LINH: [00:00:01] I would love to add a little bit more on that one. Traditionally, disposable mask is not good for the planet. Just earlier last year, you can see that the number of masks to be produced in the whole world was in the trillion. And then disposable mask is not good in a way that obviously it ends up in the ocean just similar to plastic. So, one of the issues that we’re looking into when we are pivoting, when we were pivoting to the mask business was on that particular sustainability. So, the way that we’re designing our mask is actually a three-layer, which is going really well with the current double masking suggestion from the CDC.
[00:01:06] This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri. If you’re active at all, whether you’re running or simply out walking for the day, you’ve probably experienced one of the number one problems that active people have, and that’s chafing. Solpri’s all-new, all-natural anti-chafe balm solves that problem while feeding your skin, the vital nutrients it needs to be healthy. If you’d like to stop chafing once and for all and treat your body right, go to Solpri.com to check out the anti-chafe balm today. And that’s S-O-L-P-R-I.com.
JESSE: [00:01:44] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a chemical engineer by training. He was working on his Ph.D. but during that process, found the opportunity to take on a commercial venture that really had a limited time to get into to get going. So, that also makes him the CEO of the tech startup Flextrapower. He’s also an ultra runner, novice triathlete, but self-described as a lousy ultra-athlete, which we’re going to get into. Welcome to the show, Linh Le.
LINH: [00:02:19] Thank you, Jesse. It’s my pleasure to be here today.
JESSE: [00:02:22] Yeah, thanks for joining me. I’ve had a few CEOs come on to talk to me. I guess, technically speaking, I’m a CEO. But since I’m basically a company of three, I don’t think of myself that way. So, I know you’ve got a lot going on. And I always appreciate you spending a little time with me out of your day when there are, I’m sure, a dozen things on your plate to get done.
LINH: [00:02:51] Thank you so much, Jesse. I think that don’t underestimate yourself as a CEO of three. When I started my company, I am the CEO of one and also, I am the janitor of one. And even now when my company grew to 20, people still the same. I am the CEO of the company, and then I am still the janitor of the company.
JESSE: [00:03:13] And I don’t think people typically think of the CEO in that role necessarily. But it’s good that you see yourself as a steward, right, of the captain of the ship, making sure everybody’s taken care of. And making sure the ship is going in the right direction.
LINH: [00:03:38] And not only that, I think I like the word janitor because as you initially introduced, I was a chemical engineer. I spent a lot of time in the lab. And then actually now looking into my team, looking into what they have done during the day, when I am actually helping them cleaning up their experiment, looking at that, I put on my inspector hat.
And then literally I know exactly what has been going on during the day for that particular person. And that’s exactly why I think that the janitor really is a super important role; keeping the room clean, putting out the trash, all of those things. I mean, yeah, I love to be one of the first to be in. I might be busy, but then I would love to be the last to be out of the office, obviously before this thing COVID hit us, right.
JESSE: [00:04:33] Right. I hadn’t thought about that. But that’s kind of an interesting take where it’s like you’re going through cleaning stuff up and then that gives you the insight to what’s been happening.
LINH: [00:04:47] It’s not just like an insight, it was just more like a curiosity. Because obviously, my team is very opening. Whenever we have anything, I am right there, they can just ask. But then at the same time, I have a feeling of me being alone. And then just like cleaning things up for other people, and then really like seeing how people has done during the day.
I mean, yeah, I don’t have time to do that much more anymore. But then yeah, I still remember that feeling when the team was growing from me alone to three people, and then we literally talk, I would say, almost 24/7, I remember. And then I loved that feeling.
JESSE: [00:05:30] You know, I wonder when COVID started, or I guess I should say, started affecting the US more significantly, I was having conversations on the podcast, and I recall thinking I don’t want to talk about COVID too much because it’s not going to last that long, it’ll blow over.
And that’s kind of this sentiment originally, right, there was concern, but a lot of people thought it won’t be around much. But you and your company have played some role in trying to help us stay safe. So, I’m wondering about how do you operate the company right now. Do you still have employees working in labs isolated? How did you change your kind of internal setup to continue moving?
