Great to chat with Hunter McDaniel, founder and CEO of UbiQD! UbiQD is an advanced materials company powering innovations in agriculture and green buildings! We discussed how the properties of quantum dots enable solar powered windows, how retrofitting greenhouses with quantum dots can dramatically increase crop yields, building a technical team and more! 

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James

The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter

Hello today we’re speaking but Hunter McDaniel founder and Ceo of Ubiqd welcome to the podcast hunter. Very good to start. Could you tell us a little bit about ubiquity.

Hunter McDaniel

Thanks James Happy to be here.

Hunter McDaniel

Sure so we’re a deep tech advanced materials company spinoff from Los Amos National Laboratory we’re also licensing some technology exclusively from mit university of Washington and Western Washington and we’ve pulled in some team members from those institutions we kind of argue or spin off from several. Um, but really, our purpose is about leveraging nanomaterials to make lasting positive impacts on society and as a team we’re most passionate about trying to address issues related to climate change and the the core technology is material. That’s effective at manipulating light. You can change one color of light into another. Very high efficiency makes it a platform but primarily we’re focused on deploying that into the facades of buildings essentially to make the building more efficient at leveraging the power that’s coming from the sun.

James McWalter

And I guess whenever you know I talk to people who are working out like real kind of frontier tech and moving that into kind of commercialization. There’s often a kind of a question around you know timing is like you know when when is the good time to take something that’s like this remarkable step change in technology and and bring it to the masses as it were.

Hunter McDaniel

If.

James McWalter

Thinking back to the kind of founding story of ubiquity like how did you kind of think through that process when you’re like okay we have something really exciting here that yeah we could potentially build a company around.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah I mean that’s a great question. Um, so I was a postdoc at Las Ama National Laboratory if I completed my ph d university of illinois and then had an opportunity to come to Los Alamos in the chemistry division and um. Yeah, there were there were a couple kind of aha moments in the lab where I would recall looking at the data coming from one spectrometer just being shocked by how bright the material was how efficiently it was emitting light in the infrared part of the spectrum near infra part of the spectrum and.

James McWalter

And.

Hunter McDaniel

So that was just kind of from a technical perspective I felt like there was a breakthrough there you know I had I had a foundation in material science engineering and felt like I knew what I was looking at and there was kind of an aha moment there but it wasn’t really ah I didn’t appreciate it. Um, how much work would be required from that point to take that. Um. Material that and invention if you will into commercial products and sort of figured that out the hard way to in the school of hard knocks after starting the company in 2014? Um, just um, yeah, just just kind of like spending a lot of time out there in the marketplace trying to understand what the market needed and. How we could provide solutions and you know so-called customer discovery type activities read a lot of books talked to a lot of smart people. Um, as far as getting at you this directly to your question when is the right time. Um, you know I think Peter Thiel has has said a lot of smart tings over the years and he’s indirectly an investor in our company. And 1 of the things that he told me when I met with him um some years ago was I think this might be in his book 0 to one something along these lines of you don’t want to be the first mover in a space. It’s too much heavy lifting too much sort of plowing the field. Um, which can be just long and arduous and expensive. Really want to be the last great advancement in a field and so I think we we kind of embody that with with respect to quantum dots. Um, there’s been a lot of hard work in terms of validating that that quantum dots can be useful in products and the first startups were all created back in the early 2000 raised a lot of money. And a lot of years trying to figure out what the first product would be. You know, clearly this technology this material is very interesting and useful for something but it took them a long time to get to the point. Maybe you know arguably about 14 years before the first real commercial products came out with the Sony line of televisions and then the amazon kindle fire. Tablet in displays and but those those materials had some fundamental issues that were limiting them from going bigger and beyond the display space and I feel like that’s what we stumbled upon you know in that lab and in Los Alamos was kind of the next. Um, iteration of quantum dots that now enabled them to go big where we could leverage all of the hard work that had been done. Um, the the you know the the methods of manufacturing the analytical techniques processing just understanding. These materials took a long time both in academia and in in the industrial sector. And we had kind of ah come across sort of the the final big advancement that was needed to then take quantum dots. You know, broadly speaking to all these other applications and that was the idea behind the company ubiquity is short for ubiquitous quantum dots with the idea that now quantum dots can become ubiquitous now that we’ve.

Hunter McDaniel

Resolve these toxicity cost and reliability issues kind of with one fell swoop with this new composition.

