At a glance
High-value intellectual property (IP) isn’t just something that gets cooked up in a lab; without careful management, it can also easily be thrown out. Byproducts turfed in a bin, for example, could leave a business vulnerable to any determined dumpster diver.
For NanoLayr, creating a wider understanding of how IP can create – and erode – value is playing an important role in the latest chapter of the deep-tech manufacturer’s growth story.
NanoLayr manufactures high-performance nanofibre textiles, with its core platform technologies used in air filtration, composites reinforcing, skincare and beauty, and acoustics.
The Auckland-based business supplies its functional fabrics to partner customers, who then use it to add a layer of performance to end products – everything from virus-killing face masks, to wrinkle-reducing skincare.
Previously known as Revolution Fibres, NanoLayr was founded in 2009 with the aim of creating the world’s best air filter.
The founders could see the benefits of using nanofibre textiles, but only lab-scale technology existed to create them. So they set about creating their own machine to manufacture nanofibre textiles on a commercial scale.
Through years of R&D and research partnerships, which has included accessing a range of Callaghan Innovation support such as Student Grants, NanoLayr has developed and refined a proprietary process called ‘sonic electrospinning’.
It allows nanofibre manufacturing on a large scale: from 1kg of raw material it can create enough nanofibre to stretch from the Earth to Venus, when placed end to end.
“We have PhDs start work in the business who, in their many years of academic work, have managed to maybe produce an A4-size piece of nanofibre textile,” says NanoLayr CEO Ray Connor. “When they see these thousands of metres rolling off our machines, they can’t believe it.”
Last year, NanoLayr raised $6 million in Series A funding, enabling the business to institute a new business strategy to increase the global commercial opportunity for nanofibre textiles.
To help scale the business, NanoLayr has moved from its former 275 square metre home to a 5,500 square metre purpose-built facility and grown its number of electrospinning machines for manufacturing from one to six, with a further 10 planned over the next 18 months.
At the same time, NanoLayr has experienced an explosion in demand for its products, leading to around 500% revenue growth in the last financial year, and staff numbers to rise from around 15 to 50. While the COVID-19 epidemic has boosted demand for its filtration media, Connor says the biggest growth has come from customer demand for its DermaLayr beauty and skincare technology.
NanoLayr’s new business strategy also required an overhaul of its IP approach, to ensure it’s fit for purpose in the business’ next phase of growth.
To do this, the business collaborated with directors, investors, and IP advisors, including long-time provider Create IP, as well as Ellis Terry and Potter IP, who NanoLayr partnered with through Callaghan Innovation’s Beyond IP programme.
Beyond IP supports businesses to build and implement a strategy around their intangible assets – for example, staff expertise and experience, brand recognition, unique processes, and customer relationships – which can make up to 80% of the value in today’s businesses.
With support from its advisors, NanoLayr identified eight areas where IP drives value in the business – encompassing everything from human and relationship capital, to IP registers and product and process IP.
Connor says a key part of the work has involved embedding a thorough understanding of NanoLayr’s IP and its stewardship within the culture, and operationalising that throughout the business.
Work streams within different areas of the business have ensured IP protection is captured in areas such as workplace training, documentation, access levels, annual reviews, and audits.
“The most vulnerable we’ll be to an IP breach or leak is at the weakest part of our process, which is the individual who doesn’t understand the value of IP. This work has allowed us to create an internal conversation to make sure everyone in the business is aware of their role in the creation and protection of our IP.”
NanoLayr had previously undertaken the Beyond IP programme five years earlier, and Connor says it’s essential businesses regularly review their IP strategy.
“In rolling out this programme, we knew we needed to engage with the right types of agencies and partners to support us. Beyond IP is a great initiative, and part of a wider Callaghan Innovation suite of programmes with the potential to build and shape business capability in many ways.”
The growth story has continued in 2021, with NanoLayr named Most Innovative Deep Tech Solution at Hi-Tech Awards 2021, and the business is now eyeing an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
“Our move towards an IPO is a way for us to cement our capability in this technology, and to ultimately make it not just part of NanoLayr’s story, but of NZ’s story. That’s a big driver for us,” says Connor.
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Updated: 11 November 2021