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Detroit, MI, United States

News Article | October 22, 2015
Site: www.xconomy.com

Last year, Dyson—the global manufacturer of vacuum cleaners, fans, hand dryers, and other products—announced it had invested $15 million in Ann Arbor, MI-based advanced battery company Sakti3. Wednesday, the University of Michigan announced the spinout startup has been acquired by Dyson for $90 million. Makers of consumer goods are hungry for more powerful battery technology that would enable less frequent recharging. Dyson’s head of R&D, Mark Taylor, said in an article last year that the company was a few years from incorporating solid-state lithium batteries like the kind Sakti3 has pioneered; it would seem with this acquisition that Dyson is going full steam ahead with power-source innovations. In a press release, Ann Marie Sastry, co-founder and CEO of Sakti3, said, “Dyson, just like Sakti3, is driven by a desire for audacious leaps in technology.” Sastry will reportedly lead development of her technology as an executive for Dyson. Dyson’s founder, James Dyson, told USAToday that his company will need to invest $1 billion in a manufacturing facility in order to produce new solid-state lithium batteries, and he didn’t rule Michigan out as a possible location. Neither Sastry nor Dyson would say whether the batteries will be further developed for electric vehicle applications, though Dyson said it was possible his company would eventually license Sakti3’s battery technology to other interested parties. According to PitchBook, the Sakti3 acquisition represents one of the biggest national cleantech deals of the year, and it’s expected to be one of the top Michigan deals for 2015, as well. Ryan Waddington, managing partner of Huron River Ventures, an Ann Arbor-based VC firm with a focus on cleantech, said he can’t think of a bigger cleantech exit in the state in the past five years. Sakti3’s past investors include General Motors and Khosla Ventures. “It’s certainly a big win for Ann Marie, GM, Beringea, and for the University of Michigan,” he added. “I’m very happy for all of them and as a Michigan cleantech investor, it’s great to see.” Jean Redfield, who runs the Detroit cleantech incubator NextEnergy, said the Sakti3 acquisition is a “big, next step” in scaling to commercialization, which is important for Michigan. We talk a lot about Michigan’s innovation strengths, she said, particularly in biotech, transportation, and advanced manufacturing, but getting a product like a battery to market is a fairly difficult process. “While biotech start-ups follow a pretty well-established route to commercialization, manufactured products—with the heavy capital needs necessary for scaling—are much more challenging,” she said. “Typically, firms can’t get the capital they need to build plants without customer orders, and customer orders don’t come until they can produce a qualified product at scale. This acquisition, at this stage, is a great example of bringing mid-term investment plus a large customer active in diverse end-use markets to a start-up.” Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