James McWalter

Yeah I guess just you know I suppose a general question then about quantum doubts and kind of nanomaterials more generally. Um first I’d love to kind of get a bit of more of an understanding around. Ah the how these are created. Um, you know, maybe both at the lab level and then later. You know at the kind of a scalable level and then also when these kind of materials are you know created um, you know they obviously have these kind of phenomenally kind of fascinating properties but were these properties being sought for and this is like 1 mechanism to figure out how to display these separate properties. Or which sounds like in the case of your particular company. It was kind of surprising that there was these properties that were emergent from these types of quantum dots.

Hunter McDaniel

Well in the early days. It was more of a physics experiment. Um, so folks were seeing that there were there were different colors from the same composition of matter and that was kind of novel in the past if you wanted to make a new color of material either absorptive which be like what we call it pigment or fluorescent. Um, you would need to make a new composition. A new dye molecule or a new phosphor composition etc. But with quantum dots. It was kind of discovered that you could tune the color by the size and it’s actually a quantum mechanical effect. Um, you know just to go back to ah the the basics there. Um, when you confine. Um, an electron when you squeeze it you can change the energy states and so when you make a particle small enough. You’re basically confining the electron and you shift those energy levels and so you can control the colors basically that way and so for a long time in you know forty years ago it was more of like a physics thing like. We’re uncovering some quantum mechanic quantum mechanics here some interesting properties and materials and then can we control it and over time it evolved into well yeah, maybe we can actually make these from the ground up and there were some big advancements from Paul Vasada Muji Bewin in those early days. This are you kind of famous professors in the field. Where they were controlling in a liquid reaction the size of these particles from the ground from the bottom up so you you start with precursors that nucleate in solution form clusters of atoms and then those clusters begin to grow and as long as you can control that nucleation moment so that it. It is sort of arrested it happens over a short period of time then all the particles will have roughly the same size because they created. We’re all created at the same moment and then they grew roughly at the same rate and then you can sort of stop it when you get to the size of particles that you want at least that’s the most rudimentary sort of approach to doing it. And it became clear that this could be very useful just to be able to make any arbitrary color with very high precision and this is kind of what I mean about leveraging the past um, many many years thousands and thousands of papers have been published probably more than that maybe 0 papers have been published on.

James McWalter

And.

Hunter McDaniel

To make these particles and different techniques but tuning the reaction kinetics and the precursors and the temperature and all these things to really precisely control the size of the particles and then you know along the way. Um, all sorts of applications were envisioned and you know some patents were filed a lot of papers were published. And different cool Things. You could do with Quantum dots but it took a lot longer than I think everyone expected to actually translate that into commercial success and the success was somewhat limited in terms of there’s really only one maybe a couple tangent markets around you know prior to ubiquity that were. Actually getting traction in the market related to Displays display and lighting I Guess just making a very accurate light source and that that can be used in the back of a display to make a very color accurate Accurate More efficient display. Um, if you just have to use. Basically. Ah, you can only you only need to use a blue led at that point because you can use Quantum dots to convert the blue into very pure red and green and then in lighting those are primarily red Quantum dots but you can sort of dabble in some red Quantum dots into a traditional white led and you can make it a warmer spectrum with relatively high efficiency.

James McWalter

So.

Hunter McDaniel

Um, because you can sort of add in the red without compromising light that you can’t see normally phosphors would be very broad emitting and they’d emit a bunch of light that you can’t actually see by eye and so that’s a loss mechanism Both Quantum dots. You can very precisely dial in those colors. Those are the markets that have been successful. Ah so far I mean there’s.

Hunter McDaniel

There’s There’s quite a bit of a product on the market for in the display space in particular. Um, but people have talked about using Quantum dots for sunscreen and therapeutics and diagnostics and solar and you know, really any application involving light. There’s probably a way you can use Quantum dots to make it more efficient.

Hunter McDaniel

But those just didn’t quite make it and our argument the thesis was it was really the toxicity of those compounds traditionally cadmium-based those early quantumdoalcadmium selenide or cadmium sulide. Um, but then also the cost. It’s very difficult to control that nucleation step so you can’t. You couldn’t for a long time make very large reactors. You’d have to mix together 2 things very fast and so there’s another company that ultimately got bought by Samsung called Qie Vision out of mit that was founded around that time in the early two thousand s and they at far as I know hadn’t. Scaled beyond five liter reactors but they had to run those in parallel and they were supplying quantum dots to Sony for Tvs using five liter it’s pretty small reactors just because of this mixing issue. So with with our technology. We don’t have to mix things together at high temperature rapidly. We just basically heat up.

