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Obducat-Investor's darling

Partrik Lundström, CEO

The Swedish company Obducat, based in Malmo, south of Sweden, is rare in two different aspects. It‘s not only one of the few companies in Sweden that actually work with nanotechnology; it is also rare because they have a very active “fan-club”.
Second only to Ericsson, Obducat is the company most discussed on Swedish investor-internet-forums. The fan-club is infamous for calling journalists and complain whenever they think Obducat has been misrepresented in an article. Being a daring soul I decided to take my chances with the fan-club and interview Patrik Lundstrom, CEO of Obducat. After all, I really wanted to find out what all the fuzz is about.

The beginnings
The company was founded in 1989 by Henri Bergstrand and Lennart Olsson. Henri was at that time CEO at CD-plant, the first Scandinavian CD-manufacturer, and Lennart was the technical director at the same company. They started Obducat because they saw a need for a new technology to manufacture matrixes used in the production of CD:s and DVD:s. Today Obducat employs 35 people and has an estimated turnover for 2003 of approx €4,4 millions (40 million SEK). Patrik joined the company in September 2000 and was appointed CEO in May last year. Having an MBA from the University in Lund, he first worked with marketing at Obducat before he was appointed CEO. Before getting onboard the Obducat-ship, Patrik worked for Metget AB with RFID Transponders in Ronneby. He has also worked with production of printed circuit boards for another company in Malmo.

Business areas
Obducat works with several business areas, micro- and nanoimprintlithography, electron beam lithography and scanning electron microscopes. Patrik says: “Today the different business areas turnovers are roughly equal numbers.” Break-even for the entire company is expected at the earliest in 2005. Patrik continues: “What we need now to reach that goal is an increased order-intake but also that we can start to deliver machines for mass-production.” When it comes to markets, they are pretty evenly divided between Europe, US and Asia. The Japanese market is expected to expand the most together with a few more countries in Asia. This is due to the fact that a lot of international companies have manufacturing in the region.

Electron Beam Recorder

Evolution- enter Obducat
I asked Patrik what he thinks about what will happen next on the “nano-market”. Patrik: “Of course, it’s difficult to predict but looking at existent road-maps of different areas of applications such as semiconductor industry, flat panel displays and hard drive manufacturers for example, several of them plan to hit the consumer market during 2005” Patrik continues: “It’s always hard to say which application will make it out first but we are very close to the various applications and the industry will evolve applying new production technology to existing products and this is where nano-imprint enters the scene.” Patrik adds: “There will certainly be other areas in which nanotechnology can be of outmost importance such as in medicine or say in the bio-tech sector, but that’s a bit further down the road.”

The early bird…
Even though the company was established already in 1989, Obducat didn’t enter the stage of full commercialisation until 2001. Patrik comments on the difficulties of getting to market: the time allowed to get there was underestimated. The market wasn’t mature enough, but this has changed now. We see a steady increase in the amount of qualified inquiries.” Patrik continues: “One of the reasons why the market has not matured until now is that it took more time to implement DVD than the industry had expected, so even though Obducat could do blue ray already three years ago, the industry were busy implementing DVD and therefore had no need for blue ray at that time.” Blue ray or high density DVD is the next generation DVD. A CD can store 650 MB, a DVD 4,7 GB and blue ray or High Density DVD about 23-27 GB.

Countdown
More and more companies not working with nanotech add the nano-prefix to the company name thinking this makes it easier to get funding, I asked Patrik if he thought it is a problem actually being a nanotech company. He answers: “Of course this might tint the glasses of investors when looking at Obducat, but at the same time, we have been in the game for a while and if they look closer at what we do, they will discover that we are really working with nanotech.” Patrik adds:” and, there are very different nanotech companies. A well established fact is that the first one to make money from nanotech are the tool-makers. Alexander Wong, at APAX partners, earlier at Intel Capital says that the tool-industry will show profit as early as 2004-2005. This is the imminent future, not in 10 or 15 years! Patrik starts to get exited here and says: “In order to develop a product further, you need production tools, it’s self-evident.” Patrik continues: “we are working with an existing market, the hard drive and the semiconductor industry actually DO exist, it would have been a total different story if we hade been working on developing some new kind of bio sensors which does not exist on the market today hence a market demand must first be created.”

Ready to take off
Today Obducat faces two major challenges; -getting acceptance from the industry for their technology -and getting accepted as a major industrial supplier. Patrik says:” Tests are being conducted right now, so that’s already up and running, but when it comes to being a major industrial supplier we need to configure the company. We need more resources for support and to be able to provide that locally 24:7. We are preparing that right now and as soon as we get the first major industrial order, we’ll push the start-button and take off.” Listening to Patrik the floodgates appear to be opening for Obducat soon. I can’t yet say I know that this is really the case, but I DO know that the floodgates keeping Obdu-fans from my phone are now wide open!


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