LINH: [00:06:20] Sure. Let’s take a step back. And then let me do like a super quick introduction of me first. So, my name is Linh. I was born and raised in Vietnam. I came to New York City, the best city in the world, in 2008. I got admitted to the Ph.D. program in chemical engineering in Columbia University. And then, as you introduced before, I put my study aside because when I was working on my Ph.D., I was among the team as a co-inventor of the graphene nanomaterial technology back in the days, a decade ago.
[00:06:59] So, in 2016, I found my company Flextrapower, in order to further develop and commercialize the graphene technology in different applications, including health tech, including medical devices, and also consumer applications as well. So, the first application we were trying to take on is how to integrate the nanomaterial into the insole.
So, the insoles, turning this normal insole or the stupid insole into the smart insole, continuously tracking, temperature, pressure, and other foot health condition. We’re specifically looking at diabetic patients. So, in the past four years working on this product, we were able to help hundreds of diabetic patients, and then COVID hit us.
[00:07:55] I was able to survive, I mean, the company was able to survive by making a quick pivot into making the mask. And then that actually came about very, I would say I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. I have been in conversation with the hospital partner. And then at that time, remember exactly a year ago when COVID hit us, the hospital was in shortage of PPE or personal protection equipment.
And then at that time, we as a team, my team, and then the hospital team, going back to the whiteboard. And then we were saying, how can we do it from here — from the company side, from the hospital side, there’s a need. What can we do in order to help them? And then I still remember, during my Ph.D., the nanomaterials that I was working on has an amazing property for antivirals. And then it was just like one light bulb moment in my head.
[00:08:57] And then I was going back to the team, hop onto the whiteboard. At the time, we were already isolated. So, virtual whiteboard, I will say. And then literally within seven weeks, we were able to get the first prototype of the graphene mask now on the market. And those, now, going back to the, how my company has been operating, we are operating 100% virtually right now. I am with my family now. The company is still operating in New York City.
And then right now we have a COVID procedure in place, only one to two people coming into the lab, or coming into the office at one time. So, definitely, as an entrepreneur as a team, the culture has shifted significantly. We used to talk with each other all the time. But now how do we continue to innovate? How do we continue to really tackle on technical problems, or technical issues? How are we doing that? We’re still figuring out, like literally how to do that. So, it has been challenging, not only for me, but then also for other startup companies as well.
JESSE: [00:10:19] You talked about missing out on some of those conversations. I remember a guest, and it’ll come to me a minute, which guests but she was talking about — she is in an academic setting, but just missing out on being around all of her colleagues and having some of those kinds of incidental conversations that aren’t planned. But then end up leading down a path that you get to talking about something.
And that leads to some research that wouldn’t have happened had you not just been like passing in the hall and saying hi. So, it makes me think about that. I don’t really have a question. I think there’s definitely value in being able to be present physically with each other. Otherwise, we have to schedule these times and say, okay, we’re getting on to talk. And then there’s a time it stops and it feels like spot and ady in some ways, is like, a spark for discovery.
LINH: [00:11:20] That is totally right. And then in my world of academia, scientists, and actually science, usually the most breakthrough science actually happen spontaneously. You cannot plant that.
JESSE: [00:11:39] Yeah. So, I will jump back to ask you about the mask. I’ve got a lot of questions from a logistical standpoint, both about it and production. The first thing that comes to mind just as a person that produces physical products is, so you’re producing the prototype in seven weeks, is that correct?
LINH: [00:12:02] It is correct.
JESSE: [00:12:03] So, given that, and please correct me, graphene is not a material that just any manufacturer can deal with. Were you talking with the manufacturer that was producing your insoles and having them pivot with you? Did you onboard somebody else? How did that process go?
LINH: [00:12:24] Sure. I think that that question can be answered in a lot of different ways. And then I was lucky, again, to be in the right place at the right time, not only from the supply and demand perspective, but also from the partnership and manufacturing perspective.
I was really lucky. In 2018, my company had a chance to work with one of the largest material innovations in the world, WL Gore, and Associates, the maker of Gore-Tex. I mean, obviously, a lot of people have heard about Gore-Tex in like jackets. But then actually Gore-Tex is an amazing material science company. So, working with Gore in the past, we were able to know a little bit about logistics, knowing a little bit about supply chain from production, and then facility and all of those things.
