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Versarien Q&A: Significant progress with graphene commercialisation strategy (LON:VRS)

Versarien (LON:VRS) Chief Executive Officer Neill Ricketts caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss the interim results, their graphene commercialisation strategy, mainstream projects and how 2020 is looking for the company.

Q1: Neil, you’ve announced your results today, can you talk us through the highlights of the first half and post period?

A1: So, basically split into two sectors, financial and operational highlights.

If we talk about the financial highlights, you’ll see there’s a slight reduction in group revenues, that’s predominantly to do with effects of Brexit and a slowdown from some of our customers. We took the opportunity to improve the efficiency of our business and I’m delighted to say that the guys have worked really hard to ensure that we’ve weeded out some of the lower margin work and that we’re making good progress with those businesses to ensure that they are ready for when those revenues return. So, good work being done by the team there.

We’ve had a really really busy year and I want to thank the team for sticking in there under some quite difficult conditions and a lot of hard work has gone into getting the business to where it is now.

In terms of operational highlights, we achieved, and still have, the only Verified Graphene Producer programme from the USA’s Graphene Council and we’ve also had the graphene validated by a number of other people including some Chinese organisations. The majority of the cash that was spent was in improving our technical capability but also in expanding our international footprint and because of the oversubscribed placing last year, we were able to do things in a simultaneous fashion rather than a sequential fashion. So, we pushed ahead with China and there’s some news in the interims about what’s happening in China where we’re moving towards a deal which I think is very favourable for the company.

We’ve obviously got China, Japan and the USA and South Korea so the team has been really really busy, this is a remarkable small team working really really hard in the interest of the shareholders.

Q2: You mention Versarien have made significant progress with your graphene commercialisation strategy, can you talk us a bit more about this and how a typical relationship works with your partners?

A2: Yes, so again, during this period, we’ve had significant progress in the commercialisation point of view, we’ve had the launch of the AECOM CNCT Arch down in Bristol, the first mass-produced construction project using graphene throughout partners AECOM. That’s pretty typical of the types of companies that we’re working with, these are very large global blue-chip companies that have seen and identified our product and really want to work with us to really get the benefits of this material in their applications.

Now, it doesn’t happen overnight unfortunately, it takes a lot of work and you’ll have seen in the interims the number of projects that a relatively small team are working on. Steve is doing an amazing job, he’s just come back from Boston last week and we have a full hopper of projects for him and his team to actually have a go at.

So, big companies working hand in hand developing real engineering solutions to problems like the AECOM Arch, like the aerospace parts, the oil and gas parts, textiles that we announced a couple of weeks ago which is fantastic progress in terms of the commercialisation strategy and our concrete project which is currently under test at the University of Manchester.

Q3: I think you’ve touched on this already but I see that you’re working on around 40 mainstream projects with your commercial partners. What do you mean by mainstream and are there any that you’d particularly like to highlight?

A3: In terms of our mainstream projects, these are the ones where we have significant resources working on, these are key projects for the company. We have our 5 projects that I’ve just talked about but behind that we have our other projects, some of those are more advanced, I think we mentioned 17 in the interims but behind that are even more projects that are queuing up, again, to use this fantastic material in their applications.

So, my job is really to look forwards, 5/6 years’ time in the future, and make sure the company has got the right foundations to ensure that it can become a global giant in this particular field and that’s my aspirations.

I’m really delighted that we can attract these large blue-chi[p companies that are keen to work with us.

Q4: Talking about looking forward, it’ll soon be 2020, what’s the new year looking like for Versarien?

A4: 2020, unfortunately the team will be working very hard over the Christmas period, I don’t think we’ll have any sort of downtime really, maybe we’ll get Christmas Day off if Chris is feeling really benevolent.

The reality is, we’ve got a lot of projects, a lot of customers and we need to keep them all happy and we need to keep demonstrating really key development in all of these different areas. We’ve got more projects coming, we’ve got more people to bring on board and get through the learning curve and there’s other things we need to do in the first quarter of next year.

So, for me, I think a few days off, I’ll get into our planning head and look forward to making sure we’ve got everything in place for Q1 next year.