Hunter McDaniel

And mix and then we don’t have any of those toxic heavy metals present. We get kind of lucky with some of the other properties that were emergent that aha moment was just seeing how bright it was just that that was saturating this detector in the lab and it was kind of like Wow that’s way brighter than anything else that that we’ve ever looked at before by order of magnitude.

Hunter McDaniel

Um, so something special must be going on here and it’s not even fully optimized or anything. It’s just super great.

James McWalter

And then with kind of then trying to bring that to the sustainability lens right? and I would love to kind of get into the couple of applications that but you’re kind of you know, developing right now. So one is around you know windows I believe and and glazing could you speak to that.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah, this is something that I’ve been working on longer than ah sort of our first market which is in agriculture I can tell you about in a minute. Um, but this material has some some properties that are very well aligned with what’s called a luminescent solar concentrator kind of similar to quantum dots. Technology that’s been around a long time was first envisioned back in the 70 s and the idea was that solar cells were at that time very very expensive maybe what we can do is make a fluorescent panel that’s glowing in the sun and then that glow can can. Harvest light you basically cook a harvest light over a large area like like a window but didn’tly have to be a window be just a way of lowering the cost basically by collecting light over ah energy over a large area with a fluorescent material and then that fluorescent excuse me would get guided to the edges of this wave guide. Where you put solar cells so you could basically use very small amount of actual photovoltaic material to harvest light over a large area so it was originally about just lowering the cost of solar but none of the materials that were fluorescent at the time and even so many subsequent years where people were trying to develop this further were. Adequate for for doing this either. The dyes would degrade in the sun. They wouldn’t hold up long enough or they have this fishy where they would absorb their own luminescence. So. It’s kind of a ah deeper topic but the absorption of the material and the emission of the material overlapped very strongly which didn’t really matter and. Other applications. But if you’re trying to propagate the luminescence through a large distance through the same material. It gets reabsorbed and it’s a loss mechanism so you couldn’t really scale it and then this material um that that that we’re working with’s caught called copper andium di sulfide primarily and there’s in some related compounds. Has this um property where it doesn’t have much if really any overlap between its absorption and emission so you could really propagate the light through a long distance. Um it. It is ah an actual crystal and material. It’s inorganic material. So it’s much more stable in the sun. And then we can tune the color um into kind of this sweet spot which is where it absorbs over the whole most of the visible spectrum and then a midslight and the near infrared and that’s what I was describing on this detector this this light emission. Um, so that makes it very efficient for harvesting sunlight basically and then. Scaling it to a large area and then you check these boxes around the toxicity and the cost which are going to be critical for any energy application and pretty quickly. You’re like oh wow, this is like ah all these sort of critical properties are converging together around this use case in.

Hunter McDaniel

Um, what’s called a luminescent solar concentrator like I said you don’t have to use it as a window but 1 of the most interesting properties of this is that it’s partially transparent you can sort of make it darker if you put more quantum dots there but you can make it lighter just like any other window tent would look and then that really enables you to harvest sunlight.

Hunter McDaniel

From glass from windows and that’s probably the the biggest market that we’re pursuing. It’s a difficult product. It’s a difficult market when your value proposition is primarily around energy. Um, but it has the potential to really you know solve climate change if we can convert all this glass which is ubiquitous.

Hunter McDaniel

Around Austin right now and last everywhere and if we can convert that into energy generators at a low enough cost with a high enough efficiency then we can make these buildings no longer loads on the grid but assets for the grid. You know they could provide their own power but then even maybe power the buildings nearby everything worked out just right.

Hunter McDaniel

And that’s the vision. It’s it’s about reducing our the carbon footprint of buildings.