News Article | April 9, 2015
Site: www.xconomy.com

When the Steve Blank-designed I-Corps program was started by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2012, its purpose was to teach university researchers to think like entrepreneurs and help them bring their inventions to market. The University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship heads the state’s I-Corps program, and now it has renewed a partnership with Detroit nonprofit NextEnergy for the second year on an I-Corps training program with a customized curriculum focused on transportation and energy. I-Corps Energy and Transportation concentrates on university, national lab, and federally funded R&D, said Jean Redfield, president and CEO of NextEnergy, a nonprofit business development organization and energy-sector technology accelerator. (The application deadline has been extended to April 12, and Redfield said that’s a “hard close,” meaning it won’t be extended again.) The customized I-Corps curriculum is needed, she said, because energy and transportation have long, capital-intensive development cycles. “It’s not the same as software development,” she pointed out. Redfield said this year’s group of participants will gather at NextEnergy in Detroit on April 29 for a kickoff event, and they’ll spend May 11-13 and June 22-23 together testing their ideas. In between, participants will receive mentorship and watch webinars before embarking on the intense customer discovery work that is the cornerstone of Blank’s lean startup philosophy. “It’s like squishing a semester course down into seven or eight weeks,” she said. At the end of the I-Corps training, participants will pitch their ideas in front of an invited audience of industry experts and investors. Though there is no formal matchmaking done between the startups and industry, Redfield said it happens informally throughout the program. “The goal is to make the call of go or no go,” she said, adding that, ideally, weak ideas will fail quickly. “They figure out how to proceed, or they pivot if the value proposition is not accurate. It’s as much about stopping something that doesn’t work as it is about building smart startups.” According to Redfield, teams that have gone through the I-Corps program have a much better record of attracting funding. “It really does hone their focus and create a language to work with customers effectively,” she added. After it went through the program last year, Na4B, a Rochester, MI-based startup developing electrolyte material for sodium-based batteries, scored a $1 million Phase II SBIR grant from the NSF. Redfield said I-Corps helped the company figure out where its technology fit in the battery supply chain, which was integral to its successful grant application. Redfield said last year’s I-Corps Energy and Transportation program was done as an experiment, but she considers it a success. With 17 teams participating in 2014, she hopes this year’s group will be even bigger and better, allowing startups to pick the brains of potential customers and industry leaders while getting insight from investors and government officials along the way. “The I-Corps program is one piece of a well-developed ecosystem to support research and feed the commercial pipeline,” Redfield said. “It helps [scientists] break out of research for research’s sake.” The Energy and Transportation training program’s partners also include the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, Clean Energy Trust, and Midwest Energy Technology Accelerator. Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

News Article | April 24, 2015
Site: www.xconomy.com

As part of the SAE World Congress held in Detroit this week, the seventh annual Global Automotive Innovation Challenge was held in partnership with the MIT Alliance of Michigan and NextEnergy. The goal of the challenge was to bring new innovations to the industry, which has a notoriously long and often secretive product development cycle. Winners were selected in four categories, and more than $200,000 in cash and business acceleration services were at stake. To be eligible, participants needed to have innovations based on automotive content (hardware or software that is part of the vehicle), something that helps design the vehicle, or something that helps produce the vehicle. Target innovations were limited to driver-driven, land-based vehicles, as well as vehicle/infrastructure communications. Applicants could be pre-revenue or have cumulative sales up to $250,000. More than 38 companies from all over the world applied to compete, and 12 finalists participated in the pitch contest held Tuesday at the SAE World Congress. Each winner will receive $50,000 in cash and prizes. Without further ado, here’s a bit about the winners: —SiNode Systems (vehicle electrification, V2X [vehicle-to-infrastructure], and advanced mobility category): The Chicago-based startup develops anode materials to improve lithium-ion batteries with more stability, faster charging, and three times the capacity of competitors, it says. —Detroit Materials (advanced materials, sensors, and manufacturing processes category): Located in Wixom, MI, Detroit Materials produces high-strength, low-alloy steel and cast iron developed at Wayne State University for use in automotive, defense, and mining applications. —RightThereWare (infotainment, auto consumer, and value chain/business model category): Based in Milan, MI, RightThereWare has developed navigation software that ties together dispatching, ride-sharing/load-sharing, routing, and estimated arrival times. —Advanced Battery Concepts (new high value and disruptive technology innovations category): The Clare, MI-based startup invented Green Seal, a product that improves large-format, energy storage technology and the performance of sealed lead-acid batteries. Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