[00:13:24] And then at the same time, I was able to connect with my family and then my network in Vietnam. At the time, remember that Vietnam was doing really well with COVID. Because we are super close to China, we have some information much early on from late 2019 to early 2020. So, the government has made some I will say proper change to the border restriction and other things. And then Vietnam was able to operate almost as normal business — almost as normal almost for the whole year of 2020.
So, again, we were able to make the mask along with the insole from the same list of manufacturing partner that we have been talking with. And then yeah, that was the first time that I have learned about import and export. That was the first time that I learned about how to airship versus shipping via sea. And it has been so much fun figuring that out. And again, as an entrepreneur, we know a little bit of everything. I think that is again, yeah, triathlete, right? A little bit of everything.
JESSE: [00:14:48] Right. And constantly adjusting just like triathlon. You have a plan, you think you’re going to do something, something happens, and then you got to adjust. And you’ve probably experienced this where like — the listener probably has no idea about this, but like air shipping rates from overseas, be it China or Vietnam, have been going up recently, and it’s been very difficult on some supply chains are then there. If they want to keep the price of their goods down, they then have to ship by sea, which takes a much longer time, but is more economical.
So, it’s been a challenge with our kind of global supply chain. I don’t know how you guys have fared. But I know it’s been a constant in kind of the entrepreneurial circles that I run in, it’s been a constant game of adjustment and trying to figure out how do we tackle all of these issues and the stops and starts and everything with COVID going on? Just trying to keep things moving?
LINH: [00:15:51] Yep, totally. And then in the startup and entrepreneur network, there’s a lot of new activity or new initiative, trying to see how we can better manage the supply chain. There’s a lot of initiative on not only air travel, but also on sea travel and then see how we can work on that.
JESSE: [00:16:16] Yeah. So, I want to back up a little bit and actually talk about the mask. I, unfortunately, ran out of time to get to actually read the white paper you guys published. But the gist I could tell is you’re talking about the material being antiviral, but it’s also hydrophobic. Which, to the layman is it doesn’t like water, it repels water, so to speak. Is it largely that hydrophobic aspect that makes it antiviral? Or does the graphene itself have an ability to kill or destroy viruses?
LINH: [00:16:55] Actually, that is a combination of all of those properties. So, again, think Gore-Tex right? Why Gore-Tex has been a super good rain propeller or like rainproof material. And then the way that we think about our mask and especially our graphene filter, is that the ability to block the viral containing droplet. Obviously, when someone’s sneezing, they are sneezing out water droplets.
And then within that water droplet, if the person is COVID positive, then there is a SARS Coronavirus within that droplet. So, what we are trying to see is that we were utilizing the hydrophobic or dislike water substrate. So, by utilizing that, we’re actually showing in the lab that we can effectively block 80 to 90% of the water droplet. And then about 10 to 20% of the water droplet might still go into the substrate. And then that’s where the graphene comes into play.
[00:18:11] The graphene role actually, in that particular sense, was that it is a nanomaterial; it’s super sharp. And then from the molecular level, you can consider it as a, I would say like a sharp edge like a razor, for example, that cut open the Coronavirus. So, we have seen that in the lab. There’s a lot of publication. The first one came out from the University of Hong Kong back in June of 2020.
And then since then, there’s a lot of work from graphene producers in the world. We were just tagging along. And then yeah, a lot of masks need to be made in order to protect the whole world from this pandemic.
JESSE: [00:18:59] Yeah. It kind of makes you wonder about — I saw a lot of pivots into masks. There’s an entrepreneur I follow and they predominantly produce cloth type products. And then they ended up making masks out of like — they’re in the wedding business and weddings basically dropped off the map. And they like pivoted to make masks.
So, there’s all these materials being used for masks. And rightly or wrongly, skepticism about what’s effective, what’s not effective, what should we be doing? It seems like you’re in a very unique position to pivot and make a very useful item. Compared to say, just making something out of regular cloth.
LINH: [00:19:57]I would love to add a little bit more on that one. Traditionally, disposable mask is not good for the planet. Just earlier last year, you can see that the number of masks to be produced in the whole world was in the trillion. And then disposable mask is not good in a way that obviously it ends up in the ocean just similar to plastic.
So, one of the issues that we’re looking into when we are pivoting, when we were pivoting to the mask business was on that particular sustainability. So, the way that we’re designing our mask is actually a three-layer, which is going really well with the current double masking suggestion from the CDC.