James McWalter

Yeah, and I I Love that you know I think I talked recently to somebody who works on kind of speculative fiction and solarpunk concepts in in his writing and we were kind of talking about how there’s kind of a bit of a lack of very big Vision. You know storytelling. Within the kind of climate tech space like a lot of it is the the current world with few more windmills or whatever it may be um, but I think one of the fascinating things with like the advances in material science in particular is being able to actually change the built environment in these kind of completely unique ways so that rather than buildings being. Independent structures that aren’t really doing anything to the world around it. Um, but moving it into something that’s more dynamic that you know is generating an energy or is maybe a store of energy for the gri at various times as we kind of have more ubiquitous like battery storage as well and so like ah you know the ability to kind of reimagine. Built environment in these ways where the materials of the environment themselves become this dynamic thing you know, carbon capturing concrete. Another example, um I think is incredibly exciting and so as you’re trying to bring that vision to those you know these massive you know realtors or ah, the construction industry who are. You know, have done things in a certain way probably for quite a long time. Um, how do you kind of I guess translate that vision into something that is like okay this is an investment we may want to make.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah I mean it’s a great question it. It is tough. The built environment is ah an old industry a Slow-m moving industry very risk averse industry and windows in particular are kind of ah a source subject because they’re one of the biggest loss mechanisms for buildings. Just.

Hunter McDaniel

Compared to the wall in a bed order magnitude less efficient at keeping the the heat in or the heat out. However, you want to think about it. Whatever is needed and you know at the same time we’re naturally outdoor creatures and so we want to. We want to engage with the outside we want to have the view. We want to bring in natural daylight. So we. Obviously value windows and increasingly the window to wall ratio is is large especially in urban areas. Um, so it’s it’s kind of about you know, approaching the industry with you know, a little bit of a level head about what is setting some expectations that this isn’t going to happen overnight. But trying to demonstrate what’s possible and and help the industry rethink about ah rethink what windows are are about. They can be not just the problem but actually part of the solution and the window can be a central point. Um, our first product in this area is is basically a retrofit smart window. That is bringing we we provide the platform for that with a power supply. But then there’s all sorts of smart functionality that you can embed into the window sensors and automated blinds that could be tied to the hvac systems. Um and and actually being able to sort of be engaged with the the guest or the the. Tenant of of the building in a way that that wasn’t really people didn’t think of that before but there’s all sorts of sort of um old technologies there at the window like still most blinds are are you have to go up and manually pull a chain which is crazy. We have the technology to put a little motor in there. It’s very easy like why isn’t that already. It wasn’t weren’t there buttons that open and closed the ball I mean it it exists but very little market penetration of that kind of product. Um, although there are some examples of of hope where double paid windows for example are introduced in the 70 s and became roughly seventy eighty percent market share within 20 years there’s some codings now on the glass low in misssivity coatdings that are useful for energy efficiency that were rapidly adopted in the 80 s and 90 s and now have similar market shares something like 70 to 80% of commercial buildings so it can happen. Um, you know, but you’ve got to have a very simple cost-effective solution. And you’ve got to be engaged with the industry don’t try to disrupt the industry I mean I think disruption is a little bit overrated. Um, you know it it depends on what you mean when you say it. But I think we should be leveraging the existing channels to market manufacturing processes and and work together with the you know the market leaders today.

James McWalter

I Mean if you’re already disrupting like the the very material that the the product is made out of also disrupting supply chain supply lines and all those other things um is is biting off and it actually also even fascinates me startups who are like we’re also going to disrupt. You know the nature of hierarchical organizations at the same time we’re trying to build a company. It’s like.

Hunter McDaniel

And in the built environment.

James McWalter

So so much disruption you can do right? like you have to kind of lean on um the tools you have ah wherever possible. Um, you also mentioned this other application. Um that that sounds like yeah, it’s been going off for a little bit longer within agriculture. Could you tell us a little bit about that. So.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah, so it was really something that came out of customer discovery that we’re doing for windows this goes back to maybe 2016 2017 where you know the story around windows was powering skyscrapers with boss a big vision but it’s pretty obvious that a small. You know 10 person so startup by person startup with very limited funding in those early days wasn’t going to start installing windows on skyscrapers as the first market and so we embarked on some pretty aggressive customer discovery to find you know beachhead market early adopter market. Um, that we could start on focus on initially and greenhouses came up as a possibility. There’s others you know automotive was another one that that people top and bring up. You know what about solar windows for cars. Um, and we looked at at a number of different markets and talked to people and in the value chain various stakeholders and. With the greenhouse one when we talk to the growers we. There’s definitely interest in a solar glass product I mean obviously greenhouse has a lot of often have have a lot of glass. We didn’t realize at the time that most greenhouses are actually had plastic film roofs. But um, you think of this glass house when you when you. When I say there were greenhouse. You’re probably imagining like something you’d find up in the Netherlands or Canada um, and there’s a lot of glass and energy is one of their biggest expenses and so if you could potentially generate electricity from the glass. Well that could be valuable but they kept coming back to us with the same question. How is this going to impact my crops. Ah, can’t compromise my crop yield at all that drives everything for us and so if you’ve got a solution that will save me on my overhead cost my electricity cost but not hurt my crops then that would be pretty interesting for us and so we said well. Okay, we you know we we have our our bread and butter is being able to tune this stuff. We can make any color we want. Maybe we can make a color of of glass that would be sort of not harmful to the crops. Let the light that they’re effective at at using pass throughugh but then generate electricity and then there was kind of this more of a commercial aha moment back in those days where like maybe we can just actually. Um, provide plants with the better quality of light period and forget about electricity generation and get more crop yield because clearly these guys care a lot about their crop yield and so that might be a more valuable thing to bring to to them than the electricity. So we started doing some very small scales.

