LONDON – November 20, 2019
Venue: THE CITY OF LONDON CLUB, Broad Street, EC1
The City of London Club exudes the club-like atmosphere of the old City, at the very heart of the financial community, and seemed a suitable location for the Award of our Lifetime Fellowship to Dr Drew Nelson, CEO and co-founder of IQE plc, which is listed on the AIM market.
The Club building was completed in 1834, almost adjacent to the previous site of the Stock Exchange.
Sir Henry Bessemer would have been 19 years of age at that time, having just moved to London to start out on his business career.
Lifetime Award to Dr Drew Nelson
Co-founder and CEO of IQE plc
Dr Drew Nelson, co-founder and CEO of IQE plc, received the Award in recognition of his success in building IQE into the largest epitaxial wafer supplier in the world, establishing the largest foundry for the production of compound semiconductors in the UK, and his vision to make South Wales the foremost compound semiconductor cluster in Europe.
“It was my great pleasure and honour to receive the award and I am very proud to have been chosen as the recipient as the Bessemer Society stands for all the things that drive me personally.” Drew Nelson commented after receiving the Award.
A Lifetime Awardee embodies the Bessemer Spirit!
The decision by Council members to give the Society’s third annual Award to Drew had been unanimous. Stephen Bennington, a Founding Council member and the Bessemer lead in Oxford, explained the idea behind the Award and the criteria by which the Lifetime Fellowship Award is decided:
The criteria for the Award:
- Founded or runs a UK based manufacturing-oriented high technology company
- A fusion of technical and business acumen
- Leadership and entrepreneurial spirit
- Resilience and tenacity in pursuing goals
- Already achieved significant success / progress
- A keen sense of moral and social purpose
The Award was made by Professor Sir Colin Humphreys. Below Dr Drew Nelson accepting the Award as part of which he gave a tremendous talk on things that inspire and drive him forward.
Dr Drew Nelson
Following a PhD in Semiconductor Physics, Drew joined BT Research Laboratories in 1981, leading the group responsible for the development of advanced optoelectronic devices for optical fibre communications. He co-founded EPI in 1988 (which became IQE in 1999) and was appointed Chief Executive Officer of IQE Plc in April 1999. He received an OBE in 2001 for services to the Electronics Industry. He is currently a member of the High Level Group appointed by the European Commission to oversee the implementation of Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) throughout Europe.
Opportunities for networking take place before and after the Award Ceremony.
THE TATA STEEL BESSEMER TALK
By what is now becoming tradition Dr Chris Elliot, Head of Marketing and New Product Development at Tata Steel, as well as sometime expert on the life of Sir Henry Bessemer, delivers a fascinating talk which brings Sir Henry’s life and achievements into a modern perspective.
Chris began by referring to Bessemer’s invention of the mass production and transformation of steel, which was a keystone of the Industrial Revolution, after which it was another 100+ years before the Information Revolution –or mass production and transformation of data – which Bessemer’s contemporary, Charles Babbage, initiated. Why did one succeed and the other fail?
We were then taken on an historical tour of how Babbage pursued his quest to automate the arithmetic calculations involved in activities like designing a nautical almanac to assist accurate and safe navigation. To do this he designed a ‘Difference Engine’ in 1822 – a mechanical computer which used repetitive addition & subtraction to calculate and print out functions. The idea was well received and it received a substantial grant of £17,000, which would match any large Innovate UK grant today.
Babbage hired the pre-eminent machinist and draughtsman of the day, Joseph Clement, to make a 1/7 scale demonstrator of part of the engine workings, which provided a positive feasibility check, but then he fell out with Clements over costs, and “lost the services of the first ever computer engineer”.
He now fixed his sights on an even greater goal – the ‘Analytical Engine’, which would have been a true general purpose computer, with 600 bytes of memory, clock speed of 7Hz and programming via punched card algorithms. However, he had made other enemies along the way, one of whom was in a position to undermine his efforts to secure further government support. Babbage failed to override the resistance and instead went on the attack entrenching the opposition to him. Or, as Chris put it, “not succeeding with stakeholder management.”
It signalled the end of Babbage’s dream, although he didn’t acknowledge it and continued to work on the theoretical designs and programmes for the Analytical Engine, on and off, for the rest of his life. In contrast, Bessemer (born 22 years after Babbage) had already set up his secret mechanised bronze powder manufacturing process, which secured him financially and enabled him to finance the development of the Bessemer steel mass production process, culminating in his public announcement in August 1856.
To compare and contrast these serious Victorian disruptors, Chris concluded: Babbage was a genius, inclined to work on many interests in parallel, but “faced challenges in terms of inter-personal and networking skills, which mattered then, as much they do now”. On the other hand, Bessemer was entrepreneurial, remorselessly focussed on business outcomes, and forged relationships that underpinned these.
