Omer Gozen, Vice President and Global Head of New Materials & Packaging, Food & Beverage — and founder of Sustainability — at Plug and Play, is travelling to Australia for the first Graphene+ conference, taking place on October 8 in Hawthorn in Melbourne. Here he shares his insights into identifying innovation, and where the future of innovation lies.

Innovation as a keyword is possibly overused in modern business. What are the hallmarks you use to identify a truly innovative business?

When I think about innovation I automatically recall the word ‘disruption’. To me, its meaning is not only as technology, but also as a transformation of how we live and do things in a positive way. To quote Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture CEO: “Digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000”.

When I think about a truly innovative business it has to be bold, not worried too much about short-term profits, and ultimately has to solve a major pain point in (my) life.

The biggest challenge for young, emerging technology businesses is sourcing funding. How have changes in business and technology been reflected within the VC landscape in identifying and analysing opportunities?

Being in both ends of the spectrum – as a product development engineer and as a businessman – I can tell you that the expectations are certainly different. Technical people tend to think that they have the best product since sliced bread. VC mentality is different though. We have to be very careful in terms of making investment decisions, as we receive a lot of inbound requests from entrepreneurs (roughly around 100 per day!). That’s why, at Plug and Play, we have what we call “Industry-specific Corporate Innovation Platforms” in which we have a diligent technology filtering process with the help of our corporate partners who are experts in their fields.

It is rather quick for us to identify a startup that could be the next Uber or AirBnB of mobility, supply chain, HealthTech, InsurTech, FinTech, sustainability, and so on. The common trends in these fields are usually great starting points for us to scout technology. Once a startup is in our radar, we introduce them to our corporate partners to accelerate the product commercialisation process: proof of concept → piloting → licensing → potential acquisition.

You are part of one of the most important global start-up events in the world. What advice can you give Australian industry to foster a start-up culture that will enable our businesses to compete globally in the advanced materials space?

Everything starts with a healthy ecosystem (of start-ups, corporations who believe in external innovation to be complementary to their internal R&D efforts, engagements with universities, local governments etc.). First and foremost, your start-ups need the support and funding, which is already happening at the government and university level. I am curious to see at what stage these start-ups spread their wings and reach out to the other global markets. Although Silicon Valley might be considered too far away from Australia, Plug and Play can be a soft landing spot for these start-ups (like it was for Imagine Intelligent Materials, who participated in the New Materials and Packaging accelerator program between February and May 2018).

In the past two decades it has been all about the soft-tech, which has reached a peak, in my opinion. Hardware solutions are demanded more than ever, considering advanced manufacturing, robotics and sensor technologies in many industries including automotive, logistics, chemicals, and textiles, which have benefitted a lot from the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT). Now it is time for advanced materials to shine. I have been observing a lot of momentum in Australia in the field of advanced materials, which is great.

The lack of manufacturing investment in Australia is well known. Is going to the global market going to be a critical pathway for domestic start-up businesses?

Absolutely. As I explained previously it is vitally important for the domestic start-ups to be visionary and utilise a global platform to reach out to a broader audience, whether to raise funding, or form strategic partnerships (supplier-customer relationship with corporations). I recognise the two biggest challenges of materials start-upsare high capital cost, and scalability. Per my experience, yes, it takes a lot longer to complete a pilot project on a materials solution, which requires more resources, as opposed to a software solution; however, if you are really confident that your technology can change the world, then people are more than willing to listen to your offering and support you eventually.

What will people who attend this conference gain from hearing you?

1) Why do corporation flock Silicon Valley?

2) How to create a healthy innovation ecosystem that thrives on innovation

3) How Plug and Play can help corporations in their journey of digitalisation. We are partnered with Fortune 500 corporations such as ExxonMobil, DOW, Covestro, The Clorox Company, Georgia-Pacific, Avery Dennison, and many more. We assist our corporate partners with their efforts in organic/inorganic growth, investment opportunities and digital transformation (internal business priorities, challenges) by connecting them to disruptive startup companies in our ecosystem.

4) Industry trends and the disruptive effect of advanced materials on many industries.

What are three things that anyone involved in manufacturing should be doing right now to position for the future?

  • Automation of processes and predictive maintenance
  • Sustainability (lower carbon footprint, reduction of raw materials, water efficiency/recovery)
  • Blockchain (improving the efficiency of supply chain)

How important is graphene going to be in the next five to 10 years?

If it can be mass produced at cost of resins (or cheaper), then it has a great potential. However, we should also consider the sustainability aspect of its manufacturing process and carbon footprint.

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