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Versarien CEO resigns as economic conditions delay product commercialisation

10 March 2023
The Business Magazine article image for: Versarien CEO resigns as economic conditions delay product commercialisation

Graphene innovator Versarien has parted company with its CEO, after Neill Ricketts has resigned as Chief Executive Officer of the company.

In a brief statement this morning, the executive directors said they will continue to manage the company supported by the non‐executive directors. The Board is considering the appropriate longer term management structure of the company and further announcements will be made in due course, as appropriate.

Last month, the Forest of Dean-based materials engineering group, warned investors that economic conditions had delayed the commercialisation of its products.

The firm – which has secured clothing partnerships with fashion label Superdry and the kit suppliers of the England rugby team Umbro – makes products from graphene, a material made from a single layer of carbon atoms, for the automotive, clothing, biomedical and aerospace sectors.

The company posted widening losses of £8.4 million for the 18 months to the end of September 2022, compared to an £8.1 million loss for the year to March 2021 – despite revenues rising from £5.7 million to £11.1 million in the period.

Neill Ricketts established Versarien in 2011, and just two years later floated the business on London's AIM.

Trained in mechanical engineering by 2010 Neill was a director of the plc Elektron, heading up its division of engineering companies. He looked after the UK operating plants and spent much of his time travelling. Part of his job was to grow the businesses and spend time in UK universities looking at new ideas.

In 2010 he came across an opportunity with Liverpool University. A researcher had discovered a new and cost-effective way to create very natural structures such as bone, coral or sponge through the established process of Lost Carbonate Sintering. The research had taken place thanks to a £600,000 Government grant and Neill saw huge potential.

“We had a way to deliver it to the market through one of my companies, Total Carbide. So buoyed up with great enthusiasm for this new manufacturing process that was going to revolutionise the world, I took it to my board of directors.”

They didn’t share his view and would not take it forward. Neill found himself in a very difficult situation.

“I had an enthused team, what I considered to be a life-changing opportunity and I had to make the decision as to whether or not I left my existing, well-paid job to start a business.”

The firm – now based in a new dedicated graphene production facility in Longhope in Gloucestershire to significantly expand capacity - has also delivered a secret project for the UK government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

Last month Neill said: "We remain confident of the environmental and commercial benefits our graphene technology can bring, but the current macro-economic conditions combined with the disruptive nature of our products has delayed the commercialisation we were anticipating.

“Consequently, we are streamlining the business and focusing on our primary opportunities in construction and textiles.

“We will continue to seek grant funding to support our operations, but will also need the continuing support of investors, either strategic or from the capital markets, to fund the business until such time as the graphene market gains traction and material commercial revenues flow.”

Nicky Godding is editor of The Business Magazine. Before her journalism career, she worked mainly in public relations moving into writing when she was invited to launch Retail Watch, a publication covering retail and real estate across Europe.

After some years of constant travelling, she tucked away her passport and concentrated on business writing, co-founding a successful regional business magazine. She has interviewed some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs who have built multi-million-pound businesses and reported on many science and technology firsts.

She reports on the region’s thriving business economy from start-ups, family businesses and multi-million-pound corporations, to the professionals that support their growth and the institutions that educate the next generation of business leaders.

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