[00:20:52] So, we were developing the mask itself as a packaging material. And then we have the graphene filter that it was coming in between the mask. So, basically, the mask itself is a normal cloth mask, but then what really protects you is actually the graphene filter that is going in between. And also we have seen from our customer, a lot of people were asking, “Hey, can I buy additional filter?”
And then sure, we listen to our customer, and then we’re offering them, “Hey, you can buy a pack of three, which can last you for a month or two.” You can buy a pack of six, or you can actually buy more for you, for your family. And then actually, a lot of people were saying, “Why don’t you come up with a subscription business?” And we did that. So, we just take on the customer credit card, and then every month or two, we send them a pack of three — make things easier for them.
JESSE: [00:21:56] Yeah. And that’s something I’ve run into as well since I sell personal care products. I didn’t do subscriptions for a very long time. And then I keep having people ask me, “Why don’t you do subscriptions? Why should you subscriptions?” So, I finally said, “Okay.” I still offer single. You can just go buy a — I think this is the same with you if I remember the website correctly, you can just go buy one, but then you also have the option to subscribe.
So, I like that. This is a bit of a diatribe, I guess. But it bothers me a lot when companies pivot from being able to buy the product, or subscribe to — just pushing everybody towards subscriptions. Because it’s like not everybody wants to engage that way some people do. So, I appreciate you leaving it as both options. That’s just a personal thank you, I guess.
LINH: [00:22:57] We’re operating as a company, we are operating in a way that customer first. So, the customer has the most options. And then we as a company try to do our best in order to accommodate that customer from a personal customer like a consumer buying our mask. Or actually from the business who are subscribing for our insole solution for helping diabetic patients. Yeah.
JESSE: [00:23:36] How did that change or did it change like the visibility of the company? Since it’s, in some ways, kind of the same big market but obviously a very different product in the pivot. So, are you getting more, I would assume with the insoles, that you’re probably working more with like business side customers versus the mask is going to be more consumer-level or the ability to have more consumer level. So, I mean, how did the shift change kind of your visibility so to speak?
LINH: [00:24:01] Sure. I think that the visibility you mentioned might be answering in the branding perspective, or it could be like in the impact or like in the influence perspective. I will firstly talk about the brand. So, when we first started the company, the name was actually Bonbouton. So, Bonbouton is a very good consumer-facing name. But then during the pandemic, we actually take on one of the items that we shelve which is obviously rebranding.
And then during the pandemic, the team got back together. We rebrand from Bonbouton to Flextrapower, which is the power of the flexible and transparent material graphene. It goes really well with the vision of the company really because the graphene material can power both the insole and the mask. So, that is going well from the branding side.
[00:25:06] What you talked a little bit about before was on the insole business. We work with insurance companies, we work with hospitals, mainly big and medium-sized businesses. So, obviously, the customer base, the client base, the user base, are totally different. But then at the same time, I think that, again, the work that we are doing, it can bring impact if we’re seeing the mission of the company being the same in helping everyone from diabetic patients to normal people from the pandemic. That is good.
We were just thinking like if we were able to somehow ramping up the production earlier, we have a little bit more money to market this product to the US market, we might not have had a million people die from the pandemic which is crazy, which is a sad milestone for the US.
JESSE: [00:26:09] Yeah. I have so many questions about graphene and the products and stuff. I’m a little bit like, I’m not sure where to jump to. But I do want to talk a little bit more — [crosstalk]
LINH: [00:26:22] You just need to start asking questions.
JESSE: [00:26:25] I know. We have a little time and I’m like we’re going to run out of time and I’m going to have so many questions left. So, I want to ask about the insoles because I’ve talked to several different people, both like startup founders, and the first person that comes to mind is Matt Jordan, who works at the Canadian Institute of Sport. He works with like Canadian Olympic athletes.
Thinking about the insole, there’s a lot of people working on technology to track athletic performance and all these kind of things. And obviously, you have receptors in this insole to track for I think it’s [inaudible 00:27:09] development for diabetic patients’ feet, which is an awesome product.
As a backstory, I worked in a shoe store that helped diabetic patients and other people with health conditions fit shoes to make sure that they didn’t end up with problems down the line and end up potentially having amputations. Yours is obviously a much more technologically advanced and probably accurate way to help prevent that. Because of where I come from I immediately jump thinking about it is do you have any thoughts about spinning off like a subdivision to make like a sport application for the insole? Has that ever crossed your mind, I guess?
