With preparations underway for the Wales STEM Awards 2021, we couldn’t help but reflect on the incredible achievements of our 2020 winners.

Following the inaugural award ceremony last year, we caught up with the class of 2020 to share their stories with you.

Next up we have Concrete Canvas who were named winner of the STEM Company of the Year (26-250 employees) award and the STEM International Business of the Year Award for their heavy investment into export sales, their record year on year growth, along with a substantial increase in production capacity and the addition of state-of-the-art laboratories to support an extensive research and development programme.

What does your company do?

Concrete Canvas Ltd. is a material technology company, which manufactures a revolutionary construction product called Concrete Canvas® (CC), also known as Concrete on a Roll™. CC belongs to a specialist material class called Geosynthetic Cementitious Composite Mats (GCCMs).

CC is a flexible, concrete filled geotextile that hardens on hydration to form a thin, durable, waterproof, and lower carbon alternative to traditional concreting methods. CC consists of a three-dimensional matrix of synthetic fibres, impregnated with a high early-strength gain cement formulation. It has a tight top fibre surface which traps the cement and aids hydration, whilst the rear surface is coated with a water impermeable PVC backing.

The material was originally invented as a hard armoured outer layer for an inflatable, rapidly deployable concrete shelter for disaster relief. However, our co-founders William Crawford and Peter Brewin discovered that there was a gap in the market for the material itself within the civil engineering sector. In 2005, Concrete Canvas Ltd was incorporated and commercial volume production of the material began.

CC is used for erosion control and weed suppression applications in numerous sectors and in over 80 countries around the world. CC enables a completely new method of construction allowing projects to be completed in hours rather than days, using less than 10% of the material. CC doesn’t require plant or mixing equipment, so you simply position and fix the material and just add water.

We also manufacture a second product called CC Hydro™, the world’s first all-in-one armoured impermeable liner for containment applications. CC Hydro™ combines CC’s material technology with a highly impermeable, chemically resistant geomembrane liner. CC Hydro™ is rapidly becoming established within the petrochemical sector for secondary containment bund lining.

Why did you enter the Wales STEM Awards?

Innovation is embedded in the heart of Concrete Canvas Ltd, from the original invention by the two co-founders at university in 2004, to the set-up of its global sales partnerships, to the ongoing investment in R&D which continues to drive growth.

Investment in innovation and a deep understanding of our customers’ needs has enabled rapid growth. Since sales began in 2008, we doubled turnover year-on-year for the first five years. In 2012, CC Ltd licensed manufacture of the CC material technology to Milliken, a $2Bn US company, to produce and distribute CC for the North American market. Global sales are on track to exceed £14M in the current financial year.

Innovation has been at the heart of this journey, from initial product development to the design and construction of bespoke production machinery enabling manufacture, through to the development of a uniquely structured international sales partner network capable of selling to a global customer base.

Over 20% of the annual overhead is dedicated to R&D spend, and Concrete Canvas Ltd takes the development and commercialisation of ideas very seriously.

The material technology is protected with a strong patent portfolio, including nine patent families with 95 Patents pending or granted worldwide through 26 Territories. To this end, CC is the only official concrete impregnated geotextile available in the world.

What does winning a Wales STEM Awards mean for your business?

Everyone at Concrete Canvas Ltd works incredibly hard and we’re all so passionate about the company. So, it’s an honour for us to have been recognised by the Wales STEM Awards and is a testament to our team; particularly those in our engineering and R&D departments who work so hard to push our business to continue to innovate, grow and develop.

Without STEM, we wouldn’t have a company or products to sell or develop, so being recognised with these awards means a huge amount to us all.

What did you think of the virtual awards ceremony?

The virtual ceremony was a lovely way to bring everyone together. It was fantastic to still be able to take part in the awards in this way and to see the other companies who have been recognised, whether through being shortlisted or being presented with an award on the night.

With the current COVID climate and being in and out of lockdowns, the stresses and difficulties that have come with that, it was great to have some light relief and to be able to celebrate – even if it was virtual!

What’s been a challenge for your business during the last year and how did you overcome it?

COVID-19 has been a huge challenge for businesses of all sizes and across all sectors, and it’s certainly been our biggest challenge this year. As with all businesses, we had to make some tricky decisions at times and adapt to an ever-changing working landscape. As we fall under manufacturing, we were able to continue with production, despite that being at a lower rate, so to a point it was business as usual for us. However, finding ways to keep our teams connected was tricky. We’re very lucky that we have a tight-knit workforce and we kept each other motivated and supported each other through a very strange time.

What’s been a highlight for your business during the last year and why?

Despite quieter months than expected, no redundancies were required. We also broke even with the sales of the previous financial year, so we’ll definitely take those little victories!

What are your goals for 2021?

This is a really exciting year for us, with some of the long-planned R&D projects we’ve had in the pipeline starting to be rolled out with new product launches.  We can’t say too much just yet, but 2021 will be a really exciting year for new technology launches based on home grown innovation for CC!

What, in your opinion, can be done to inspire more young people to pursue careers in STEM?

In our opinion, it really does start with education. Teaching children about STEM in an engaging, fun way that will spark their creativity as well as their critical thinking is really important to get young people excited about STEM and encourage more of them to pursue careers in those fields.

What or who is exciting you in the STEM sector in Wales?

I get excited about other innovative companies in Wales developing technologies that also offer an environmental or carbon benefit.  River Simple in Llandrindod Wells is a great example, a Hydrogen power car that has a lower carbon footprint than any electric vehicle currently on the market. 

What do you think could be done to help the STEM sector in Wales?

We need to inspire the next generation of Engineers and Scientists by communicating to school aged children how what they learn in the classroom relates to what happens in the real world.  The Royal Academy of Engineering, Welsh Valleys Engineering Project (WVEP) is a great example of what is happening to support education in the region.  Concrete Canvas is proud to be part of the WVEP Employer Engagement Strand and very much looking forward to engaging with local secondary schools over the coming months.