One other factor, added Chris,” some ideas are just too far ahead of their time!”
TALK BY PAUL MASON, DIRECTOR, INNOVATE UK
Paul runs the open scope grant programmes, Smart and design, for Innovate UK. This gives him room to design new approaches to stimulate innovation and makes him a key partner and point of contact for us at Innovate UK. Prior to Innovate UK he worked for 25 years in the chemicals industry.
He began his talk giving examples of his experience of working in supply chains, and the lessons they had taught him.
Firstly, the word ‘sovereign’ or even ‘national’ used for a supply chain must be set in the context that supply chains are now global. One of the companies he used to work for supplied cellulose triacetate (CTA) to make optical films for Liquid Crystal Displays. They were one part of a very complex supply chain, each part responsible for a different step in the production process, which linked the USA, UK, Germany, Taiwan/South Korea and Japan. His part of the supply chain was badly disrupted when a major US crisps (‘chips’ in the USA) company stopped using cotton seed oil to fry the potatoes in favour of vegetable oil. One of the raw materials used in the production of cellulose triacetate is cotton linters, a bi-product of cotton seed oil production. Once cotton growers stopped collecting the seeds to extract the oil, the linter fibres that cover the seeds became less available. His company tried to raise the price of its cellulose triacetate polymer to compensate for the higher prices for cotton linters, but this was happening against a backdrop of rapidly declining sales of CTA into the 35mm photofilm market. At the same time the LCD market was growing less quickly than the decline in photofilm volume, and the higher price of linters pushed business viability over the edge. “We could no longer compete against larger-scale producers”.
One lesson he learnt from this: “You can’t have complete sovereign control unless your pockets are immensely deep. You can’t buck the market or supply chain disruptions, which can have their origins in completely unrelated areas”. What government agencies can do is to help UK companies to be the suppliers and partners of choice in globally competitive supply chains. The message, for example, is. if IQE is the best producer of SC wafers in the world, why would customers want to go anywhere else?
Paul went on to give examples of how Innovate UK is helping start-ups like those which belong to the Bessemer Society: Smart grants; KTPs; the Catapults, which make it possible to access expensive equipment, facilities and expertise; the ICURe programme, which helps young graduate entrepreneurs to spin out a company. Last year’s Bessemer Lifetime Award winner, Dr Harry Destecroix, who established Ziylo, is a very good example. Innovate UK is also one of several agencies helping the automotive industry “to hunt in packs” to bring new electric vehicle technologies to market. The Bessemer Society represents an influential cross-section of the companies that Innovate UK is set up to help and Innovate UK looks forward to continuing working with the Society in 2020.
KEYNOTE BY PROFESSOR SIR COLIN HUMPHREYS
Sir Colin is a Distinguished Research Fellow in the Department of Materials Science at Cambridge University (previously head of department) and Professor of Materials Science at Queen Mary University of London.
He is a past-President of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, following in the shoes of Sir Henry Bessemer who became the second President of what was then the newly-founded Iron and Steel Institute.
Sir Colin is an honorary member of the Bessemer Society as the Scientific Founder of three spin-outs: CamGaN, Intellec and Paragraf.
Colin gave us a tour de force review of his experiences of bringing university research into the commercial world. Colin may appear a soft spoken, somewhat unworldly figure, but this is only camouflage for a very astute commercial mind, which puts him firmly on the inside of the Bessemer world!
Colin’s engagement with industry intensified after he established the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride in 1998. He was thereupon approached by Thomas Swan Scientific Equipment Ltd (TSSEL) for advice to help with their Chemical Vapour Deposition process. Going through the University system at that time was too laborious so Colin by-passed it in order fit into TSSEL’s commercial time-frame.
The advice the Centre gave helped TSSEL to secure an order (a top line GaN reactor then cost about £750,000). After TSSEL sold a second reactor, they offered to donate one to the Centre providing they could have access to it for 25% of the time. After some hesitation the University finally agreed to the arrangement subject to the Centre recruiting someone with specialist knowledge of CVDs.
In 2002, TSSEL was acquired by German company, Aixtron, who brought with them access to two highly influential Chinese professors, through whose recommendations Aixtron’s Swan reactors were able to secure an 80% share of the Chinese market (pre-LEDs). These were all built on the TSSEL site outside Cambridge (where Aixtron UK is still based). Colin’s GaN Centre therefore contributed to an important UK success story. The take-away was that it had needed Colin’s flexibility to make the initial collaboration a success.
