Leiden University spin-off, Crucell, is a world-famous biotechnology company. Johnson & Johnson acquired the business for close to $2.4 billion back in 2011. This mammoth sum of money highlights the potential of university or corporate spin-offs and their investment attraction.
There is a growing appetite for spin-offs and SMEs that have grown out of research. Here are four SMEs that are setting the pace in graphene and related materials (GRM) commercialisation in the Graphene Flagship.
Emberion develops and produces graphene photonics and electronics that revolutionise infrared photodetectors and thermal sensors. Applications include hyperspectral and thermal imaging, night vision and X-ray detection.
The business was a spin off company from Nokia. Following a long history of graphene research inside Nokia’s research organisation, the team joined the Graphene Flagship to take the work carried out on optoelectronics to the commercial market.
“Emberion was established in quite an early phase of product development,” explained Tapani Ryhänen, CEO of Emberion. “We had promising results and functional prototypes from our research and above all, we were able to get an agreement with venture capital investors.
"Emberion is focusing on various spectrometer and machine vision applications by producing novel image sensors. We provide products with broad wavelength range and low noise. Our image sensors can be used for example in agriculture, food processing and pharma industries."
During the next year, Emberion will start delivering its first imager products. The business will also commence with the Graphene Flagship GBIRCAM spearhead project, together with its partners, to bolster the readiness of graphene-enabled optoelectronics in industry.
World leading graphene producer Graphenea, founded in 2010, was one of the first industrial partners to join the Graphene Flagship program. Graphenea participated in the proposal stages of the Graphene Flagship, collaborating closely since the inception of the EU-funded program.
Business is booming for Graphenea. In 2018, the business generated €1.6 million, and is on track to grow by 25% in 2019.
Graphenea’s facilities are located in San Sebastián, Spain and Boston, USA. The 25 employees at Graphenea contribute to the successful development of graphene applications, including supplying CVD Graphene films, Graphene Field-Effect-Transistors chips (GFETs), Graphene Foundry Services (GFAB) and Graphene Oxides. Graphenea’s operation spans across more than 60 countries and a wide range of sectors.
“The collaboration between Graphenea and the Graphene Flagship has evolved over the last six years,” explained Iñigo Charola, business development director at Graphenea. “Our work has become incredibly industry-orientated, with focused spearhead projects to bring applications to market quickly and effectively.”
“Today, we are focusing not only on the production of graphene, but also developing our processing capabilities of the material. Our partnership with the Graphene Flagship provides the support to help reach this goal.”
BeDimensional produces and develops graphene and 2D crystals for the manufacturing and energy industries. Its main target applications relate to coatings and paints and material production for energy applications.
As a start-up, BeDimensional was created as a spin-off company of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologica (IIT).
The research group started out their research in fundamental studies of electronic properties of two-dimensional semiconductor systems. They were also investigating some possibilities to tune the interaction of hydrogen and carbon by curving a graphene sheet. For this latter study, the team were approached in the initial stages of the Graphene Flagship project to set-up a work package on hydrogen storage.
After a two-year incubation period within the institute itself, BeDimensional moved onto the market after the acquisition of 51% of its shares by the Camponovo. The definitive push towards the path of industrialisation came at the end of 2018, after the €18 million investment from Pellan Group.
So, what’s next for BeDimensional?
After closing this round of investment, BeDimensional is now fully immersed in implementing its industrial and commercial strategies. The first production line of two-dimensional crystals is already operational and the business is in the process of setting up more laboratories for research and development.
“We need to strategically position ourselves at the right level of the industrial value chains linked to each specific application,” explained Vittorio Pellegrini, founder and scientific advisor for BeDimensional. “We believe it is crucial to establish partnerships and joint ventures with appropriate global players. At the same time, we will reinforce our investment in R&D by attracting the best people on board.”
BeDimensional has a clear mission and knows how it’s going to reach its business goals. Watch this space.
Versarien, headquartered in Cheltenham, UK, is an engineering solutions company that delivers novel technologies for industrial applications. Through subsidiary companies, Versarien delivers targeted solutions as well as research and development into new, complementary technologies.
Versarien was founded in 2010 and has been an associate member of the Graphene Flagship since 2018, collaborating closely with researchers in the project.
The company has acquired multiple businesses under the Versarien group, including two spin-offs from high-profile universities carrying out graphene research.
In 2014, 2-DTech joined the group. 2-DTech was originally formed by the University of Manchester to manufacture and supply high quality graphene for research and development. It has now grown into a commercial operation not only supplying high grade graphene and other 2-D materials, but also working on the application of graphene in product development projects.
In 2017, Versarien acquired Cambridge Graphene Ltd. from the University of Cambridge. Cambridge Graphene develops inks, composites and supercapacitors based on graphene and related materials, using processes developed at the Cambridge Graphene Centre.
The Cambridge Graphene Centre’s mission is to investigate the science and technology of graphene and other carbon allotropes, layered crystals and hybrid nanomaterials. The spin-out company has commercialised graphene inks for novel technology applications.
These two Graphene Flagship spin-offs join the numerous other companies in the Versarien group, creating a real force to be reckoned with for graphene commercialisation and business growth.