CTO Sessions: Richard Price, PragmatIC

CTO Sessions: Richard Price, PragmatIC

Name: Dr Richard Price

Company: PragmatIC

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: December 2015

Location: UK

Richard Price has more than 20 years' experience in emerging technology development and commercialisation. As CTO and co-founder of PragmatIC, Price has overseen technical development of PragmatIC's groundbreaking flexible electronics technology from concept through to volume production of the first products.

What was your first job? My parents ensured that I had a range of jobs whilst at school which covered everything from bar/hotel work, working in a print factory to loading trucks with boxes. This gave me a great experience of real-life work which I have taken into my career. My first professional job was as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bath. Here my research covered environmental catalysis and fundamental structure-property relationships of new materials. 

Did you always want to work in technology? Yes. I've always been passionate about the boundary of emerging science/technology and its commercialisation.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? After studying Physics, Chemistry and Maths, I specialised in Chemistry and hold a BSc (Hons) and PhD both from the University of Durham (UK). During my PhD I specialised in synthesis and characterisation of organometallic materials with s-block metals. These are highly pyrophoric materials which means that they catch fire when exposed to air! I had a couple of scary moments, but both me and the laboratory survived!

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After my postdoc I decided not to pursue an academic career. I wanted to work in early-stage technology and moved to London where I worked as a research scientist on materials for Organic LEDS (OLEDs). This was early days for OLED technology, and it has been great to see the technology rolled-out in screens for cell phones and TVs. My next role helped me to gain management and business development experience working on many early-stage start-up ventures across a wide range of industry sectors from biotech to electronics. This eventually led to PragmatIC being founded in Cambridge.

What type of CTO are you? For the early stages of PragmatIC my role encompassed both operations and technical development. I'm still heavily involved in the day-to-day operations and engineering, as well as looking to the long-term. I thrive most on new ideas and visions of technologies that we haven't yet proved can be achieved.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I'm really excited about Industry 4.0 and the impact this can make in automating processes, driving resource efficiencies and sustainability benefits.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Aren't all technologies overhyped at some stage?! Joking aside most technologies need to be hyped to get people excited about them. Getting this balance right is always tricky and, having worked all my career in emerging technology, I know it's easy to look back in hindsight at technologies that don't succeed and say they were overhyped.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? We've been transforming our whole people approach over the past 12 months, emphasising and celebrating the culture and values that we've developed as a group. This is becoming more central to our entire business not only our approach to talent management but also in our relationships with customers, suppliers and partners. We're aiming for a more direct and open approach to how we work with each other and a clear focus on a common goal that everyone can get behind.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? PragmatIC's future strategy is to deploy automated and digitally connected FlexLogIC manufacturing-lines across the globe. This covers aspects of Industry 4.0, AI and machine learning. Our aim is to provide autonomous systems that are fully optimised for our customer supply-chains, with both PragmatIC and our customers achieving revenue growth.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? During 2019 we are primarily delivering standard products from our first FlexLogIC system. These are RFID devices that can add intelligence to everyday items. Giving FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) a unique digital identity allows brands to link them to digital content that can be accessed either by operators in the supply chain or the end consumer. This content can be dynamic, related to the time and location of use. As well as supply chain efficiencies, brands can use it to connect directly with consumers to provide detailed information on provenance, allergens, authenticity etc. as well as delivering engaging multimedia content. We are presently working with some key customers to bring these to market. We are also in discussion with potential early adopters of our FlexLogIC production systems.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? PragmatIC has developed a platform technology where we can design and manufacture electronics at a different cost-point and form-factor from the traditional silicon chip industry, opening up a broad range of new applications that were previously not addressable by those devices. Our first products focus on radio frequency identification (RFID) which is a well-established industry. With our cost advantage we are enabling our customers and partners to connect many more objects as part of the global IoT. One exciting area is in flexible packaging (including low-value disposable packaging such as food wrappers), which is one of the fastest growing consumer packaged goods sectors.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I think we're pretty clear on how we fit into our customer supply-chains. In the short-term we sell ICs (integrated circuits) and we will soon start to roll out manufacturing capability in the form of automated FlexLogIC systems. Our FlexLogIC systems enable a wide range of companies to design using our technology and these companies will not require extensive semiconductor manufacturing experience. We see no shortage of opportunities but the key priority for us is to deliver against existing customer needs and to scale our manufacturing capacity.

What makes an effective tech strategy? This constantly evolves for any business but for us it changes rapidly due to the early stage of our business and technology. Customer input is really important to ensure we prioritise tech development against tangible revenue opportunities within achievable timeframes.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? As a business PragmatIC covers a wide range of sectors. I see a demarcation of CTO and CIO functions as we continue to grow and roll out our data-driven approach to manufacturing through FlexLogIC. One of the important aspects of the CTO role will be to evangelise our technology and roadmap. I see this becoming increasingly important to PragmatIC and similar businesses.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Hopefully the best is yet to come but I'm really proud of everything that we've already achieved at PragmatIC. During the past 4 years we've grown headcount by 6x and designed, developed and realised a completely new manufacturing concept for semiconductors.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? If I could go back, I would seek out more coaching and mentoring opportunities earlier in my career. I think this is important for people at all stages of their career. I try to be open-minded and take advice from lots of different places and use this to drive improvements in myself, my work and those who work with me.

What are you reading now? Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig; Talking to My Daughter: A Brief History of Capitalism by Yanis Varoufakis; An Easter Killing by Paul Toolan.

Most people don't know that I… Had a vacation job working in Toys R Us which included wearing a striped "Geoffrey" jacket.

In my spare time, I like to…Spending time with family, walking, running, cooking and some sleep!

Ask me to do anything but… Drive when I'm on vacation (since I travel a lot with work). I calculated that I've driven to the moon during my time with PragmatIC!


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