The next experience concerned a requirement to package the Centre’s LED materials into devices [for testing. How to find a suitable packaging company? In 2002, the best source of information still was Yellow Pages. Their search produced Forge Europa Ltd in Cumbria, which then consisted of two people and the CEO, Peter Barton. He advised them to contact an American company which worked with a packaging company in Taiwan, but after further investigation they discovered a Chinese company, Epistar, would do the same packaging for free.
Encouraged they put in a bid for an innovation grant to develop a long-life LED chip for lighting. After completing a successful collaborative programme, Forge Europa contracted Epistar to package the chips. Sales were going well, but after Epistar started using a different supplier for some of its epoxy material, it received reports from customers that the LEDs were failing and they wanted their money back. Disaster loomed. Peter Barton asked the GaN Centre to investigate the faulty LEDs. They discovered the new epoxy resin was causing the the gold wire bonds to break and that it required a different processing route to avoid this. One of Colin’s Chinese post-docs could visit the Chinese epoxy maker to explain this. The outcome was that Forge Europa was saved from bankruptcy; Peter Barton was named “Managing Director of the Year” in 2011; and his company now employs 44 people. The moral, again, is that collaboration with the university made the difference.
The next experience related to a process the Centre had developed to grow GaN on Silicon instead of using Sapphire as the growth medium, which reduced the cost of manufacturing LEDs dramatically. A member of the board of Filtronic Ltd heard Colin describe the new process at an industry meeting and offered to help industrialise the process. A consortium was formed, including Aixtron and QinetiQ, which applied for funding from Innovate UK’s predecessor, the Technology Strategy Board. Unfortunately, the part of Filtronic responsible for this activity was acquired by RFMD Inc of America, which did not want to pursue the project so it was dropped. Next, X-Fab, a German company, which was operating a former Plessey semiconductor fab in Plymouth, approached the Centre to take the project forward, but during the financial crisis X-Fab closed the plant, causing this collaboration to terminate too. A cautionary tale, said Colin, of foreign ownership!
They decided therefore to spin out the technology into a company, CamGaN, knowing it would be immediately acquired (a familiar route for several Cambridge spinouts). Michael LeGoff (who was sitting on the top table at our dinner) had recently acquired the X-Fab plant as part of a strategy to re-establish some key parts of the old Plessey under a new name, Plessey Semiconductor Ltd. He came out on top of a queue of companies to acquire the technology in part because the UK location made it easier for Colin’s team to continue to offer support which would have been harder with a foreign company, especially a Chinese one. The problem however was that the Chinese government now provided tremendous State Aid to the LED lighting industry, which removed the window of opportunity for the new Silicon process to compete with the huge price reductions China’s massive investment enabled. Another lesson therefore, China plays by different rules.
Colin’s latest example was an invitation the GaN Centre received to look at how graphene could enhance the performance of silicon using a CVD process. The problem to overcome was that particulates in a CVD process contaminate the graphene. A post-doc who had been working at Aixtron, Simon Thomas (now an active Bessemer member) found a way to solve this as a result of which they span out the technology into a new company, Paragraf – this time with the intention to create a business and manufacture a product. As it so happened the first product was launched on the day of our dinner: this is a graphene Hall Effect sensor for measuring magnetic fields that is 30 times more sensitive than its silicon equivalent. The lesson of this story is not yet known, but it may be: Be Ambitious!
Colin concluded with suggestions for how to make it less expensive for industry to engage with universities. For example, in the UK, companies are charged the full economic cost of a Post Doc, that is, the salary of £30,000 and a similar amount to cover the PhD’s overheads. In the USA, by contrast, universities are only expected to charge 20% of the Post Doc’s salary, not 200%.
Another concern is that the Health Sector has gained too much lobbying influence to secure government research budgets which has put other scientific and technology fields at a disadvantage. Colin thought issues around State Aid to industry also needed to be addressed.
After Sir Colin’s talk there was 30 minutes for Q&A and debate. Points raised included the following:
Skills, talent acquisition and training were all strong themes during the discussion period. One member pointed out how their order book for a major client could stretch forward more than 10 years so they needed to be ready to bring in new skills and to introduce new technology to ensure support of the client’s business. In particular, this meant recruiting and training young people. A concern was that women still account for fewer than 10% of engineering graduates.
As an aside, he added, Ada Lovelace’s contribution to Babbage’s Difference Engine should be emphasised… she was arguably the first programmer..? Another member informed us there is a good pulp fiction of the same title, by William Gibson, set in 1855, the year before Bessemer announced his steel invention. Unexpected information! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/337116.The_Difference_Engine
A member whose company is developing battery materials noted the huge competition for talent now. Any future quota system needs to recognise this or it will create a serious blockage in the industry’s progress. Another had previously founded a company in Silicon Valley, where he had found talent acquisition much easier, and, but for his particular circumstances, he would rather be based there now. Another attractive option is Saxony, he said, where there are 70% allowances on capital expenditure and labour costs can be subsidised.
