UK-based planarTECH has concluded a successful equity crowdfunding campaign in 2020, as part of Graphene-Info's Graphene Crowdfunding Arena. We posted a post-campaign interview with the company's CEO, J. Patrick Frantz back in June 2020. We thought it was time to get an update as things are moving fast for the company.
Hello Patrick! It's been over half a year since you concluded the successful crowdfunding campaign. What are your thoughts now regarding the process and the campaign?
The crowdfunding was definitely an interesting experience and we’re glad we did it. It is hard for us to say if our experience was normal or not due to our campaign being launched at the beginning of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, however, we did reach our stated goal, though we didn’t get quite enough funding to do the things we really want to do. As a result, we're still considering bringing on new investment, and for this round we are looking at more traditional fundraising methods (strategic partners, etc.).
How do you summarize 2020? How did COVID-19 affect your business? What was your biggest challenge in 2020?
We were so busy with the crowdfunding and new product releases that 2020 seems almost like a blur now. Definitely, on the equipment side of our business, we’ve seen some impact and slowdown. We’ve been unable to travel for almost a year, which has kept us from completing some installations, and which has affected our receivables and cash flow. Fortunately, we were able to release a new product in response to the pandemic, and that has really helped us to survive.
Probably the biggest challenge we faced in 2020 was the discovery near the end of the year that one of our close partners was misappropriating our graphene material and selling it to a competing company for use in their projects! I cannot discuss the details in this forum, but suffice it to say that the facts of the case are truly shocking and still quite difficult for us to believe. We’re still dealing with the fallout from this incident.
planarTECH was one of the first (if not *the* first) companies to launch a graphene-enhanced face mask. How is that product doing?
Yes, I believe we were the first company to start selling a graphene-enhanced mask in significant volume. The product has done reasonably well and we’re currently finalizing a major distribution contract in Europe. The main benefit for us, however, is that planarTECH has been able to demonstrate that we can take a product from concept to mass production in a short period of time (4 months in this case) and then be successful at selling it. This process of taking something from the lab to production is where many startup companies stumble.
Is planarTECH planning to release more graphene-enhanced products?
Yes, definitely. We’re interested in moving into end products or intermediary products that use graphene as that is were we think the real value is.
planarTECH's traditional product line is CVD equipment for graphene (and 2DM) R&D. Any updates on new system sales?
As I mentioned, we had some slowdown in 2020 due to the pandemic. We shipped 4-5 systems last year but are still working on getting them all installed. We ended the year with one order in the queue and I would say that so far in January 2021 activity has picked up again. None of our planned projects were canceled but there were definitely delays.
We know that planarTECH aims to also start offering industrial production systems. How is the development of these systems going?
The development is more-or-less done, and we are still engaging with several potential customers who want to look at large-scale production. We’re also closely following our academic and institutional customers since they have made great strides in growth techniques in the past 2-3 years. Some of them are able to demonstrate wafer-scale growth of the newer 2D materials (like MoS2) using our systems.
We’re also right now wrapping up an industry-sponsored project to look at alternate feedstocks for graphene growth, and we’re hoping that may also lead to interesting future developments.
How do you see the graphene market in the 1-5 years? What role will planarTECH take?
We’re still very optimistic about graphene. From our own experience, we know there is market demand, especially in Asia where I am based, and there are now a number of suppliers on the GNP side - like First Graphene in Australia or 6th Element in China - who can truly produce large quantities of material with good quality and reasonable cost. We expect to see rapid uptake of GNP powders for a variety of applications.
We will still pursue the CVD business as it has been a valuable link for us to the global academic community. We get to see potential applications several years before they hit industry. That said, with the success of our graphene mask, we’re also putting more focus onto developing end products or intermediary products using graphene.