Why US battery startups fail—and how to fix it

September 6, 2017 by Vicky Anning, Cambridge University Press
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Better batteries are critical to the world's clean energy future. More economical and efficient batteries would help to solve many of our planet's energy challenges, paving the way towards long-range electric vehicles to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels as well as advancing renewable energy production by resolving intermittency problems. However, the scientific research needed to bring the necessary advances in materials to market in the US remains a formidable challenge. Hurdles include high upfront capital costs and long timelines to success - leading many startup companies to fail, even with generous funding from venture capital and esteemed investors such as Bill Gates.

A new study published in MRS Energy & Sustainability investigates why so many of these American startups are failing under the current funding model. Leading scientists from Northwestern University and Chicago startup SiNode Systems team up to provide recommendations to the different stakeholders in the battery industry drawing on an unusual source of inspiration - the pharmaceutical industry.

Eve Hanson, a materials scientist with venture capital experience, Vinayak Dravid, a battery research professor, and Samir Mayekar, a battery startup CEO, find that pharmaceutical products face many similar hurdles, yet there is an established track record of pharmaceutical startup successes.

The authors compare and contrast the battery and pharmaceutical markets, and use the pharmaceutical market as inspiration for new stakeholder recommendations in the battery market.

In particular, the authors provide detailed recommendations for battery materials startup entrepreneurs, as well as for investors, manufacturers and policy-makers. The report recommends that battery entrepreneurs should incorporate pharma-like strategies such as: developing several strategic partnerships with large battery manufacturers to more effectively guide R&D strategy; targeting fundraising to specific acquisition scenarios; and initially pursuing niche, high-margin applications as their first "beachhead" market.

The authors provide a case study of these recommendations in practice based on Mayekar's experience leading battery SiNode Systems.

"With numerous clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and intermittent renewables, dependent on gains in battery performance, improving new battery commercialization is critical to a carbon-neutral future," the authors conclude. "Taking a fresh perspective, this paper provides a novel set of strategies to battery stakeholders to improve the chances of direly needed battery commercialization... We hope that these ideas spur the battery community to more successfully commercialize and deploy transformative technologies."

Explore further: A new low-cost battery offers a hefty voltage and sustained energy capacity

More information: Eve D. Hanson et al, Applying insights from the pharma innovation model to battery commercialization—pros, cons, and pitfalls, MRS Energy & Sustainability (2017). DOI: 10.1557/mre.2017.12

Related Stories

Video: How to get the most from your smartphone battery

September 13, 2016

The new iPhone is slimmer and faster than ever. But like most new generations of smartphones, its battery has pretty much stayed the same over the years. Short of carrying an external battery all the time, is there any way ...

Clean energy stored in electric vehicles to power buildings

June 14, 2017

Stored energy from electric vehicles (EVs) can be used to power large buildings – creating new possibilities for the future of smart, renewable energy - thanks to ground-breaking battery research from WMG at the University ...

Recommended for you

Apple closing iPhone security gap used by law enforcement

June 14, 2018

Apple is closing a security gap that allowed outsiders to pry personal information from locked iPhones without a password, a change that will thwart law enforcement agencies that have been exploiting the vulnerability to ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

pdavisgenoa
not rated yet Sep 06, 2017
Really? This subject and no mention of Tesla or the Gigafactory? Did that not fit the narrative?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.