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LESSONS FROM A FOUNDER: Taking Your Technology to Market with Scott White from PragmatIC

last modified Mar 17, 2019 10:14 AM
Scott White, ideaSpace alumni and serial entrepreneur is CEO of PragmatIC. PragmatIC produces sheets of flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs), extending the reach of electronics into markets unfeasible for silicon for reasons of form factor and/or cost. Printed electronics is one of the world’s fastest growing technologies, representing enormous potential in interconnected devices. In recognition of British Science Week, we spoke to Scott about the company’s journey from a technology-based concept to the production of commercial products, and asked his advice about taking a new technology to market.

PragmatIC is currently in an exciting phase of growth having recently announced shipment of the first products in its ConnectIC® family, the PR1101 and PR1102 FlexICs. These are designed for use in closed RFID (radio-frequency identification) systems – and are an important development in the acceleration of the smart packaging market, bringing connectivity to items we buy every day. PragmatIC have also recently raised an additional $17 million and now employs over 70 members of staff, split between Sedgefield and Cambridge.

 

What advice would you give anyone attempting to create a thriving business from completely new technology? 

Printed electronics is an emerging technology, therefore the types of applications we are selling into are largely unknown – they are things people haven’t done before. If your technology is brand new, I’d say there are three things that can help bridge the gap between industry capabilities and end users’ needs.

  1. Do your market research. In the early days of PragmatIC, we engaged with lots of customers, not only to drive revenue, but also to gauge the degree of interest and demonstrate customer need. We learned there were areas of commonality for the application of PragmatIC’s technology which helped to define our value proposition. So I’d recommend investing in market education and interaction early on to understand where the technology is really going to take off.  
  2. Market intelligence can also be used to really bolster your pitch. For the first four years at PragmatIC, we supplemented funding by the management team with finances from non-traditional sources (such as government grants) and early customer revenues. Thanks to the work that went into market education during this period, when we actually started external fundraising in 2014, the team had an evidence case for what customers wanted to do with the technology, as well as a blue-chip customer list, both of which strengthened our pitch to investors. 
  3. Don’t be tempted to give out free samples. There can often be a lot of excitement around new technology – but that’s very different to actually making a sale. So to test whether a customer is serious about the product, we have a general rule of no free samples. Although having said that, we do make the odd exception for reliable, large customers where freebies could be a stepping stone to a much bigger order. 

 

How do you decide what’s going to be a saleable product when there are so many applications for the technology?

When the application of the technology is broad, at some point you have to make something saleable and decide on perhaps the 2 or 3 key products that will drive the initial growth in sales volume. But it’s also important to consider future products. At PragmatIC about 80% of the focus is on a narrow subset of flagship products and 10-20% of energies are reserved for R&D outside this narrow focus, building a product pipeline for the long term.

 

How do you decide on a vertical or horizontal focus? 

With technology platforms in particular, one key decision is whether to focus on a platform enabling a variety of different applications, or whether to focus on the vertical and go up the value chain to deliver a complete solution. The right answer depends on the specifics of the industry and the level of technology differentiation. In PragmatIC’s case, the breadth of the technology’s application weighted it towards the first model, complemented by building the right ecosystem and partnerships to deliver the complete solution into key verticals. 

 

Half the PragmatIC team are based in Sedgefield, home of the National Printable Electronics Centre. What tips do you have for managing remote teams?

Firstly, I’d say communication is key - be as good as you can possibly be on communication. Put effort into making sure all staff understand the company’s strategy and where they fit in, and encourage relationship building and informal communication with a regular flow of people between sites. We also have an all-company meeting twice a year to get everyone in the same place and ensure that everyone feels part of the same team.  

Secondly, consider an even staffing split so no one site appears significantly larger than the other. And finally, think carefully about other things that can impact staff morale and perception - for example, we have Cambridge as our formal headquarters but Sedgefield is the registered office. 

 

If you are interested in finding out more about PragmatIC’s journey you can visit their website or follow them on Twitter @pragmatic_ltd

If you would like to find out more about ideaSpace membership please email and you can follow us on Twitter @ideaSpace

 

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