Dr. Radu Reit is the founder and Chief Technology Officer at Ares Materials, where his work is focused on expanding the use of UV-curable polysulfide chemistries into the electronic display manufacturing space, with a specific focus on enabling new products for dynamic form-factor displays in flexible or foldable applications. Dr. Reit is also the Vice-Chair of the Marketing Committee at the Society for Information Display (SID). SID provides a unique platform for industry collaboration, communication, and training in all related technologies while showcasing the industry’s best new products. Display Week 2020 will be held June 7-12, 2020, in San Francisco. For more information, visit www.displayweek.org.
Where did the idea for Ares Materials come from?
Ares Materials researches, develops and scales-up novel transparent polymers for the next generation of truly flexible mobile, wearable and embedded electronics. The company spun out from the University of Texas at Dallas after one of the cofounders spent a summer during graduate school interning at a company interested in applying commercial polymer films as substrates for building flexible displays. After noticing that no commercial alternatives were well suited to the harsh chemicals and elevated temperatures involved with display fabrication, he returned to the lab we all worked in as graduate students researching bioelectronic devices (electrode arrays for interacting with the central and peripheral nervous systems). Here, we discussed why we were able to do some of these same processes (also required to build the bioelectronic devices) on our materials while no commercial alternatives were well suited – from that, we began the commercialization of Pylux polysulfide thermosets.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Unfortunately there is no typical day for an entrepreneur, as I’m sure many others in my same position would agree with – it’s part of what makes the job fun and rewarding. I may go from answering emails for a few hours (catching up on communications that came from Asia while sleeping) to running an experiment in the lab with a new member as a training exercise. After that, a strategy meeting might come up after which I have to call a customer to discuss technical specifications. All of this makes it difficult to be productive, but time management is key – having a well organized calendar is not only critical, but it’s likely my second most important asset besides the talent we have working in the lab.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A mixture of listening to customers and flexibility. As a newcomer to the industry, you might think you have one really great solution for a problem you’ve identified on your own, but the customer always knows best. We always go into customer meetings with an open mind about not only how we can solve their problems, but also what their problems really are – most of the time they will never tell you outright, because they might not know it themselves. Seeing or hearing about those problems first-hand then inspires product changes in our materials to solve those problems and begin the development of potential game-changing technologies before the customers even know they need them.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The move towards flexible displays in smartphones! In general visual display technology is interesting, but the trend toward a unified device that can be a phone, tablet, notebook and eventually screen doesn’t seem quite as sci-fi after seeing that there are now commercial products leveraging this emerging technology. I really enjoy walking the exhibition floor at the annual Display Week exhibition that the Society for Information Display organizes each year (this year in San Francisco, June 7th – 12th) and seeing the incredible engineering accomplishments of companies from around the world within the display space – many related to realizing flexible displays as commercial products.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Keeping my to-do list as short as possible. It doesn’t always help when you add a few dozen items to it every hour, but the drive to check each item off keeps you very productive.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Network much more aggressively, as who you know in your industry matters more than ever today. One of the reasons I am heavily involved with our industry association (SID) is to have a broad network of professional colleagues, as well as make this process easier for the next generation of engineers through efforts like the Young Engineer Spotlight.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Not being busy or completely booked all the time is not a sign of low-productivity. It means you have some time to breathe and actually think about why you are doing what you are doing or how you could be doing it better.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
When there is some downtime, challenge yourself and your team on why things are done a certain way – it’s rarely because it’s the best way to do it or the most efficient, but it’s likely it was the easiest way to do it when it had to get done. If you can use this time to improve on inefficiencies or chicken-wire and chewing gum solutions, future-you will thank you.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Focusing in on the high-value opportunities that we can realistically achieve with our small team. We constantly get requests for the application of our materials in new and unique ways, but we have to keep laser-focused on the applications that we know we are best suited for and can realistically achieve with a small team in a short period of time.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We missed one opportunity in Korea not due to technical merit, but because of a negative impression the lead engineer on the project had when his boss’ boss asked for a status update after we had met him through another connection. This was not atypical for us at other companies, but at this particular company, the culture was a bit different and this put too much pressure on the engineer who then didn’t want to give the product the chance it deserved. We’re now a lot more cognizant of the small details we need to consider before meeting with senior leadership or starting projects with engineering teams directly.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If you are an engineer who likes spending your days off tinkering and building one-off prototypes, research how to write a good provisional patent. If you can build a portfolio of interesting prototypes, as well as the intellectual property to protect them for a year at a relatively low cost of 65-130 dollars per idea, you never know what could be a big hit with someone looking for ideas to commercialize.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A bulk set of quality disposable ear-plugs. Having a good nights’ sleep every night is critical for being happy and productive the following day.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Calendly is so useful for setting up meetings without endless back and forth about what time works best for a mutual call, that I cannot believe it took me until 2019 to start using.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There’s plenty of non-fiction recommendations, so I’ll venture in a different direction – sci-fi. The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, particularly Foundation’s Edge (book 6 of 7), is a great source of entertainment if you enjoy interesting technology, political dramas, and a bit of space mystery. Despite the lack of practical advice you may get from science fiction, I find that I’m always very inspired by sci-fi to tackle problems in unique ways.
What is your favorite quote?
The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before. -Neil Gaiman
- Network like mad, especially when starting your careers. These efforts never end either, as you never know everyone who is relevant to your industry, and you don’t know who might be your next employee/employer/best customer.
- Do what you do best and resist the urge to get pulled into directions that might seem very lucrative, but could end up costing more in your time and lost opportunities
- Be as productive as possible, but make sure to have some time to think creatively about any current problems or problems that could arise.
- Learn to thrive in uncertain situations – this describes at least half of what you do as an entrepreneur.