Name: Concrete Canvas
Founded in: 2005
Tip: “Handing over control and delegating is hard, but once you’ve made that leap it’s fantastically liberating.”
Pontypridd-based manufacturer Concrete Canvas created a flexible, concrete-filled textile, designed for use in rapidly deployable shelters for disaster relief. The material can be folded and sealed in a bag, inflated by two people and sprayed with water. It creates a shell that could last 10 years.
As a startup with limited money, however, they faced a race to create demand and generate revenue before their seed funding ran out.
Founders Will Crawford and Peter Brewin knew that the main selling point of the product was their innovative material technology. They realised there were other, more commercially viable uses for the material – since it was essentially concrete on a roll, it could ease labour-intensive construction processes.
The firm started looking at the material’s uses in civil engineering applications, where it could replace poured concrete. The material could be easily deployed to sites that were difficult to access, providing lining for water channels or protecting slopes from erosion. It created a thin, durable surface quickly and was environmentally-friendly, since less concrete was used per application.
Concrete Canvas also recognised that there were opportunities in the export market. The company could automate the material’s manufacturing process, so they could scale to meet demand. They used the UK to spearhead research and development into innovative new applications, regularly interviewing customers about their requirements. Once it was tried and tested in the UK, they could roll it out abroad.
After making the decision to focus on the fabric, Concrete Canvas’ turnover doubled every year for the next five years. In 2018, turnover reached more than £12m. Export sales now make up 90 per cent of their business, with recent applications including a lagoon lining in Paraguay, containment in Hong Kong and National Grid pipe protection in the UK.
“As a startup with limited cash reserves, you have to follow the route to commercial success,” Will said. “The material we invented for the shelters has driven our growth.”