By @SimonCocking

Enbio @enbio_eu are doing really well, in both space related products and domestically. We caught up with Dr Kevin O’Flynn, Sales Manager for Enbio

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When were you founded? Why?

Founded by John O’Donoghue who was studying for an MSc. After working for over 2 decades in the biomedical sector. He was very interested in titanium coatings, particularly in the difficulty of getting coatings to stick due to oxide layer, he was considering how grit blasting worked and had the brainwave (simple in retrospect!) of combing coating and grit blasting in a single step. In 2006 he took the plunge to start his own company that developed the technology to remove the oxidelayer and deposit a coating in a single step. He called it CoBlast.

What is your own background?

PhD in Materials Science, coating of titanium in particular. Chartered Engineer. Worked in Canada for a few years on the commercial side for a small scientific tech company doing low temperature physics. Moved back to Cork to work in Biomed on the R&D side for an MNC. Came to Dublin to work with Enbio in business development.

Scientists / entrepreneurs, tricky to manage both sides sometimes?

Depends on the person really. I know many scientists who have an entrepreneurial mindset. We have some top notch scientists/engineers here who are great at the detailed technical aspects but aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty either.

Nova UCD – in what ways has it helped you develop the company?

It’s been a huge help to us – great access to the world class researchers, knowledge and equipment. The NovaUCD facility is a place you can be proud of when bringing visitors on site. It gives a small company the appearance of being a larger company. Being positioned so close to UCD Engineering and Materials Science means we have significantly shortened our R&D cycle – we can test new coatings and characterise them much quicker. We co-developed one of our major coatings – SolarWhite in conjunction with Dr. Kenneth Stanton of UCD.

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How was 2014?

Good year overall. Got our SolarBlack coating flight qualified and ready to go to space. We coated the ESA Solar Orbiter heat shield – a huge piece of work for us. Also started construction of our Space Technologies Centre (opened last month).

Last year we also made the (metaphorical) move from Space back to Earth and began looking at more terrestrial applications. We expanded our team and leveraged our process expertise to put new types of coatings done (e.g. PTFE for low friction, Zinc Phosphate for corrosion protection). In particular we started looking at another extreme environment for our coatings – Oil and Gas. We see similar challenges for our coatings in the requirement for a high performance coating that is subject to particularly harsh environments. We showed that our coating primers made a significant difference and are a disruptive technology to the incumbent processes. We created a firm base of testing in 2014 to demonstrate the coating performance and have used that to develop strong links to the O&G industry through 2015 so far.

Wins? 

ESA investing over €2M in us because they believe in the coating and company to such an extent.

Anything you’d do differently?

Get our second coating for satellites – SolarWhite qualified and ready to fly. We are on the cusp of getting development agreements signed with some major tech and biomed companies.

What tech tools help you in your work?

I recently got an iPhone 6+ and  my partner laughs at me because it hardly fits in my pocket but its rarely far from my side. Mailbox for iOS – fantastic for managing my email.

What tech tools do you wish were  already invented and available?

Teleportation please – transatlantic flights lost their appeal a long time ago.

Self driving cars – I’m excited about my productivity boost when I don’t have to drive.

Cork versus Dublin for location, pros and cons?

Both great places to live (I’ve lived in both for a few years). Dublin has stronger airport connections. Cork has better access to biomedical companies. Our relationship to UCD and the great quality research, and researchers, we have access to is really what swings it in Dublin’s favour.

Will / do you plan to relocate outside of Ireland to continue to grow and scale?

We export 100% of our product. Ireland is a great location to do business both into the US and Europe. We already have another location at NIACE in Belfast (http://www.niace-centre.org.uk/index.php/news/2-uncategorised/40-news-9). We continuously evaluate the need for locations outside Ireland as we grow our business in different markets. At the moment we have no immediate plans, but are expanding rapidly so that could change quickly.

Work life balance, your strategy?

Work hard – it’s a small growing company. Make sure we, as a company, take time to step back and socialise every so often. It’s too easy to get sucked into the pressures of getting product out the door. We want to build a team who pull together and support each other when the pressure is on.

How are you applying your technology to issues back on earth?

We’re taking our proprietary process, CoBlast, and using it to apply new coatings to solve terrestrial problems. Such as coating metals in zinc phosphate to prevent corrosion or degradation of barrier coatings. The industry standard is to use a wet chemistry approach that is multi-step and uses hazardous wet chemicals. Our process is a single, environmentally friendly step that gives comparable or better performance.

We have used our process to put layers of PTFE on medical guidewires that don’t require the use of PFOA – this is something we have had a lot of interest in.

Wider tech scene in Ireland, any crossover synergies for you guys?

The space tech sector in Ireland is small but growing. Enterprise Ireland are playing a big part in building that. We work in NovaUCD so we’re surrounded by small companies doing very exciting things. The energy we get from being in Nova is fantsatic.

We haven’t found a good synergy yet, but I was a business matchmaker event in DCU last week and had some very interesting initial conversations with two companies that we might be able to work together on solving some pretty big problems. I’m always on the lookout – let me know if there’s an opportunity somewhere!

Social media – you look like you’ve just begun to tweet – it can be really useful – how are you finding it?

Your question reminded me to go and set up my own twitter account! To be honest I’m not great at it so I’ve left it to others in the company till now. I see it as another important facet of our branding and marketing and something I had promised myself I’ll get better at this year.

 Anything else you’d like to add / I should have asked you?

Pretty comprehensive questions Simon.  Couple of things I’ve been thinking about recently in work:

– the importance of our links with academia: we wouldn’t’ be here today if it weren’t for our interactions with academic research here in Ireland. Our SolarWhite coating was developed by a team led by Dr. Kenneth Stanton of UCD working in conjunction with ENBIO. It’s a coating that will revolutionize white coatings in space and solve some major problems that have been happening with them. SolarWhite is now a major part of our product offering. Being in NovaUCD has also invigorated the company being surrounded by other like-minded small companies. In fact we’re a ‘spin-in’ company instead of a ‘spin-out’ and it was a great decision to come here.

SolarBlack – you can chart the progress of our SolarBlack, and the excitement in ESA about it, by looking at the artists impressions of the Solar Orbiter. Before we came along, most of the sun facing surfaces were white. But they couldn’t find a white coating that would withstand the harsh solar radiation. As we have proven the SolarBlack coating, every iteration of the artists impressions showed more and more black surfaces where our coating was now the baseline solution. Now we are on the cusp of having SolarWhite ready – we’re in a race against the clock to see if we can get it ready in time to coat the Solar Orbiter. So who knows – some of those black surfaces could go back to white yet!