Grafren is a Swedish technology startup focused on developing a unique material called graphene. Graphene is an incredibly strong, lightweight, and conductive material that has been dubbed the “miracle material” and has the potential to revolutionize many industries.
CEO Erik Khranovskyy is a former assistant professor who spent 15 years in academia doing research and writing articles.
“At a certain time I felt that I needed other challenges – and creating new products and bringing them to the market was very exciting,” Erik recalls.
Along with his colleagues, he founded Grafren with the idea of taking their research results and commercializing them via the company. However, such “research centered approach” turned out not to be a good idea, the company could not find the need on the market and failed several times. Then, they finally came up with a unique technology that has huge market potential and a functioning business model.
“The company hasn’t taken off 100% yet, we develop the graphene products together with our customers, which takes time” Erik says.
When asked about the talent needs of his company, Erik emphasized the importance of hiring both stars and potential talents, also providing professional education to newcomers. He mentioned that experienced people are necessary for certain positions, but the winning strategy is to combine all types of talent. He credits LEAD (business incubator), for helping Grafren tremendously in the company’s developing process.
Grafren attracts talent by working with part-time students, interns, and master students. Erik notes that emotional intelligence is highly valued at Grafren and that they choose candidates based on personal skills in addition to competencies.
“We are attracting people who are curiosity-driven and maybe a bit romantic. Also, self-confident in their forces. If you want to change the world, you have to be a believer.”
Experienced people are of course important too. However, Erik prefers to hire individuals with potential, since the only way to grow is to learn. Some experts are still missing though, so the company still needs to fill those positions as well.
To find the right people, the company has used ads but also hired people in their network. LinkedIn has also helped them a lot in scouting qualified talents.
One hundred percent of Grafren’s employees are international, making them a global company from day one. The official language is English, so language barriers are not a problem for them.
Erik Khranovskyy mentioned that a combination of the freedom of a startup and building a company structure is what makes working with international talent a great experience. Different people may take different roles and responsibilities, where necessary, getting new experience all the time. The agility and ability of international talent are what helps the company grow.
“We don’t care that much about diplomas or courses you have taken. Since we are all researchers, we have an inflation of degrees here. We appreciate more the will to do things, the ability to take care of the whole process, the ability to take responsibility, and emotional intelligence. We work with people after all.”
When asked to give advice to other companies that are interested in working with international talent, Erik recommends employing students.
“Give them freedom, but also responsibilities. They are not supposed to have their own agenda. Talk and align the expectations, what would you like them to do, and what would make them happy. But also talk about company expectations. We can’t offer the highest salary but we bring freedom and other values, something extra that other companies do not do.”
For international students, the advice to get a job is very clear.
“Get your foot into the door at any cost. Even for a second, you have to get noticed. Swedes are careful and want to verify things over and over, candidates should help with that, obviously in a humble way, don’t be arrogant. Help the companies to hire you!”