Hunter McDaniel

Ah, trials I remember the very first one that we did was like literally a single tomato plant and we were able to make some very rudimentary films that had quantum dots and sort of surround the plant put it in a little research greenhouse and we were shocked. The thing was like twice as big underneath our our films which isn’t necessarily what.

Hunter McDaniel

How it works today at a commercial setting in a very small scale trial. You can see some big things. Especially if it’s not optimized, but anyway that was kind of like ah okay, maybe there’s something here kind of moment and then we started doing some math on like okay, well let’s say we could boost the crop yield by 10% what would that be worth to a grower.

Hunter McDaniel

And how would that compare it to the amount of electricity we can create for them and and actually it’s quite a bit more value that you bring if you can boost the crop yield and so that began kind of this effort in exploring this market more seriously and then at almost every turn we. Ah, we’re reinforcing it was reinforcing this idea that this could be a better first market for us. We’re not going to give up on the windows and we had some nondilluted funding from the National Science Foundation department of energy was helping out. We have have a grant from wells fargo that have been nondilluively funding the windows as it is a pretty heavy lift to get there. But the investors were more excited and and we were seeing more near-term opportunity simpler product stronger value proposition around just making the quality of light in a greenhouse better. So fast forward to today. We have a product line a brand called ubiro. Has its own website can check it out http://ubiro.com and it’s a retrofit film four foot wide any arbitrary length that you hang up in an existing greenhouse and it essentially makes your roof glow down on the plants and we can make different colors but across a range of Trials. We found that this orange color was kind of a catchall.

Hunter McDaniel

There’s definitely a certain spectra that work better in certain situations certain crops and that’s something that we’re studying pretty heavily. We’ll be launching a second color here in a couple months but this first product has been on the market now a couple of years and we’ve seen. Results as high as maybe 30 or so percent yield improvement for tomatoes. We’ve looked at cucumbers lettuce cannabis strawberries some other crops and or at least our our partners have or we don’t actually do much growing ourselves obviously but um, that has led through this. Product line that seems to be resonating with the market and you know we’ve got a pipeline of different products, different colors and form factors and things that we’re going to bring to the greenhouse industry. And yeah, so first to good that just turned out to be a good first market for us.

That’s so interesting and I’d imagine it demos pretty well if like the farmer can actually see the sparkle right? can actually see that that that improvement. Um you know I ah mentioned on the back before I grew I grew up on a farm in the west coast of Ireland and the um.

James McWalter

I would say that conservative in terms of the adoption of new practices is ah is ah you know is at the minimum you could say um of of how people kind of respond and we convert to organic and I think it was ninety ninety seven um and that was like madness I like the other other farmers in our our area and so as you kind of.

Hunter McDaniel

Head the fifth.

James McWalter

You know going to different growers like you know how? how are they kind of understanding the process I Guess a similar question to when we’re talking about the buildings before um I guess because they are having a more immediate direct you know feedback? um, are they kind of bit more kind of open to it relative to building owners and the like.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah I mean both markets are are fairly risk averse. There’s a saying don’t bet the farm for a reason you know the farmers understand that they have boom and bust cycles crop prices or you know drought and whatnot can drive things in wild directions and so they’re very.

