We sat down with Iain Hosie, founder of Revolution Fibres, to discuss the big impact they’re having on the nanofibre industry.
Can you tell us more about your role at Revolution Fibres?
“I’m one of the founders, and started the company in 2009. I have a background in environmental science and inhalation toxicology, so I was very interested in filtration. Getting the world’s best air filter was the aim behind the launch and founding of Revolution Fibres, but we saw a technology that was ‘trapped in the laboratory,’ so we set about scaling it up to industrial scale. I started as the scientist here, we then hired a team of engineers and I became managing director, and then moved more recently into the CEO role.
“At Revolution Fibres, we effectively draw fibres out of droplets from materials using high voltage. Using high voltage instead of melting the polymer and plastic, means we have a much larger range of materials we can use – for example collagen, which we spin the most. Within our business at the moment, there’s a huge interest in collagen. You can’t use traditional fibre-making techniques on it, so for us, using our electric techniques, opens up opportunities of new materials that typically aren’t used.”
Can you share any of the businesses key objectives for the next few years?
“We’ve got a few main focuses for the next couple of years – one is cosmetics. Our ‘actiVLayr’ textiles, are rapidly dissolving fabrics that carry nutrients and drug compounds into the skin. This would mean we’re able to replace all the unnecessary ingredients that you see in creams and serum currently on the market. This is where our current interest in collagen comes in, because we can use it to deliver all these active ingredients into the skin.
“Another key market for us over the next few years is using nanofibre as a carbon fibre composite reinforcement. Our product Xantulayr is a range of nanofibre fabrics used to toughen the resin that holds carbon fibre parts together – anything from road bikes, fishing rods, airplanes to rockets. We’ve got a really great technology for that market.
“We’re also doing a lot of work for other companies, which have already invested in nanofibre technologies, at least to proven research level, and our job is to help scale up all those ideas. Over the next couple of years, we should be seeing some of our customers taking their products to market using our manufacturing pipeline.
“In the early stages, it was tricky to balance our own product development with development of new innovations for others, however we’ve found a good mix now. We’re a lot choosier about the projects we take on, as we’ve got to be sure that there’s a strong commercial intent. There have been times in the past where we’ve worked on projects too early on, and have been left stranded because the client was not ready to commercialise or not invested enough into our technology.”
What are the typical challenges you’ve noticed within the nanofibre industry?
“As a business, it was always about finding the right opportunities. Not just having one interested client, but finding those opportunities that would revolutionise the industry, and understanding where more of those opportunities would be coming from? Sometimes, you can get caught up on ideas that are just too unique, so we tried to spot, on a macro-level, what direction the nanofibre technology was going in a more general way.
“These days, when we’ve already done research into a particular field, we’re able to treat those opportunities with more gusto. We can offer the client a lot more expertise because we’ve already made a conscious decision that it’s an area we want to see our technology in.
“It’s all about sticking to what we’re really good at, which is making fabrics that meet the performance or other advantages the client is seeking, using our unique techniques in nanofibre. What we’ve seen with products like ‘actiVLayr’ is that we’re still quite involved in the commercialisation of the product as its just getting started, but that presents a challenge, as a CEO, to be just as involved selling cosmetics to a distributor as we would be designing components for a satellite. It can get quite convoluted at times.
“When working with other companies on projects, sometimes the teams we’re dealing with can be bigger than our whole company, but we’ve recognised that nanofibre is not a product in itself. There are many pieces to the puzzle, so we just ensure we play our part strongly, and that we’re lean enough for things to be able to change if they need to.”
How has PatSnap been able to add value to the work that you’re doing?
“We operate in a ‘technology-push’ market, with innovation constantly happening around us. There are around 2,000 papers published within the nanofibre and electrospinning space a year. With it being so crowded with patents, it can be really hard to pick where the green space is, and what PatSnap has been very good at, is showing us where the unique opportunities are.
“Some people can feel they have a strong IP position, and we use PatSnap to find if patents exist around the technology, and sometimes highlight that maybe their idea isn’t as unique as they first thought.
“Having a strong IP-pull, helps us decide what we should protect, and predict where the market is moving, from a research and commercial level. It’s just a really neat tool, and more often than not, we use PatSnap to make sure we’re choosing the right projects with the best commercial opportunities. Sometimes just a quick look on PatSnap can tell us whether an idea has merit from an IP view, or if it’s unique – it changes the way we think about projects, because when something is truly unique and revolutionary, it’s good to know before it’s too late.
“There’ll be some new patents under our name coming up in a couple of international markets because PatSnap’s shown a green area, and we know we can make nanofibre perform efficiently in this market. PatSnap is guiding what we do and we don’t patent a lot.”
And why was the decision made to purchase PatSnap?
“I got shown PatSnap about three years ago. At the time, most of our freedom to operate and patent searching was done by our patent attorneys, so I showed them the tool, they liked it and brought it. So, we became familiar with it, using it through them.
“We then had a year without it, until getting a call from someone in sales, and we thought maybe we should get this for ourselves, because we felt like we’d lost a little bit of our arsenal when it was gone. So, my R &D team came to me and said, “We’ve got a good arrangement with PatSnap, can we buy it?” and I smiled, agreeing that I thought we should too.”
Are there personal drivers behind what you’re doing? How did you get into this kind of work?
“I just fell into it really. I was doing environmental health, studying and monitoring air pollution, and then started to work in policy, learning how to manage hazardous substances and new organisms in nanotechnology. It was more of a policy role at first, but I’d done my time in the lab, I’d done my time in policy, and I just saw an opportunity to get involved in manufacturing.
“I certainly didn’t start the business with the intent of being the CEO and being so heavily involved. I got more and more interested as we went along, whereas at first, it was more of an investment opportunity. Out of all the founders, I’m the one that’s really stayed in the business full-time and got more and more passionate about what we do. So, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else now.”