LINH: [00:28:01] Not only has it ever crossed my mind, I’m actually testing my product in one of my racing or actually ultra running as well. And too bad in that particular running, I develop a blister on my toe. So, obviously, the product didn’t work for me at the time. Anyway, that was a joke. But then it actually happened even though it was a joke for me that I developed a blister during my run.
So, as you remember and then as the audience might have remembered that when I was working on my Ph.D., we have a technology, and then we don’t know what that technology will be applicable in. So, when I was talking with a lot of people, I got the feedback was, “Hey, you are the solution looking for a problem.”
[00:29:00] So, at that time, I still remember during my time of incubating the idea back in 2015-2016, I was having a list of all of the potential applications for the technology that I was working on. At the time I have about 114-115 potential applications and diabetic foot amputation or diabetic foot alteration was not even in the top 50. So, the reason that I came about this diabetic foot alteration actually stemmed from my wife’s pregnancy.
She got gestational diabetes. And then experiencing that amazing pregnancy with her, we shared a lot and then at the same time I learned more about diabetic foot care And then you said before about orthotic solution, how to fit the shoe. I was thinking like Flextrapower in orthotic solution, actually complementary rather than competing with each other.
[00:30:15] So, again, long story short, we were focusing on — I mean, as a company we will focus on developing the health tech footcare kind of solution for diabetic patients first. Would it be possible for us to work with athletes? I would love to sometime in the future when we show that hey, this capability can be applicable. I would love to get it tested by an amazing athlete. I have been talking with Nike as well. I would love to see that if there was a reality coming out of that project or like that conversation.
JESSE: [00:30:57] I definitely think — it’s all theoretical, obviously. And you’re the one that has the in-depth knowledge about the technology. Especially runners, we’re talking about runners in particular, because that’s kind of where I live. But I would think that with enough data, especially kind of self-selected data. So, say I’m wearing them and there’s enough data collected over — we’ll say, a month. I don’t know how long it needs to be, but say a month is the threshold. And then three months down the line the technology notices that now my strike pattern on the ground is different. Well, that is probably an indication that there’s some kind of injury forming, like I’m running differently, for some reason.
[00:31:51] It could be kind of a precursor to kind of like the alteration technology saying, “Hey go check out a doctor.” In this case, saying, “Hey, something’s wrong.” Maybe it’s not able to say you pulled your hamstring or you have a stress fracture, but hey, there’s something off like you should maybe go through these steps or something.
So, that’s the thing I think about because otherwise, we’re always straddling the line. And I’m sure you’ve been through this since you — even though you described yourself as lousy at it, you’re still doing triathlons and ultras. We’re always straddling the line between how much is too much training and just enough. And it’s easy to — [crosstalk] go over that line.
LINH: [00:32:39] Yep. It is a very fine line. And I totally agree with you, Jesse. I still remember the time I got a shin splint that put me off running for a month. I felt terrible. But actually, going back to your previous question, I think that there are a lot of work. There’s a lot of new activity from startups as well as large corporations right now. And then the way that I’m seeing is actually there are two big trends. Number one is actually on the professional athlete, how to help them increasing their performance.
And on the other side with the mass market, how do technology, how do different kinds of services help the mass markets reducing the injury? So, those are the two big trends. And then yeah, I would love to see like, how Flextrapower can play some kind of role in either professional athletes or in the mass market later. We need to focus as an entrepreneur on that.
JESSE: [00:33:48] Right, right. That’s the tough part, is like, I definitely have this tendency where you see you’re like, okay, there’s this possibility, and there’s that possibility, and there’s all these things we can do. But we have to focus on this — just this is the one thing that we do do, and we’re going to do it very well. So, I definitely — [crosstalk]
LINH: [00:34:07] Just like as a runner, right? Just like as a runner, just focus on your run. But at the same time, enjoying whatever is happening around you. [crosstalk] Especially trail running.
JESSE: [00:34:19] Right. And like we said earlier that sometimes the best things that happen, we didn’t plan for. So, sometimes things just happen and it sends you down a new path and you had no idea you’re going to go that way.
