We went for it:’ Advent CEO talks SPAC strategy, hiring plan

For Vasilis Gregoriou, the first time to become chief executive of a publicly traded company is rapidly approaching.

The Cambridge energy firm he cofounded, Advent Technologies Inc., earlier this month agreed to a merger with AMCI Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: AMCI), a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. As a wholly owned subsidiary of AMCI, Advent Technologies Holdings Inc. will be listed on the Nasdaq in a deal that’s expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year or early 2021.

Advent Technologies joins other Massachusetts tech companies, including 3D printing firm Desktop Metal Inc. and fantasy sports betting company DraftKings Inc. (Nasdaq: DKNG), in choosing a reverse merger as a quicker way toward the public markets.

Advent Technologies, which has 10 employees in the U.S. and approximately 20 in Patras, Greece, is developing fuel cell technology. Fuel cells can act as endless batteries, providing clean electricity as long as they’re refueled with hydrogen — an element that’s most abundant in the universe but scarce in Earth’s atmosphere. Advent Technologies is developing ways to convert other fuels, such as methanol and ammonia, into low-grade hydrogen.

During a call from Athens, Greece, Gregoriou spoke with the Business Journal’s Lucia Maffei. A Greek native who arrived in the U.S. for the first time in 1987, he discussed SPAC trends, the backstage of the deal and the company’s hiring plans.

You co-founded Advent in 2012 and have been CEO since that date. Was taking the company public part of a longtime plan?

Absolutely. A tech like ours really has a few routes to grow. We have explored all of them. If you take a look at what’s happening in energy, it was always my belief that we had such a world-class technology, when it will become fully commercial, that being public will be the best place for the company to actually grow to its full potential.

How has the pandemic affected your business over the past months?

The pandemic was something that nobody expected. It was a shock to everybody, including us. But I have to say, because we’re a global company, meaning that we sell globally, and different regions have different phases of the pandemic recovery, we’re doing, in my opinion, better than we expected.

After the closing of the SPAC deal, is the company remaining headquartered in Cambridge?

We have a lot of activities in Patras [Greece], because we started from there. But eventually we have migrated to Cambridge. The plans to build and grow are mostly into the Boston area … In the next quarter, we will double and a lot of [new hires] will be in Massachusetts — technical people, but also business development people, administrative staff. But mostly technical people in areas that we care about: chemists, engineers.

What is the timeline for the approval by shareholders?

I cannot say more than what has been publicly disclosed.

2020 will probably be remembered as the year of the pandemic and SPAC deals. Over a dozen of Massachusetts-based SPAC launched or are set to launch this year. Why did a SPAC deal make sense for Advent?

We always wanted to go public, eventually, through a good deal, because what we do is completely different … First of all, the capital. A good stock deal provides the capital for a few years for a high-growth company to grow and reach its potential. The second is visibility. It’s a completely different visibility being a public company, and being one of the few in our particular area of fuel cells; there are basically six companies … and we will be the seventh. For us, this opportunity was a very good opportunity, and we went for it.

How are you planning to spend the capital?

Product development, upscale of manufacturing, and U.S. facility expansion, which is going to happen in Massachusetts.

Can you share more about the new facilities in Massachusetts?

In addition to the headquarters, we produce (fuel cells) through associations with other manufactures, and two of them are in Massachusetts. We grow more and more to semiautomated and automated ways to make things … We’re looking at some areas and some particular buildings and we will make a decision soon. They are all in the greater Boston area.

Why is AMCI, which went public itself in 2018, the right partner for Advent?

We’ve looked at many opportunities to go to the next level and we feel that the AMCI people and, you know, the fact that they were coming from … a chemical background themselves — it was a good fit for us.

When did you start talking with AMCI?

In July.

Nick Stamp assumed the role of acting chief financial officer at Advent in August 2020. Are you hiring a new CFO anytime soon?

We’re in the process of finalizing our CFO, and this will be announced shortly.

Speaking of employees, some people equate mergers to cuts, but that’s not the case, right? No layoffs?

As I said, we will massively hire. And that’s the whole idea to do this, to get the necessary capital to go very fast to the next level. So not only we’re not gonna fire anybody, we will hire a lot of people, both in Massachusetts and in the other international locations.

What will you be doing the first day of Advent as a publicly traded company?

I think I’ll do the same things … Try to run it to the best of my abilities.

By Lucia Maffei  – Technology Reporter, Boston Business Journal