Dr Siân Fogden (@DrSianF) is a Nanotechnologist with an Oxford University chemistry degree and an Imperial College London PhD. She spent five years in southern California working as the Market and Technology Development Manager for Linde Nanomaterials, a new division of Linde which was created to commercialise the technology developed and patented during her PhD. In 2015 Dr Fogden brought her technology back to London and created Anionica to continue this commercialisation path. Her technology focuses on the reductive dissolution of carbon nanotubes, producing inks to make transparent conductive films. Such films can be used in flexible displays, touch screens, smart windows and solar cells.
To engage with her love of science communication, Dr Fogden is the acting Press Coordinator and Communications Officer for the Graphene Flagship, an EC research initiative, with a budget of €1 billion that aims to take graphene from academic laboratories into European society in the space of 10 years. You can catch Siân on her soapbox on the 27th of May in London, with a talk called: “Changing the world on an unprecedented scale: How tiny carbon nanotechnology will change all of our lives”
Becoming a scientist and a female founder of a tech company
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say in this blog. I could talk for ages about carbon nanotubes and graphene and how they will change the world. I could talk about how crucial science is to the world and how a bedrock of facts is so important and is something that we should treasure and protect. But instead I want to talk about how I got to be here – a scientist and a female founder of a tech company.
Science and innovation is difficult work with many highs and lows. My PhD at Imperial College in London was very challenging but out of it came a number of patents and the interest of Linde, a large industrial chemical company. When Linde decided to licence my patents, start Linde Nanomaterials, (which would be based in Southern California) and employ me as the Market and Technology Development Manager it was a dream come true. At the same time moving half way around the world and taking a leap out of the lab and into a customer-facing role was incredibly difficult. It was an opportunity that I fought for because I felt that engaging potential customers and using their input to lead the technology development was what I really wanted to do. I was right. I loved my work and it was a really proud moment for me when we launched our first product in 2013. To actually see a product that had come out of my PhD research launched onto the market was incredible and even more exciting was that people actually bought it! As well as selling small scale samples to the R&D community we also focused on much larger scale end users and my work involved a lot of travel throughout the USA, Europe and extensively in Asia. It was an amazing time in my life and I learned a lot. As my team grew so did my role and I became almost completely customer focused. Unfortunately, in 2015 Linde made a strategic business decision to close a number of small ventures and Linde Nanomaterials was included in that cut. The closure of Linde Nanomaterials counts as a low point in the commercialisation journey. However, it did enable me to return to London and bring the patents and know-how that had been created during the five years of Linde Nanomaterials back with me. Throughout this process my belief in the technology never wavered – I believe that it will succeed and so Anionica was formed. The route to start-up success is difficult and, with the help of others, I’m still trying to find the right path. Once again I have taken a leap into new and unfamiliar territory and if I have one message to you it would be this:
If you feel reluctant to do something because it scares you, you should just do it anyway. If you are offered an opportunity it’s not because of luck it’s because you have put in the hard work and you are standing in the right place at the right time. Typically, women apply for opportunities only when they meet 100% of the required experience in a job description. Men apply when they meet 60% of requirements. So my point is, you can learn the other 40% when you get there, so go for it!
Oh and I really do believe in my carbon nanotube technology – give me a few years and I think that you will be able to purchase a piece of tech such as a new phone or a flexible display which my technology enables.