Hunter McDaniel

Ah, very conservative often in terms of making changes and they all feel like they have sort of the secret sauce secret secret you know, special approach a unique approach and so when you go through a grower particularly the larger ones they often will like want to see the results for themselves. They want to do a test or a trial a pilot. And we don’t necessarily subsidize those but we can sometimes do discounts but the takeaway would be that they will not go fully all in on their entire farm in most cases we have had a couple do that. But it’s more of an exception to the rule and I heard one. Investors say that they’ve seen this in the farming industry as well where they’ll start with 1 % of their acreage testing something out and then they’ll go to 10% if that looks good and then they’ll go to 100% so we’ve definitely seen that and plants unfortunately grow flow. You know I come from the material science space where you. Make a material. You can just go in the lab and take measurement and you get the answer like it worked. It didn’t what the efficiency was but with plants you know there can be pretty fickle. There’s a lot of inputs and things you have to make sure you water them if you don’t water them then you’re not going to get any useful data and if something goes wrong with your irrigation system. Well throughout that dataset and. Ah, and commercial settingnings. It depends on the crop but the cycles can be very long for tomatoes. It basically runs the full year when they will cut chop it down and do a new crop lettuce would be much faster. Um, some number of weeks. You know a month or so to get a cycle on lettuce depending on the variety. Um. But yeah, so they want to they want to see those results for themselves. It certainly helps just simply see the material see it glowing in the sun. You really kind of get it at that point you’re like oh okay, so it’s actually converting light a lot of times people think that this is like a filter and they ask why do I need quantum dots I could just put some sort of. Orange-colored plastic up above my plant. But once you see it. You can really it looks different. There’s like a sheen to it like an orange kind of glow to the product and that that does resonate with the growers and depending on who you’re talking to that. Can you know be communicated different ways. Um, growers typically will see the best yields in the northern hemisphere in the late summer and there’s a lot of reasons for that. But um, the sun sits lower than the skies is kind of a hand wavy argument in the late summer and you get more of a red orange spectrum kind of like the sunset is lasting longer. And that can be a triggering mechanism for the plants. The plants have evolved to respond to that because it’s telling them that hey winter’s coming and you better get your reproduction going and in other words produce fruit so we’re we’re kind of gaming that evolution in the plant. A little bit. Um, so that those growers that that are growing outside are using natural light. It’ll resonate with them to talk about this is.

Hunter McDaniel

Sort of mimicking the late summer Sun year round. Um for growers that were growing indoor before and they’re moving into greenhouses which is becoming common with electricity prices being high and competition especially in the cannabis space. You can sort of talk about the lighting and how this is a way of making a similar spectrum then you would make if you could design it from the ground up lighting. And particular in particular, what’s called high pressure sodium lamps like your street lamps. They have this orange color those are very common in indoor agriculture and that seems sort of color looks very similar to the film this orange glow but you’re getting that without having to use any electricity or buy those lamps.

James McWalter

And.

James McWalter

That that super that’s super interesting and yeah I guess if we kind of look out over the next couple years like what? what are some of the kind of Milestones you’re you’re hoping to reach ah in that kind of timeframe.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah, so I mean with ubigrow. It’s really pedal to the metal. We’ve got um a sales and marketing team like to see that double or triple in the next year so we’ve got a new website that we just launched and so we’ll be more aggressive with sort of educating the market that this technology exists. And then we’ve got some new products coming in that line. Um I mentioned that we’ve got ah another color. It’s a little bit deeper red um that we’ve developed over the last couple years in collaboration with University Of Arizona and we’ve got some other colors that are and under development but probably won’t be launched until next year um but then maybe the big moment is launching the next generation of the product moving towards actually integrating it into the roof of the greenhouse right now as I mentioned it’s a retrofit you can add it on which is a great place to start because it’s a very low barrier to entry for the grower. They can just sort of go hang it up anywhere. You know in small area or big area of their greenhouse and then for us, it’s very manageable in terms of manufacturing but then the second generation product is actually integrating the quantum dots into the the roofing facade materials starting with a greenhouse film or polyethylene film. It’s made by an extrusion process. So this can actually be up to about sixty foot wide and that actually gets draped over and it’s lots of different kinds of greenhouses. But think of like a hoop house like this semicircle sort of shaped structure. Um. And then you have ah a plastic film that gets draped over the top of that and so we’re aiming to offer an alternative to what’s on the market today that it looks very similar. It feels very similar but just has this orange blow to it so those are the big mileusestones for you to grow expanding the team more aggressive on the marketing and then some product launches. Um. For windows. It’s really about getting our first commercial product into the market. We’ve been doing pilots and installing windows in the buildings now for about a year and getting to the point where folks are really demanding this that they want to buy the product and yeah, we we want to make sure that it’s ready for for that sort of a stage. Um. And it it is ah ah a manufacturing cross that requires a little bit of tweaking not too different than how you make windows. It’s fact that’s one of the big advantages over our competition but we need we need to really need to get our quality control down and the engineering. Um. Steps in place to have that it’s you know it’s electronic product but we’re able to have that launched by the end of this year and it’s going to couple the window with a window unit that can be retrofitted into a building with the use case which is around um, smart functionality. So there’s a printed strickckate board that has sensors and.