Another start up founder who had also worked overseas lamented the absence of silicon facilities in the UK. There was no support from government, she thought. This was very different from countries she knew, like Germany and Israel.
One of the Newport Wafer Fab attendees pointed out that South Wales prides itself on employing 1,400 people in the Compound Semiconductor industry and related fields but he had recently returned from a conference in Saxony where he heard the region employs 15,000 in the semiconductor industry. It is not the quality of invention that separates them but the gap in the level of scale up.
He added there is an opportunity to level up now that the restrictions on EU State Aid for the semiconductor industry have been relaxed as part of what the EU calls the “Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) which makes possible funding for Industrial deployment at the TRL 9 stage for early production and late RD&I projects. As a result, the German government is now allocating to its semiconductor industry Euro 1.2bn, France Euro 0.8bn and Holland Euro 0.4bn, but there has been nothing so far from the UK government. Newport Wafer Fab only has a bid into government for a modest £45mil.
Another added that the emergence of next-generation semiconductor and healthcare technologies within the UK presents many opportunities, but without the support of visionary government many of these initiatives will simply be exported overseas. Other economies will benefit as so often from British invention.
An example of an exploitable opportunity it was noted is off-shore wind where the UK is a world leader with the largest wind energy reserves in the EU. “We can become the Saudi Arabia in renewable energy/hydrogen by linking off-shore wind with electrolyser technology.” The UK also has a world leader in large-scale electrolysers, ITM Power. “All we need is political support to make this happen.”
The Canadian founder of a Trans-Atlantic start up noted that Business Schools barely taught about Manufacturing. Paul Mason told us he had made the same point at a conference, noting that out of 6,700 programmes run by business schools only 15 were directly related to manufacturing. One exception is Carnegie-Mellon, founded by Andrew Carnegie as the Carnegie Institute of Technology (with the money he made from licensing the Bessemer steel process!). Another compared Business Studies with Astronomy, “very little gets into the real world”. He also felt that he had noticed a shift in emphasis towards promoting ‘Innovation’ away from promoting ‘entrepreneurship’ whereas he felt entrepreneurship needed more recognition.
Another view was that Innovate UK could take satisfaction in helping the UK to achieve the status of an Innovation Nation, but if it wanted to leave an even more positive legacy it needed to do more to help new technology companies to achieve scale up.
Regarding access to funding, one member pointed out that if the pension industry only released a small portion of its investments to invest in risk (unlisted) equity, it would provide a large source of long-term equity capital. Another pointed out how more could be done by the public sector to procure goods and services from smaller companies to help them scale up.
One member, who had attended the Second Semiconductor Revolution Dinner in Bristol, suggested this was the opportunity to converge the various points that members and guests had made in Bristol and again this evening into an actionable proposal for government. This provided the opportunity to inform or remind guests that that we have booked rooms at the House of Commons for a dinner on February 27th which aims to do this The dinner will focus especially on: support for Finance, Talent, and Scale Up, with keynote speakers to address each.
The dinner ended on two other positive calls. The first that we should spend more time promoting successes: there are a lot of success stories, and there is a risk that the lobbying effort implies that hard tech Bessemer type companies are either weighed down or failing. Reinforcing it was a call to get out and solve the problems. “We keep hearing of problems, but we’ve got solutions. Let’s get out and show the world what we can do!”
The lively exchange kept building as the discussion progressed. As a result, there was no rush to the door, and conversations continued long after the dinner was officially called to an end.
THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
This our next big dinner: please come and join us in the Churchill Room of the Houses of Parliament on February 27th for the follow-on instalment of the Bessemer Dinner series.
The Self-Intros which are an opportunity for selected members and special guests to introduce and update us on their activity; the effect is to build a sense of anticipation about the evening and to help people identify who to meet.
Sincere thanks to our Sponsors who make the dinner possible.
Marks & Clerk is an international group of intellectual property service providers, encompassing patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, lawyers and consultants, which employs over 300 legal practitioners worldwide.
Newport Wafer Fab Ltd is the first combined Compound Semiconductor and Silicon Foundry. It has unparalleled experience with analog/advanced power and compound semiconductor technologies. Current capacity is 32,000 wafer starts per month of 0.18µm to 0.70µm wafers with an expansion capability within the existing facility to 44,000 wafers starts per month.
Founder and Convenor
November 20, 2019