Making the leap: How APC support enabled one SME to break into the automotive industry

09/10/2020

The automotive industry has a long history of adopting innovative technologies from other sectors. Concepts such as disc brakes, composite materials and even seat belts can trace their origins to other industries. And yet it isn’t always easy for companies that have developed technology for other markets to make the leap into the automotive world.

Materials specialist Alsitek faced just such an issue when it identified a series of automotive applications for its NOXTEK technology. This engineered molecular sieve is designed to trap nitrogen oxides (NO2 and potentially NO) and it quickly became apparent that it could be used to filter both cabin air and exhaust emissions.

Alsitek approached the Advanced Propulsion Centre to gain support from its connections in the low carbon automotive industry. Having helped to confirm the potential markets for the company’s technology, the APC suggested that it applied for funding support through its Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP).

This SME-specific support programme has since enabled the company to grow significantly, hiring new staff and expanding its customer base. In total, Alsitek had access to £104,500 in grant support, along with help from a number of specialist consultancy firms that the company otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage with.

“You never quite know what’s going to happen with a new programme. We’ve had some very exciting results, and the support from the APC also helped us to absorb some of the setbacks that we encountered along the way,” explains Alsitek’s managing director Haroon Ihsan. “As the money we received through TDAP is grant funding through the UK government, we haven’t had to pay a penny back and we haven’t had to forfeit any equity in the business or give away intellectual property – as is common in traditional funding programmes.”

Beyond the funding, however, it was the support from the APC that really benefitted the company. “The APC’s network of suppliers, vehicle manufacturers and potential customers is what really helps to open doors in the automotive industry,” comments Ihsan.

With a promising future ahead, Alsitek has identified a manufacturing partner to support it with upscaling and is in the process of securing further funding through the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC).

Looking back, Ihsan says that the support provided by the APC has proved hugely important in enabling the company to break into the automotive market: “We’re perhaps not the sort of organisation that would typically apply for funding through the APC, as we’re essentially a materials developer rather than an engineering company. I’d definitely recommend the TDAP programme to others in that position, though. If you have a potential product that could work in the automotive space, pick up the phone and speak with them.”

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