A Gloucestershire-based graphene developer has secured £1.93m in investment from a South Korean advanced materials company, following international support from Innovate UK EDGE and funding from Innovate UK.
Founded in an engineer’s garage in 2011, Versarien Plc became the world’s first verified graphene producer in 2019, and now uses the ‘wonder material’ to help develop commercially viable products for sectors as diverse as automotive, clothing, biomedical and aerospace.
Originally isolated at Manchester University in 2004, graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms. It’s the strongest, lightest material known to man, and is about 200 times stronger than steel. It conducts electricity better than copper, has extremely high thermal conductivity and is highly flexible.
All of this means that graphene is the single most remarkable material ever discovered. It has the potential to revolutionise our day-to-day lives.
“Globally, the graphene market is projected to be worth $1.4 billion by 2025,” says Matt Walker, Head of International Strategy & Government Relations at Versarien. “As the material was originally isolated in the UK, we’re determined to see the UK benefit economically and are pleased to have been supported by Innovate UK with a £5m loan facility.
“International expansion is also key to our objectives and that’s where we turned to Innovate UK EDGE for support.”
Global Business Innovation Programme visit to South Korea
Versarien participated in Innovate UK EDGE’s Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP) in 2018, joining a technology visit to South Korea which included pre-arranged meetings with key players in the industry, pitching opportunities to major corporates and attendance at a number of advanced material conferences.
“The GBIP allowed us to foster critical relationships and gain a foothold in South Korea. We’ve since been able to establish some extremely promising partnerships and can begin growing rapidly in-country.”
The £1.93m investment and associated agreements with Seoul-based Graphene Lab will grant Versarien access to research and production facilities in South Korea by way of a shared state-of-the-art factory facility, and enable the company to develop new graphene-based technologies for the South Korean electronics sector.
The move follows Versarien’s acquisition of CVD equipment, patents and technologies – many developed originally by Samsung – from South Korean company, Hanwha Aerospace in December 2020.
“We’re already planning ahead with further global expansions and will use our South Korean base to accelerate projects in Japan, China and other markets.”
For Matt, Versarien’s success story in South Korea began with the GBIP: "the programme opened doors to the likes of Hyundai, LG and Samsung, as well as some smaller, more agile companies that we wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise."
Accelerated graphene product commercialisation at Gloucestershire HQ
“Before flying out, we also benefited from coaching on the business culture which was absolutely critical. In South Korea, partnerships are built upon sustained engagement and social time, which breeds trust and respect – and the GBIP prepared us for these cultural nuances.”
“The GBIP also gave us a strong profile at the conferences we attended – we found that relevant businesses were approaching us as much as we were approaching them.”
Versarien will use the investment from Graphene Lab to accelerate its product commercialisation at its Gloucestershire-based HQ, hiring more scientists and engineers to develop more graphene-based products.
“One of our challenges is that graphene has seemingly infinite applications, so we have to approach opportunities with real discipline and focus.”
“Often when developing graphene products, we’ll find that while it achieves its core objectives – such as light-weighting, flexibility and strength – it will often demonstrate other benefits such as flame retardancy, making it particularly useful in aviation.”
Since its conception in 2011, Versarien has acquired or created a company every year and its latest expansion into South Korea will allow it to accelerate that growth trajectory even further.
Innovate UK EDGE will continue to offer game changing support, helping Versarien access more markets, and ensuring that the UK capitalises on this ground-breaking technology.
International expansion is also key to our objectives and that’s where we turned to Innovate UK EDGE for support."
Matt Walker, Head of International Strategy & Government Relations, Versarien Plc