprehensive supply chain. I have been living in Asia for 15 years now and working directly in the supply chain, so I know its key functionalities and can help make realistic expectations for the company.
Which differentiates PlanarTECH from other players in the market?
Admittedly, there have been a lot of disappointing investments in the graphene space. What really sets us apart compared to other graphene companies, is that we have actual sales. We already have a very successful product line that generates revenue. We plan to continue to grow this product line and will use the funds raised via Seedrs to expand into new markets.
How would you define your company culture?
We are small, and we move quickly; we hire people who are self-driven and can pursue things independently.
What gets you up in the morning?
Coffee. Can’t start my day without it.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to the future generation?
Pursue something that will help make the world a better place for everyone.
If you weren’t working at PlanarTECH, what would you be doing?
I love technology, and I love new things, so if I hadn’t had the opportunity to start PlanarTECH, I’m sure I’d be working at some other small technology company.
To find out more, check out PlanarTECH’s pitch.