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Posted on April 3, 2017 by  & 

Graphene grows up

IDTechEx has invited a series of industrial players and leaders active in graphene commercialization to contribute their opinions about the state of the technology and markets. As part of article series, we will today hear from Nanomedical Diagnostics who write about their progress with their commercial biophysical assay tool based on graphene transistors. To contact Nanomedical Diagnostics directly please contact the author Dr Brett Goldsmith on
To learn more about the graphene markets please refer to our report on Graphene, 2D Materials, and Carbon Nanotubes 2016-2026: Markets, Technologies, and Opportunities. You can also meet with many industry leaders at our business-focused event Graphene Europe 2017 taking place on May 10th and 11th in Berlin, Germany.

Carbon electronics have been around since before Thomas Edison built his first commercial lightbulb using carbonized bamboo filaments. More recently, we've made a lot of progress developing advanced carbon electronic materials, from carbon nanotubes to graphene, but we haven't had the same product development success that Edison did. As experts in new materials, we have tools for producing new products that other people don't have. This can be an advantage in almost any market. Success requires a deep understanding of both your material and your target market.
Several years ago, I started a company with my business partner, Ross Bundy, to produce a product using nanotechnology that lived up to the superlative visions so common in nanotechnology research papers. We would make a product that disrupted a market outside of nanotechnology, rather than something that enabled development of other products, or simply leveraged the "nanotechnology brand" for a premium. The result of this effort is Nanomedical Diagnostics, and the first real nanoelectronics enabled product, AGILE R100, a biophysical assay tool based on graphene transistors. Our success demonstrates that it is possible to create a complex nanotechnology enabled product today, and the lessons we learned may help others do the same.
Nanomedical Diagnostics is a biotechnology company, not a nanotechnology company. We are defined by the industry of our customers, not by our technical expertise. Unless you've been going to a lot of biology conferences, you probably have not heard of us. In the early days, it would have felt good to gather positive feedback at nanotechnology conferences, but that feedback is also distracting. Instead, for years, we focused on people in biomedical research and medicine. Our investors and advisors come from the biotechnology industry, because that's where our customers are. These were the connections we needed. Often, we heard things that challenged our assumptions, humbled us, and forced us to engineer and produce a better product.
This product focus is important when working with something like graphene that can seemingly do everything. It was important for us to stay focused on the problems of our target customer, not on the scientifically interesting problems of our field. For example, large area graphene growth is a very popular problem among graphene commercialization efforts, but it doesn't enable us to build a better biosensor, or really change our cost structure. On the other hand, integration of graphene into a commercial fab was necessary to build a product. It's not necessary to solve all of the problems in nanotechnology, just those related to your product.
One of the ways we stayed on target was to raise the minimum amount of money we needed, not the most we could get. This is literally a joke from HBO's Silicon Valley, but you don't need to take the money. This includes grants, which are notorious for de-focusing young companies. Most of us pay too much for lab facilities, research grade tools, and top tier engineering. These things are not necessary to prove your market or prove your technology. If you ask yourself how much you can get done without spending a lot of money, you will be surprised at how far you can go.
As a model for a modern industrial scientist, Thomas Edison has many flaws, but there is a practicality that he had that we need to recapture. He said "Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success." As scientists, this ideal of utility to a field outside our own needs a higher place in our minds. It's great for something to be cool, but it's better for it to be cool and useful. There are nearly endless opportunities to leverage materials like graphene to create new and disruptive products. The details of what those products should be will not be found by looking internally or talking with ourselves, but by getting out there and learning about the challenges people are facing in other fields.
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