What is a FRO?
A Focused Research Organisation (FRO) is a new type of organisation to accelerate scientific progress. It seeks to address problems that are too big for academia to tackle but not directly profitable enough for industrial R&D. One of the defining features is that an FRO is time bound and seeks to hit very clear technical milestones.
Why is a new working model needed for materials science R&D?
The development and roll-out of new fibres and filaments to different industries has slowed significantly. This is partly because there is a significant capability gap between labs producing individual filaments and industry which needs tens of kilos to do any meaningful application testing. A new organisation, dedicated to creating an open source experimental protocol can solve the knowledge gap that exists between forming 1g of material around a glass rod and producing bobbins of yarn for downstream trials.
Global consumption of fibres is set to grow to 146 Billion tonnes by 2030. This is across medical, industrial and consumer goods. However, in terms of fibres, we still rely on a 20th Century material toolbox. If we want to increase the energy density of batteries, improve medical implants and achieve the needs of Net Zero then a new generation of fibres are needed.
Academia in the UK is not structured or incentivised properly to deliver new innovations in synthetic fibres. Academia is good at discovery and is typically where the first gram of material is made. However, industry needs kilograms and sometimes tonnes just to evaluate how a material might behave in application. The DuPont Experimental Station is an excellent example of large-scale research but is not driven by public good.
A fibre/filament FRO would complement the existing ecosystem and connect new ideas with processing expertise. It would create a dataset and experimental model that can be leveraged by academia and industry. It would enable small-volume and specialist users leverage new materials in ways not currently possible.
What would a fibre focused FRO produce?
A key point of FROs is to disseminate results widely across their scientific field. This is a critical question for us to answer before launch. We are working on how we ensure we share data and results quickly whilst retaining value within the FRO. Lowering barriers to access and empowering other researchers and innovators has to be a core element to this FRO.
Specifically, for a material science FRO this could mean:
- Open source datasets on processing and testing
- Distribute tools and methodologies to researchers
- Educate on aspects of fibre science through hosting visitors and workshops
- Share new material prototypes with downstream users and researchers who can find novel applications
- License IP to commercial partners in order to achieve a public good
- Spin out new entities if this will leverage the output of the FRO
Is FRO a new concept?
Sam Rodriques and Adam Marblestone proposed FROs to address shortcomings in institutional and industrial funding for research. It is worth taking the time to read their Day One paper here.
Where are you with this?
We submitted an application to be considered for the Research Ventures Catalyst programme run by DSIT. We also submitted a white paper proposal to Convergent Research which can be downloaded
How can I get involved as an investor?
If you are interested in becoming an anchor donor through this new FRO please contact us. We can potential leverage the Research Ventures Catalyst programme from DSIT for match funding. For VC's and Angels, the spin-off route may provide opportunity to invest in pre-seed or seed rounds.