Today, fast changing technology demands new models of innovation for sustained technology leadership. Companies have to look outside of their own walls in order to stay competitive. Recognizing this, ABB engages with external partners such as universities and start-ups to accelerate innovation, complementing its own strong internal R&D bench. Part of pushing this open innovation envelope further is ABB Technology Ventures (ATV), ABB’s strategic venture capital unit. ATV continuously evaluates new technologies to strengthen the 130-year old history of pioneering technology leadership.
An excellent example of this strategy is shown in ATV’s latest investment in Graphmatech. Graphene, a two-dimensional, one atom thick carbon structure arranged in a honeycomb, is the thinnest, lightest and strongest material in the world. A sheet of graphene much thinner than a plastic wrap can support the weight of an elephant. It also has extremely high electrical and thermal conductivity and is ultra-light and transparent. Sometimes called the supermaterial, Graphene is expected to revolutionize engineering materials as well as the power and electronics sectors. However, industrial adoption has been slow since its discovery in 2003, mainly due to agglomeration issues. In production, graphene flakes tend to stick together and thereby lose graphene’s remarkable properties. Graphmatech has solved this problem through its revolutionary product "Aros Graphene".
It all started when Dr. Mamoun Taher, Founder of Graphmatech worked with ABB Corporate Research Center (SECRC) on a collaboration project as a researcher at Uppasala University in Sweden. Around the same time, SynerLeap, ABB’s Nordic innovation growth hub was founded. SynerLeap helps startups and scaleups to accelerate and expand on a global market together with ABB by offering access to industry knowledge and top-notch lab facilities. Graphmatech joined SynerLeap in January this year. “It has been a pleasure to follow the fast acceleration of Mamoun and the team, they prove to be the type of startup we love to have in SynerLeap, focussing on accelerating innovation and increasing value”, a thrilled Peter Löfgren explains, Managing Director of SynerLeap. It was the collaboration with SynerLeap that connected Graphmatech and ABB Technology Ventures.
The collaboration has brought many benefits for both ABB and Graphmatech. ABB contributed its extensive experience around advanced materials as well as industrial applications for graphene and helped Graphmatech to carefully analyze the business case and the market for their product, strengthen its value chain and map its market positioning. “SynerLeap mentored Graphmatech all the way through nascence, arranged for me to meet with decision makers at ABB and introduced Graphmatech to ATV, which was critical from the funding point of view”, Mamoun says. ”They also opened doors into relevant ABB business units and facilitated access to the ABB laboratories which helped us develop and test our graphene technologies.”
One example of the Graphmatech-ABB collaboration is the development of new sliding electrical contact materials that last longer than the conventional silver ones. This advance, in turn, enables a dramatic reduction of silver content in ABB products which makes the product safer, more reliable and has lower cost of maintenance.
ATV has now led an investment round in Graphmatech further cementing this symbiotic relationship. Malin Carlström, who represents ATV on the board of Graphmatech, says: “From day one, we have been impressed by the founding team and the properties of Aros Graphene. Graphmatech is building upon solid foundational research and its potential application areas have sparked great interest across the ABB organization, resulting in a number of promising collaboration projects. And that’s where ATV really shines: providing much more than just capital.”