Aubrey Eveleigh was recently nominated as a Game Changer due to his leadership role in changing the game within the industry with graphene. As the President and CEO of Zenyatta Ventures Ltd., he has been instrumental in leading the Zenyatta team in taking a rare form of graphite that they discovered in 2012 to a new level.

Graphene is desirable for upgrading composites like plastic, aluminum, concrete, epoxy & coating steel.  It serves in improving applications for aerospace & defense, lightweight ballistic body armour, thermal imaging, sensors, smart camouflage systems & lighter or stronger military equipment.  Also, it can be employed to improve energy density in batteries and create lighter, faster, cheaper, robust computers & electronics.

Q: How did you start out in this industry and how has it brought you to where you are today?

A: Serendipity.  I am a geologist and in 2012 the Zenyatta (ZEN) team was exploring for copper and nickel in Ontario when we accidently discovered an extremely rare form of carbon or graphite which sets us apart from others in the industry.  Our graphite deposit according to Dr. Andrew Conly, a geology professor at Lakehead University is unlike any other he has seen currently being mined or even in an advanced stage of exploration globally.
Earlier this year tests conducted in Israel, Japan and Canada identified properties of Zenyatta’s graphite showing characteristics for use in multiple ‘game changing’ graphene applications which caused us to take a great interest in nano-graphite or graphene.
Graphene was discovered at the University of Manchester in 2004.  It is a single sheet of pure graphite that is one atom thick, flexible, transparent, light, stronger than diamond or steel and is highly conductive. This one disruptive nano-material could prove more revolutionary than plastic or the silicon chip. Experts believe that graphene will enable many innovative applications, including low-cost solar cells, supercomputers, rapid charge batteries and use in construction.

Q: How is your organization changing the game within the industry?

A: By providing a high-performance nano-material, like graphene, with a cost advantage produced in a politically stable jurisdiction of Ontario, Canada.

Q: What was your worst moment in your career?

A: Challenging moments in our business can be related to raising capital. I always think of a quote from Steve Jobs when we have those challenging times, “Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

Q: What was your A-HA moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader?

A: Coming to the realization that we have a special material that is in great demand that no other company owned globally.

Q: Step back and analyze your journey, what is the take away you want to give to our audience?

A: We live in a society that depends on science and technology but not enough people know anything about science and technology.  You need to be well informed and passionate about what you do.

Q: What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?

A: Offering a better product with an obvious advantage.  Once the world realizes this, they will beat a path to our door.

Q: What is the best advice you received?

A: You receive much advice along your growth path.  For example, being customer-focused allows you to be more innovative than competitor focused.  It is not about getting it done; it is about getting it done right; and you realize quickly that you control your own destiny.

Q: What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?

A: I could name many from Silicon Valley but most recently I visited Israel on a trade mission and was very impressed with the incredible innovation of the last 60 years.  I am presently reading a book titled “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. The authors argue that a major factor for Israel’s economic growth can be found in the culture of the Israel Defense Forces, in which service is mandatory for most young Israelis. They believe that military service nurtures potential entrepreneurs with the opportunities to develop a wide range of skills and contacts providing experience and responsibility in an environment where ingenuity and intelligence are highly valued.

Q: What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your company or industry sector?

A: For a small company, it is often difficult to reach the right people in the right companies to make them aware of your product for collaboration.  The same can be said about reaching the right people in government and receiving meaningful support.

Q: What are the biggest impediments to innovation in today’s enterprise?

A: Early stage innovation constantly needs capital to advance product development.  This funding is critical and often challenging, especially in tough economic times.

Q: How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?

A: With a new and exciting material, it is a much easier to keep people motivated and therefore innovative.  We try to keep the entire ZEN team and our collaborators involved in moving the market and business development forward.  What comes to mind is the new innovation program at Proctor and Gamble called ‘Connect and Develop’.

Q: What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years? 

A: Nano-materials and supercomputers.

Q: What is your parting piece of advice?

A: To start a business you need a great product, lots of passion and a thick skin: you’ll inevitably encounter negativity from people who criticize you as you build your brand.  If you’re doing anything interesting in the world, you are going to have critics. Ignore and move forward passionately with your great product.  Also, new discoveries of new materials face difficult challenges in the marketplace. They must be clearly cheaper and better performing than products already on the market. A new material like graphene with many targeted applications takes time to develop. You have to be patient.