Spotlight Series: Interview with Simon Thomas, CEO of Paragraf

10 Jan 2020

Paragraf

Simon, tell us about yourself and how you got involved with Paragraf

After leaving a longstanding position in the compound semiconductor industry I was contacted by Professor Sir Colin Humphreys CBE FREng FRS at the University of Cambridge, whom I’d worked with previously. I proposed a way to produce graphene directly on semiconductor material surfaces. To our great surprise the experiments proved almost immediately successful and the rest, as they say, is history.

How does the tech work?

Our core IP is in the production of graphene layers directly on substrates and materials that are compatible with the electronics industry.  This will enable the manufacture of graphene electronics with minimal modification to current production lines, which is essential as changes to a process are extremely costly.

Our technologies will cover a broad range of product spaces including space, medical diagnostics, aerospace and renewable energy technologies, for example in our partnership with Verditek, to significantly increase the efficiency of solar cells.

Why did you apply to the SME Leaders Programme?

As a first time CEO of a new tech startup, I quickly realised that I would not only need to strengthen my skills but also find sources of experience and counsel. There are many taught courses available but few that offer a package of support like what’s available through the SME leaders programme - the taught learning combined with peer discussions, coaching and mentoring is a great, rounded resource.  Not to mention the generous grant to assist with further learning.

We gave you £10,000 to spend on leadership courses of your choice. What did you go for?

The Cambridge Judge Business School General Management Certificate of Achievement. It’s a programme that allows me to select areas that I feel I need to develop through a collection of two-day courses in those relevant topics, leading to certified recognition 

What impact did the programme have on you and your business?

The skills training has been useful in improving my applied practice in several areas and the mentoring has given me exceptional support and guidance as I’ve grown Paragraf as a business. The mentors provided by the programme have been outstanding, I am very grateful for the time and effort they have put into assisting, advising and guiding me.  However, it is probably the coaching that has had the greatest impact for me, giving me an improved capability to reflect and learn from my own, valuable experiences. Beyond this I have also been provided with a great network of people across a range of fields that have provided kind support. The programme also provided several introductions to investors that were instrumental in the financing of Paragraf’s second round of investment.

Now that you’re an alumnus how are you still involved with the Enterprise Hub?

I am constantly making use of the Enterprise Hub, whether that’s simply using the facilities for business meetings or participating in the ongoing training and events available through the Hub.  I attend as many of the opportunities on offer as I can because they are all extremely useful to me.

What advice would you give to potential applicants?

If you are a business leader in any field of engineering, applying for the programme is a no brainer! The opportunities on offer through the Hub are extremely beneficial to any new or young prospective business leader.  The scope and offerings of the programme are beyond any other, freely available programmes I have ever come across.

Before applying for the programme assess critically what you need as potential candidate. Are the courses, services and facilities what you require?  If so, express this in your application and your interview.

Turn up to the events, even if they don’t seem particularly applicable to your circumstances. The indirect learning and relationship building they provide can be just as important as the scheduled programme.

What does the future hold for Paragraf?

We are currently going through a period of rapid growth, scaling after recently completing a £16.2 million Series A funding round. This comes at the same time as commercialising our first product, which is a disruptive deep tech technology, so a very challenging but exciting time!

What are the next big trends in your industry?

It’s likely we will see the appearance of the first high tech electronic device products made from graphene in the applications market within the next couple of years, starting with Paragraf’s new sensor! Beyond this, graphene devices will start to become more common place, so we can probably expect to see the emergence of graphene electronics in research and development, aerospace and medical systems over the next five years.

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