Hunter McDaniel

Controls a motorized blind and then could be a platform from there to do all sorts of different things.

James McWalter

Very exciting. Um, you know that’s yeah, having all those kind of different lines kind of going at the same time. Um, yeah, definitely is exciting. But also you know brings us challenges and you mentioned kind of like expanding out the sales and marketing team and you know for I guess a company like yours I would imagine you had a ton of. R and d very technical folk I’m sure there’s a lot of ph d especially in the first few years and maybe not a lot of those other kind of sales of marketing and maybe other functions. What have you kind of learned you know about building like a high performance team that tries to merge like those different elements in ah you know and in a company that is.

James McWalter

Bringing such a kind of advanced degree of science to to market.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah, well some advice that I’ve had from several folks over the years was to hire. Ah a sales director earlier rather than later even before you have a product that person can help you help guide you or you know towards something that the market would want to buy and start doing some preliminary work in terms of. The seeds in the marketplace where that the technology is coming and maybe it’s frustrating for a season sales guy because there’s not a lot of volume there in terms of selling so you need the right kind of person for that role. But um, and maybe it’s more business development if you’ve got a b two b type of technology. You’re not going to be selling directly to an end user. Is something. That’s a little bit unique in terms of our business model compared to traditional advanced materials companies. We could talk about in a minute but um, yeah I mean I think in our case, you really have to you really have to get out there and engage with the end user because it’s something completely new. We want to understand how it. How it’s being used how it might be used how it would go up and what kind of um, ah, simple things like how do you attach the film to the greenhouse structure. Um, what kind of roofing do they already have if they have something that’s filtering or changing the spectrum. You know, maybe not in the visible but a lot of roofing materials or remove uv for example. And we would harvest the uv so just understanding how the product would be used what the needs are of the grower. How what? the growing techniques are that sort of thing the the sales and marketing team can focus on that part. Um, and I think we’re just like any other kind of ah deep tech sort of company and in the early days we were all ph ds. Think the first 5 employees all had ph ds and I have a ph d as I mentioned and so we’re thinking about things in terms of the performance and the materials and the chemistry and less about the product and how to market it and the unit economics and the go-to-market strategy and who those. Critical stakeholders are in the value chain. Um, so yeah I just yeah, had some smart people around me that were pushing me to maybe get out over and out of my comfort zone a little bit in terms of marketing and sales and business dev in the early days and that really paid dividends.

James McWalter

So yeah, and you mentioned um, you know you try to differentiate a little bit around the business model. What I guess how has your business model compared to other similar companies as yourselves.

Hunter McDaniel

Yeah, so traditional advanced material company is seeking to supply an additive into a supply chain. Um quantum dots are actually a good example of this in the early days and even today quantum dots are being manufactured and supplied into the display space and. So quantum about manufacturer like the leader nanosist doesn’t make the Tvs and I don’t think they have any intention of making Tvs. It would be very challenging to go create a new brand and compete in that space. It’s a difficult market. So what? What do they do? they license their technology to companies like Samsung and supply quantum dots to. Downstream partners not necessarily directly those oems but some of the tier one suppliers to them that supply the the components of the tvs to them. So the business model for them is they manufacture quantum dots and then they supply technology. They license technology and that’s very common for advanced materials. Um, very high margin business because you’ve got that licensing component. Um, but it’s limited in terms of your ability to capture value. The value of all those Tvs being manufactured and sold each year um you know something like 10 to $15000000000 but the revenue. Ah. Of of the companies that are supplying the dots significantly less and the reason is that they’re supplying an additive that goes into you know, supply chain. There’s markups and then ultimately there’s value created in the market. You know they can sell those tvs for some hundred dollars or whatever hundreds of dollars more than they would otherwise but the ability of that. Additive supplier to capture that value is more limited so we recognize that early on um and that was sort of a concern um and some vcs didn’t like it. You know they want to see um more revenue potential and and also the timescale can be longer right? because you’re. Relying on these downstream partners to go do something you know hopefully they will get excited. Hopefully they will go fast. Hopefully they will create the brand with you know, a quantum dot related brand like samhsung has q lid and keystas for quantum um, but you’re just sort of hoping that those things will happen and we didn’t really have the time. Um. Weight and you know and and also we were doing something very different than what was existing in the marketplace with the the greenhouse film and so we decided to have those films initially toll manufactured um, which is where you pay someone to have the product made we we supply the toll manufacturer with dots. But then we buy the films. From them and so that enabled us to go faster and then we were able to go directly to the grower from there. So um, you know, initially just to get some data some trials and understand how it would be used. But then we realized well why not just flip the switch and start selling to these guys and so that that is our model now we manufacture the dots.

