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Sabine Elsässer
Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

IONETIC design and build electric vehicle battery pack technology

Please introduce yourself and your start-up IONETIC to our readers!

I’m James, the CEO & Founder at IONETIC, a UK based start-up that helps niche vehicle-makers and automotive OEMs overcome the challenges of transitioning to electrification. We do that by using our state-of-the-art platform and in-house production strategy to manufacture optimised, cost-effective battery pack solutions, overseeing the whole process, from initial concept to final production.

Before starting IONETIC I studied Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London, where I went on to become a researcher at the Electrochemical Science and Engineering Group there. I grew up in Yorkshire and love playing piano and guitar, as well as being a massive Manchester United fan – hope that doesn’t put anyone off from reading on!

After speaking to several smaller vehicle companies in the UK, I noticed that many were in critical need of support in all stages of the battery pack value chain – from having the initial vision to producing a vehicle ready, fully optimised battery. 

How did you get the idea of IONETIC?

The existing solutions available to them were either substandard, too expensive, or took too long to develop. It became clear that a business like IONETIC was needed, especially for the smaller and niche manufacturers who often need something bespoke and not necessarily mass produced.

Why did you decide to start IONETIC?

While working as a researcher at Imperial College I often found myself being the expert in the room on battery packs, even though I was meeting with seasoned OEM experts with 20 years’ experience in combustion engines.

I also felt like I could genuinely make a difference. Many niche vehicle makers are the unsung heroes that keep society functioning. Trucks, construction vehicles, and service vehicles for example, all need to electrify if we are to hit net zero. 

I’m personally a huge fan of many of the British iconic car brands too but the gigafactories are mainly catering for the mass produced popular everyday vehicles. It seemed there was a risk that some of these marques wouldn’t survive electrification unless someone offered a solution like IONETIC. 

Lastly, and importantly for getting investment, there’s a huge financial opportunity in the electric vehicle battery space – the sector is set to grow 15-30% CAGR for the next 10 years – and so the entrepreneur in me was hugely attracted to that. 

What is the vision behind IONETIC?

We’re here to develop world leading battery technology, reduce carbon emissions, and make sure we are the go-to company for battery pack design and manufacture across Europe. We’re currently focused on the niche sector but plan to expand into more every day, popular, consumer vehicles as the business scales. 

How difficult was the start and which challenges have you had to overcome?

Staying strategic whilst being laser-focused was something I initially found difficult and so had to work on. Coming from a highly technical and engineering background, it probably wasn’t in my nature to be out of the lab and in PowerPoint, but overseeing strategy is now my most important job. It’s easy to get distracted by something interesting going on in the lab, but you’ve got to prioritise and make sure you’re achieving the goals for the day and for the week. 

For the company, the biggest challenge so far has been how often we run into chicken and egg problems. For example, it’s harder to get customers without a manufacturing facility, and you can’t get the funding for a manufacturing facility without customers. We’re planning to open our first manufacturing facility in the UK next year.

Who is your target audience?

Our main customers are currently niche vehicle makers in the UK and Europe – companies that make less than 10,000 vehicles per year. These types of companies tend to be makers of either low volume passenger cars or construction and service vehicles. Most don’t meet the minimum order quantities for many of the global battery pack suppliers and need a cheaper bespoke option.

That’s where we come in. Designed with flexibility and customisation at its heart, our platform enables each battery pack concept to be adjusted cell by cell – creating a solution that efficiently utilises the available space, increases energy density and meets customers’ specific packaging requirements. 

Can you describe your typical workday?

I’m not a morning person and so I’m in the office normally around 10am. On Mondays, we have our weekly kick off where we make sure everyone’s clear on their goals, and people can identify any problems they have or dependencies. Then it’s normally meetings, emails, and creating presentations and documents.

I spend time doing engineering too, whether setting out product specification documents, or setting up tests in the lab – although this is now becoming less frequent.

I’m not sure who said it first, but it’s true that in a start-up you work until 6pm – and then the work actually starts! While we’re scaling up, anything we don’t have covered also falls to me, like reconciling our accounts, or HR.

Where do you see yourself and your start-up IONETIC in five years?

In five years, we plan to have manufactured over 10GWh of battery packs to go in vehicles all over the world. Our internal calculations estimate that means we’ll have prevented at least 100,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and probably saved a few hundred lives through reduced urban pollution.

I hope we’ll have developed some amazing technology to help reduce the cost of electrification, and get more vehicles electrified, as well as improving user experience through better energy density and higher performance.

Personally, I still see myself leading IONETIC. The company will be vastly different by then but I’m looking forward to everything I’m going to learn along the way.

What 3 tips would you give to founders?

Be confident. Hopefully you’re an expert in what your start-up is working on, but you need to persuade everyone else you are too. Credibility is hugely important and if you’re on the younger side (like me) and haven’t made a name for yourself already, you have to make sure people know that you’re an expert in your field.

Use your network and ask questions. Your network is one of your most valuable assets. Try to ask lots of questions and get feedback otherwise you’re less likely to learn and more likely to make mistakes. Form a non-exec advisory team who have lots of experience doing something similar to you and ask them anything, pick their brains. This advisory team will probably come from your network.

You need to be a people person and a strategic business thinker. If you’re not one, then try to learn how to be one. It will get you way further if people like you off the bat and you can get them to laugh with you. If that’s just not you (which is fine – just be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses), hire a team leader who has people skills and loves your business idea. There are some great examples of this like Gwynne Shotwell at SpaceX, or Eric Schmidt at Google, neither are founders, but both have done great jobs are various points for the companies they are at.

More information you will find here

Thank you James Eaton for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

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