News Article | September 25, 2012
Site: www.xconomy.com

It’s no secret that auto manufacturers, battery manufacturers, government officials, and champions of renewable energy everywhere are disappointed by the slow rate of consumer adoption when it comes to electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. But imagine how that might change if consumers could earn money from their electric cars. That concept, known as vehicle-to-grid technology or V2G, involves signing car owners up for a subscription program that pays them cash to sell energy from their vehicle’s battery to utility companies. One application of this technology was originally developed in Michigan for the Defense Department to power military bases in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And now, a group of notable companies is trying to take the technology even further, in one of the only demonstration projects of its kind in the U.S. In a formerly desolate part of Detroit near Wayne State University, Chrysler, A123 Systems, REV Technologies, and NextEnergy are working to develop the charging infrastructure that would let cars return power to the grid. If it works, participants say the project could provide the tipping point to mass consumer adoption of electric vehicles. “If money can change hands to support the sale of electric vehicles and all the industries associated with them, that could definitely influence consumer acceptance and understanding of what the full potential for electric vehicles really is,” says Gary Gauthier, NextEnergy’s director of business development. NextEnergy sits across the street from TechTown, Wayne State’s business incubator, a few blocks from campus. Created 10 years ago by Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), NextEnergy’s mission is to “accelerate energy security, economic competitiveness, and environmental responsibility through the growth of advanced-energy technologies, businesses, and industries.” NextEnergy conducts demonstration projects with industry and government partners, touts Michigan’s alternative energy strengths to global markets, invests in seed-stage companies, and works with political leaders to advance alternative energy as an engine for economic growth. Gauthier’s career at NextEnergy began in 2010, after six years of working with Tier 1 auto suppliers on electric powertrain development. The industry was just beginning to ask whether electric vehicles could provide electricity back to power suppliers, instead of just consuming electricity. “At the time, OEMs were engaged in getting the vehicles launched,” Gauthier says. “They didn’t want to talk about that—it was too far into the future. Same with the … Next Page » Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

News Article | August 6, 2015
Site: www.xconomy.com

Xconomist Ann Marie Sastry, founder of the Ann Arbor, MI-based advanced battery startup Sakti3, has collected many accolades during her career. But this week might have been the first time she got an in-person “atta girl” from the leader of the free world. Sastry was in Washington, DC, Tuesday for the first-ever White House Demo Day. The event, hosted by President Barack Obama, was meant to showcase the nation’s most promising technologies as well as the diversity of America’s tech founders. Unlike most at demo day events, where companies pitch their innovations to a room full of investors and network with their contemporaries, the White House participants were telling their companies’ creation stories and highlighting their technological achievements to a very elite audience. “Being invited to talk to the president and the White House staff is a very deep honor for all of us at Sakti3,” she said. “How often does the president tell you to keep up the good work?” (Check out the video below for more from their conversation.) The demo day event seemed to confirm the Obama administration’s desire to highlight smaller tech companies creating good-paying jobs, and those companies doing so inclusively. After all, study after study proves that diversity is vital to spurring innovation. As the female founder of a tech company, Sastry is somewhat of an anomaly in her field—only about 3 percent of tech ventures are led by women—and she said inclusivity is a bedrock of Sakti3’s corporate culture. “We’re a very diverse organization, and as such, we offer one model of how to be inclusive,” Sastry explained. “By collecting stories and examples of inclusivity, the government can be more effective in directing programmatic funding. It’s a deep honor to be thought of as a role model, and we’ll provide whatever insights we can.” Sakti3 takes a two-prong approach to cultivating an inclusive team. Its management asks the recruiters the company works with to help make sure there’s a diverse pool of applicants. The company also makes it clear in its employee handbook and other official materials that it values diversity. Sastry and her hiring managers “search every corner of the planet” to find qualified candidates—they go to universities and make the case to students about to graduate and they’re active in trade organizations. Sakti3 has learned over the years, Sastry said, that a company can’t simply wait for a diverse workplace to happen; it takes effort and a proactive approach. “We still face issues of deficits in the pool of available colleagues,” Sastry said. “It’s both a hiring issue and pipeline issue. You have to consciously want to have a diverse workplace. It’s important to be transparent about unconscious bias and be clear with recruiting partners.” Sakti3 is also an example of a company that have grown out of state and federally funded university research, and it highlights the kind of success that can be achieved when the public contributes money to science and technology development. Sastry was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan when she started her company. Sastry and the crew from Sakti3 weren’t the only White House demo day participants from Michigan. NextEnergy, the Detroit-based non-profit helping to … Next Page » Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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