First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Matt Villarreal: While COVID has been a challenging time for my family, generally, it has been a great lesson in adaptability. Many challenging pre-COVID aspects of our business have actually trended in our favor.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Infinite Composites
Matt Villarreal: I’m Robert Matthew “Matt” Villarreal, co-founder of Infinite Composites Technologies, where we build next-gen composite pressure vessel technology with our linerless type V tanks. Our ultimate goal is to enable the widespread adoption of composite pressure vessels for space exploration & sustainable transportation. I currently hold four patents in the field of high pressure and cryogenic gas storage for space exploration and sustainable transportation and have collaborated on technical publications in the industry.
In 2008 while in college, my co-founder Michael and I were part of a student engineering team that built the world’s first compressed natural gas-powered formula-style race car. While completing a 24-hour endurance race, we discovered our metal high-pressure gas tank made up 10% of the vehicles mass and didn’t hold a lot of the fuel. As a result, we went searching for alternatives and found a few great options were available. While doing additional research, we found an article discussing linerless tanks as the Holy Grail for storage.
How does Infinite Composites innovate?
Matt Villarreal: ICT innovates in three different ways. As a company, continuous improvements are built into our culture and AS9100D quality management system. Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR/STTR) grants allow us to work with federal agencies. Most importantly, we work with our customers to define market and technology gaps. Working directly with our consumers allows us to research material solutions and provide common size solutions to “mass-ively” influence access to space.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Matt Villarreal: The largest effect of COVID for ICT has been the delays created for customers across the world regarding decision timelines. Companies did not know what to expect, so many tightened up – luckily not for long. Missions have timelines, some with deadlines restricted to specific planetary positioning that must be met. Surprisingly, we’ve managed to continue to do well through COVID, closing 6 new projects between April and August.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Matt Villarreal: We’ve made many difficult choices since COVID began. One of the most difficult was maintaining our current team and compensation with the uncertainty in the economy, while many others were downsizing. We were very lucky to find customers and financing opportunities to support our team, which has actually grown more than 25% this year. Another difficult decision we made was to participate in the Techstars Space Accelerator this summer, even though the program was changed from on-location in LA to remote. In the end, it was a great decision because we had a huge influx of business right before the program started, and it would have been impossible to manage operations from LA.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Infinite Composites in the future?
Matt Villarreal: At ICT, we deal with stress and anxiety a bit differently than most companies. On many Fridays, we blow off steam by blowing up tanks in our 15,000 psi blast chamber. This is a regular part of the testing process, but it’s always fun to make wagers on what the burst pressure will be. We also regularly have cookouts at the office and occasionally bring in a keg for an office happy hour. We also have off-site company meetings where we do fun activities like paintball or escape rooms.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Matt Villarreal: We have two types of competitors, market and technology.
- Technology Competition: Composite Technology Development & Scorpius Launch Systems
- Market Competition: 85% of the market is dominated by ARDE of Aerojet RocketDyne and Orbital-ATK of Northrop Grumman. The next largest market players are General Dynamics and Cobham of Carleton Technologies.
Our technology competitors are small like us, but not 100% focused on linerless composites pressure vessels like we are. According to several customers, we’ve been able to outperform in mass, leak rate, and performance against these players. Our focus is on the continuous advancement of the technology and manufacturing processes of advanced gas storage systems.
Your final thoughts
Matt Villarreal: We are constantly pushing the technological limitations of pressure vessels. We recently created the first known all-composite cryosphere, a spherical carbon-fiber pressure vessel for storing cryogenic propellants, which has the potential to revolutionize launch vehicles & spacecraft, such as lunar landers.
We’re building a technology company. We’ve been focused on applying our efforts to what we believe is one of the most important things to enabling space exploration, but there is still a lot of work to be done on sustainable transportation. Hydrogen Tanks for fuel cell electric aircraft and ground-based transportation is the next industry we will disrupt.