J. Patrick Frantz took out a $50,000 loan from his father and launched planarTECH, a global business with operations in 65 countries.
planarTECH is a global leader in providing process and analytical equipment for 2D material synthesis.
“There were three co-founders. Young “Danny” Jung, is based in Korea and was critical in the early days in helping to establish and manage a solid relationship with our factory. He is unfortunately no longer with the company but is still a shareholder,” said Frantz. “The other, Yu-Heng “Jaret” Lee is a fellow Rice alum and a former student of mine. He’s been with us from the beginning and knows the ins-and-outs of growing all the materials we work with.”
“I didn’t know if it would be successful or not, so we didn’t actually incorporate as an independent entity until we saw there was real opportunity for sales. So I would say we soft-launched the company in 2012 and then we finally incorporated a dedicated entity in 2014 (US) and 2015 (UK),” Frantz explained.
Frantz launched planarTECH with a $50,000 loan from my father, and now the company has average annual revenues of $1.25 million for the past 5 years.
“We’re looking to grow beyond that now, which is why we recently launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs,” Frantz said. “Before this, I worked with several other startup/small companies and enjoy the atmosphere.”
“We have two locations, planarTECH LLC in the US and planarTECH UK Limited in the UK. As part of our crowdfunding campaign, we set up a top-level holding company in the UK, planarTECH (Holdings) Ltd,” he said. “As for our customer base, we are global and have been fortunate to sell systems to some of the leading institutions doing work on graphene and 2D materials. These include the National Graphene Institute and the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre that is in Manchester, UK; the Cambridge Graphene Centre in the UK; Stanford University in the US; and the Centre for Advanced 2D Materials at the National University Singapore.”
Frantz is a graduate of Rice University with studies in history, political science, German and Engineering. Dr. Jim Tour, one of the world’s most well known graphene researchers, is on the faculty at Rice.
“I knew Jim, but did not work closely with him. But yes, he is the reason I got into graphene,” said Frantz. “In 2011, I had left a position with a small Texas-based startup in the touch panel space, and I was looking for opportunities in this market. I saw a press release from Jim’s group on graphene, and until that point I had never even heard about graphene! I reached out to Jim and he was kind enough to correspond with me. We met in person a few times and ultimately he steered me towards a couple of professors in Korea who were thinking of starting a graphene company, since at that time I was already living in Asia.”
Both Frantz and Dr. Tour are members of the National Graphene2D Association Advisory Board.
Fantz now lives in Thailand with his wife and two daughters. planarTECH recently announced a partnership with a Thai group for the launch of a graphene-enriched flack jacket which will be marketed around the world.
“People might not have the image of Thailand as the place for high-tech business, but there is actually a large manufacturing base here with many potential customers for graphene,” Frantz said. “In a previous role for Haydale, I set up an R&D center here that currently has 12 staff and we ran Haydale’s Asia operations from that location.”
Frantz sees a bright future for graphene.
“I think we are going to see graphene used in many applications. However, many of these might be mundane things where graphene plays a supplementary role. You may not even know that graphene is in the product. But there are truly revolutionary things out there already. I really like what the team at Grapheal in France is doing with their graphene-based wound care. It’s an application that I had never thought of and as I understand it absolutely requires graphene. I think as the cost of graphene comes down we will see more and more of these types of applications,” he said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses around the world, planarTECH has seen a spike in business.
“I am an optimist, and I think that eventually, humanity will overcome the current global crisis,” he said. “Most likely a vaccine will be developed that will allow us to go back to a normal state. However, I do think business practices will change. Most likely, there will be a realization that a lot of things can be done remotely.”
“For us, we already manage a global business mostly remotely. We do sales and service and support largely online. However, there has been an impact on us. Our factory in Korea is relatively unaffected as they are managing the outbreak well there, so we can still build systems and are currently processing about $400K in orders with more orders in the pipeline,” Frantz said. “We’ve actually noticed an uptick in inquiries since the lockdowns began around the world. But while we can ship the systems, we’re not entirely sure when we will be able to travel again to install them, so this is going to have an effect on us which we are trying to manage.”
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