LINH: [00:34:31] Yeah. Oh, and actually, Jesse, I just had an idea when you brought up the idea earlier about changing the form. Actually, I was a huge strike early on. And then three years ago, I adopted the running on barefoot running. I was running with the Vibram FiveFingers. And then I started with only 5k And then 10k, and then half marathon and then marathon with the FiveFingers, Vibram. And what I found out was that it significantly changed the form. So, yep, now I am mid-foot, and then I can — I have not experienced any injury for the past two years. Fingers crossed, I hope that I can keep up with it.
JESSE: [00:35:26] It’s always a tough thing for me. I have another show on the YouTube channel where I talk about running and I think in a lot of ways, the kind of barefoot running movement exposed that there’s a lot of inefficiencies with shoes. But at the same time, it made a lot of people think like, that’s the only way or you have to run barefoot to run perfectly. And what I try to get across is that it’s more about making sure that when you hit the ground, when your foot hits the ground, it’s underneath you.
Whereas I was like with the heel strike, usually, it’s in front of you. It doesn’t have to be. It can be underneath you. But that’s where all that injury comes from. It’s like you hit the ground and you’re basically breaking every single time you take a step. Then no wonder you’re going to get injured. Like you’re jarring your system and you’re breaking and going every single step, do that over and over thousands of times, something’s going to break.
LINH: [00:36:28] Not only thousands. When you’re an ultra it’s actually close to 100,000 steps.
JESSE: [00:36:35] We’re pretty resilient but we’re not unbreakable. I do want to back up a little bit more. And we’re going to back up quite a ways. I was trying to learn about the history of graphene. And it seemed like, at its inception, there was a lack of confidence or maybe skepticism as it being actually useful for anything. Amazing to discover, but then how do we actually use it? And then I couldn’t figure out where we got from there to you creating things that are actually useful with it. Can you help me fill in the gaps there from discovery to where you are now?
LINH: [00:37:22] Sure. I will say that is a very interesting story. And then now looking back, as you probably know, that graphene was discovered by the two scientists in Manchester. And then they received the Nobel Prize in 2010, which is a little bit over a decade ago. I was lucky enough to be involved with graphene since 2008. So, I have heard about graphene since then within a very small community of scientists. But to be honest, going back, I mean, I have been working with carbon material for my whole life.
During my undergrad back in Vietnam, I was working on a glassy carbon, I would say similar to graphite material. And then when I first came to the state, my first project was working on carbon nanotubes. So, it is like a carbon. I now can say that I have always been interested in working with carbon material, because they are a special chemical substance, I will say. Or like carbon is a very special element.
[00:38:43] Anyway, so graphene, at the time, was like a — People will see that as a cut open nanotube. So, for example, you have a tube similar to the straw, you cut it open, you lay it flat, that was the graphene. So, it’s a 2D or two-dimensional material. So, as you said earlier, when graphene was discovered, and then when graphene made a huge splash in the academic and then the world on, this is the next generation silicon, this is the next generation, wonderful material that can do a lot of different things.
What people didn’t realize was that how long does it take for the material to be successfully translated from the lab into commercial. So, there are a variety of different ways to look at that, not only from the reliability but also from the performance perspective and also from again, supply chain which we talked about earlier. So, right now in the world, I would say that there are only several coal mines in the world, maybe in Canada, maybe in China actually having a super good quality of the graphene — I mean of the graphite that can be taken down layer by layer into graphene. That is one way to make graphene.
[00:40:19] The other way to make graphene is actually by putting one carbon atom together, on together, on together, and then they call that CVD graphene, which is chemical vapor deposition of graphene. The two leading manufacturers of the CVD graphene are IBM and Samsung in Korea. They’re primarily interested in making that utilizing for the next generation of supercomputers.
I am pretty sure that in the next decade or two, we will be seeing carbon-based or graphene-based supercomputers going into the world. But then right now, as it is right now, graphene still has a lot of good properties, and then that’s exactly why we have been working on or we’re actually leveraging the knowledge that other people have been innovating, and then we try to incorporate it into a product that can benefit people.
JESSE: [00:41:28] Yeah. I could be imagining it too. But I feel like when the researchers won the Nobel Prize for graphene, I feel like it may not have been exactly that year. But somewhere around there, I felt like I heard about it. I was in college at the time in my undergraduate. And I feel like I see from time to time, you see a research paper, something published, and somehow a journalist picks it up, talks about it, how it’s going to be awesome. And then you hear nothing.
