Start-up behind 'dunkable' phone technology explores Asian IPO

SINGAPORE Fri Aug 1, 2014 11:00am IST

The logo of nanotechnology company P2i is displayed during an interview with Reuters in Singapore July 31, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The logo of nanotechnology company P2i is displayed during an interview with Reuters in Singapore July 31, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Edgar Su

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - P2i, a technology spin-off from Britain's Ministry of Defence, is looking to raise as much as 10 million pounds ($17 million) from Singapore investors as it readies the launch of its "Dunkable" or waterproof technology for smartphones and tablets.

The fundraising by the nanotechnology company follows an expanding list of overseas firms tapping Singapore's pool of high net worth individuals.

P2i's technology applies a thin, transparent, splash-resistant polymer coat to products ranging from clothing to mobile phones.

The company is in the process of introducing a new version of the technology, which it calls "Dunkable", that will allow devices to survive being immersed in water.

"This is all about growth. We are now at the inflexion point in our business," P2i's CEO Carl Francis told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Singapore to meet potential investors. The firm aims to turn profitable this year and has raised about 47 million pounds since it was set up 10 years ago.

"We need to become more Asia-centric. There's just no question. This is where our customers manufacture things, this is increasingly where the decision makers are and the big electronics companies," Francis said.

The company counts Motorola and Siemens AG among its global clients and is backed by investors including Unilever Ventures, part of Unilever.

P2i is mulling a listing on an Asian exchange, but it has not made a final decision as to where.

"We have had a series of increasing valuations in our business and now is the time to put all of that together and raise some money in preparation of an IPO in 12 to 18 months," said Francis, while picking up his smartphone from a bucket of water after demonstrating P2i's technology.

P2i, shorthand for "perform, protect and improve", is betting on widespread usage by network operators who see the robustness of phones as vital to prevent churn in their users.

P2i is not the first in what is becoming an increasingly crowded space with the likes of HZO, Integrated Surface Technologies and Lotus Leaf Coatings, which offer similar products.

Ross Kozarsky, a U.S.-based senior analyst at Lux Research and a specialist in advanced materials, said that while P2i was an early leader, "it faces fierce competition", particularly in segments like consumer devices.

"Hydrophobic coatings is becoming an increasingly dense landscape with a slew of emerging developers," Kozarsky said.

Francis acknowledged that it was not easy for a company like P2i to differentiate itself as a brand to the consumer on mobile phones.

"Most of our customers, no matter what sector they're in, don't want to talk about our technology or anyone's technology. They just want to quietly reap the benefits", he said.

P2i's plasma process reduces the surface energy of a material, so that when liquids come into contact with it, they form beads and roll off. The technology began as a project within Britain's government-run Defence Science & Technology Laboratory to make soldiers' protective clothing more effective against chemical attack.

P2i aims to increase revenue substantially from an estimated 19 million pounds this year. P2i's existing technologies have been used in nearly 100 million electronic devices, mostly mobile phones. It counts electronics, filtration, life sciences and military divisions among its key customer segments.

($1=0.5925 British pound)

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Wagstaff; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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