Graphene, the most written about material of 2013, has raised more controversy in the business and finance worlds than it has in science. Sure, it’s the strongest, toughest, most conductive, most flexible, thinnest material in the world, touting physics like the quantum Hall effect and proven applications such as monolayer transistors, but many have been asking, impatiently, when will it start reeling in money for the investors, and how to invest in it in the first place?
Andre Geim, the Nobel prize winner who led the team that first isolated graphene in a lab, used to compare commercialization of graphene to eating a dolphin – exploiting something that is simply beautiful. That stance seems to have shifted a little last year, with the University of Manchester set to open the National Graphene Institute, a place where scientists are to work side-by-side with leading companies on graphene commercialization. In parallel, a similarly directed centre has started up nearby – the Cambridge Graphene Centre. The Centre is directed by Prof. Andrea Ferrari, who is also one of the leaders of the European Graphene Flagship, a billion-euro project focused on commercializing the immense scientific achievements reached by graphene researchers over the past 10 years. With all this commercialization excitement literally flooding the news in 2013, it is only natural that people are all too eager to place their money on graphene.
Apart from the launching of the National Graphene Institute, the Cambridge Graphene Centre, and the Graphene Flagship, 2013 will be remembered as the year when the first graphene companies entered the stock market. Graphene Nanochem was the first graphene company to go public, followed by Applied Graphene Materials and Cientifica. Graphene Nanochem is a chemical company with a recently developed interest in graphene. Applied Graphene Materials is a spinoff of Durham University, while Cientifica is a technology consultancy with nanotech and graphene experience. While these three are legit graphene investments, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued an end-of-the-year warning on graphene investments.
Quoting the FCA, “there is a strong possibility of fraud with graphene because it is unregulated and it is difficult to confirm that you have bought the genuine product.” Put in layman’s terms, graphene investment is akin to the wild west, with “graphene” companies mushrooming during the course of last year. Some of those companies are real hard-working startups, trying to inch their way into the crowded territory dominated by Graphene Labs, Graphenea, and other slightly older startups. Others are chemical or mining companies with a general but vague interest in graphene, whereas some, as the FCA warns, are pure scams.
In this stew of young companies, accompanied by an extreme pace of technological development, it is difficult to judge where success will come in the long run. To answer this question (and in part direct the outcome), the Graphene Stakeholders Association (GSA) was established early last year. The association is led by key industry leaders, accompanied by experienced investors and consultants. Graphene Tracker has joined the GSA early on, because we see it as the only reasonable, coherent drive for integration (and purification) of the so far loosely knit graphene business community. Subsequently, I’ve changed my “investment page” into a “graphene industry” page. The reason for this change is that I think graphene investment is complicated and risky, and that options for the small-time investor are limited and shaky. I believe that true meaningful investment can come only through venture capital and/or business partnership with another graphene company. However, insight into the possible success of such a partnership can hardly be provided on a single webpage, and those interested in graphene investment are invited to browse through my business directory (still the most comprehensive, searchable online graphene business directory), and to consider joining the Graphene Stakeholders Association (on which Graphene Tracker provides a discount).
For the small-time investor, we refer to the advice provided by the FCA.