And I feel like from the layman’s perspective, or like the mass market perspective, that people get really skeptical when they hear about any new discovery, they’re like, “Oh, it’s never going to go anywhere.” I think that’s partly to do with just the internet and internet culture sharing so many things and how things kind of blow up and then fade away, and then you don’t actually hear about them.
[00:42:31] But as you mentioned, the time, effort, and expertise it takes to go from lab setting to consumer-ready product is very intensive. Even if it’s like, yes, this has promise, there’s still so much more work to be done. I think it’s hard as you know, a person that doesn’t live in that lane, that doesn’t live in the place of taking academic research and making it commercially viable. It’s hard to wrap your head around the timeline it takes to actually do that.
LINH: [00:43:10] Yeah. And also another thing is that there’s a risk of everything, right? So, that’s why the regulator needs to be there. I mean, that is the right thing to do from the government’s perspective, in order to protect the consumer, in order to protect the user. And then actually, for us, our insole, same thing. We need to go through a rigorous regulatory approval process. And that it’s there for a reason that we don’t want to give out a product that might not help people. We love our product, but then we want our product to, and the service as well to be regulated in a way because there’s a lot of things we don’t know.
JESSE: [00:44:00] Yeah, yeah. Before we run out of time, I want to ask you about — I think I saw you guys are working on a wearable shirt using graphene. Is that correct?
LINH: [00:44:11] Yes. I would say that it’s still in inception right now. So, that idea came about from the combination of the insole and the mask. So, we have successfully integrated the nanomaterial into textile. And then we just have an idea, hey, if we integrate the graphene into the shirt, can we do other things with it? And here we are. I really think that if we somehow can turn a shirt into a smart T-shirt, then we would be able to have a shirt not only keep us warm, but then it’s a natural interface between the body and the rest of the network, which is everything we are talking about right now.
JESSE: [00:45:04] So, is your intention to have it be like a diagnostic tool kind of like the insole? Or is it again, like you mentioned people saying to you, is it a solution looking for a problem?
LINH: [00:45:20] So, I will say that in my initial idea right now, we are wearing a Garmin watch that tells us about the heart rate, and especially resting heart rate, for example. So, I mean, our skin is putting out a lot of information. Sweat rate, radiation, something about like how, how dry your skin is. And then yeah, I think that you — I mean, this episode was sponsored by Solpri, if I remember correctly. Right?
JESSE: [00:45:55] Yep. That’s my umbrella company. Yep.
LINH: [00:45:57] Yep, chafing product. I have that too, obviously, during my running, and then that happens all the time. Okay. What I was trying to say on the T-shirt product is that if we were able to somehow collecting a lot of physiology data from the electrodermal, conductive skin, skin conductance. From the heart rate, from the core body temperature, from the sweat rate, we would be able to do a lot on that. And then with the capacity or capability of cloud computing, right now, all of those data should be able to dump into the server, and then we can pick out what might be happening, what can potentially happen.
We can, hopefully, prevent stroke, for example. We can hopefully prevent heat extortion, for example, in running applications. So, again, yeah, I think that is literally the vision of Flextrapower. We were trying to see how we realize the power of the graphene material in a remote diagnosis, in a remote monitoring application that helps humans.
JESSE: [00:47:17] I’m hopeful to see kind of how things develop in the next few years with that. So, I know you’ve listened to a few other episodes of the show. So, you may know I like to ask everybody the same question for a particular season. So, before we’re out of time, I’ll ask you that now. This year, I’m asking everybody, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?
LINH: [00:47:41] I have failed a lot. I have to deal with failure all the time. And then that’s actually the reason why I turned to running as well as biking and triathlon. It doesn’t matter which direction you go, you just need to put one foot in front of the other. Keep on going.
JESSE: [00:48:04] That’s a good answer. Linh, if people want to get the masks, see what you’re doing, where can they find you?
LINH: [00:48:15] I am very easy to find. Flextrapower.com is the company name. And then I am always open on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can find me on L-E-T-U and G-L-I-N-H.
JESSE: [00:48:33] Sounds good. Thanks for spending some time with me today.
LINH: [00:48:36] Thank you, Jesse. It was a pleasure.