Hunter McDaniel

We organize the manufacturer of finished products through contract manufacturing toll manufacturing in some cases that maybe looks more like distribution but we pull it through the supply chain. So we don’t have to wait and then we go directly to the and user and sell them the products we capture one ah hundred percent of that revenue on the final sale and that is much more venture backable type business model because you know your addressable market is essentially the entire um, you know market at that point not just the additive and then we don’t have to wait and we don’t have to raise a ton of money either right? because we are. We’re using existing supply chain. We’re using existing manufacturing capacity to make the product that’s going pretty well for you to grow and the plan is to replicate that with windows. Even though it’s a bit more complicated product and longer supply chain air value chain to get to that finished good but you know so far so good I guess the the initial.

James McWalter

Yeah, yeah, no that that that makes this one of sense and you mentioned a little bit earlier that you know it was a kind of long journey. There was a lot of you know ups and downs along the way I guess when you were kind of hitting into some of those downs those down periods. Yeah, when things may not like.

James McWalter

Might have seemed like the movie. Maybe not going in the right direction. How did you I guess kind of manage yourself in in those moments you know it’s just going to keep that commitment. Keep that inspiration through those tough times.

Hunter McDaniel

Ah, well it it does get very very difficult. Um, you know you just have to kind of um ah keep reminding yourself of the vision and and you know what?? what? The big goal is and in our case, it’s a very big vision right? It’s around helping humanity avoid extinction really. Um, and that keeps you going you know the the vision you have to really be a true believer and sort of quote unquote drink your old kool-aid if you will um for that to work. Um, but you know prioritizing your own family and health I’ve got two young kids that you know are very. Very motivational for me. Um, and help take me away from the daily grind just just you know spending a little bit of time with them is like the best medicine for any kind of ah, a bad day if you will. But it’s tough. You know there’s not really, um, a good answer there you you just kind of have to have some grit developer your sleeves and. Be willing to work hard.

James McWalter

Yeah, not and I mean having those kind of other support and mechanisms as you said you know having a family and and sometimes even they’re not, you’re as much their support mechanism and so ah, like I said you know a friend of mine always says you know happiness is solving problems for other people. And so like if you’re doing that kind of constantly. You know, put in the kind of local within the family unit within friends and all that kind of thing and then like also working on these massive problems I think there’s a balance to be had there and you know a lot of the people I think who are working on climate from a startup point of view or a company point of view are incredibly excited and I think generally like a better life. Work life balance than a lot of other startup founders where it’s a bit more of a grind to to do the 80 hours with something that might not not have as much impact. Very good hunter. It has been amazing I really appreciate the time is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.

Hunter McDaniel

Um, no I think you you hit hit all the the points I mean we we are looking to expand the team aggressively. So folks are are you know wanting to get involved feel free to reach out that can include partners. Um. Ah, you know obviously customers if if you’re interested in the ebigro technology. You can go to the website it is for shale online in small quantities and we can work with you on got kind of ah a larger project or a unique kind of greenhouse. Um, and of course investors were were always looking to connect with like-minded. Um, ah. Source of capital and you know having completed our series a in 2020. We look forward to the series b sometime in the next year or so and so you know any Bcs in the audience would like to get involved feel free to reach out. You can email me huntnter@ubiquity.com or you know, just find us online and if if you just want to be kind of ah um, ah, an armchair. Um enthusiast you can just follow us on social media. We’re pretty active there and see lots of cool pictures of glowing stuff.

James McWalter

Absolutely and we’ll include all those links into the show notes. Thank you hunter.

Hunter McDaniel

Thanks James this one.

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