SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR ON BATTERIES, BALANCE, AND HOW SHE BUILT A GLOBAL BUSINESS IN CONNECTICUTConnecticut Innovations
As the demand for electric vehicles, consumer electronics, and grid energy storage systems continues to grow, so does the demand for safer, cheaper, high-performing lithium-ion batteries, which power most of these devices. The problem? Lithium-ion batteries are expensive to produce, have a history of exploding—one merely has to Google “Samsung phones exploding on planes” for more on that front—and have less capacity to store energy than do fossil fuels. Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud, CEO and founder of Cadenza Innovation, is solving these challenges and more. Her company, in which CI is an investor, has patented a battery architecture that is safer than existing designs, creates greater energy output, and is cheaper to produce. CI caught up with Christina recently to learn more about her company and her experience running a global business right here in Connecticut.
Connecticut Innovations: Thank you for agreeing to talk with us, Christina. You have an impressive background. (Among myriad notable accomplishments, Dr. Lampe-Önnerud patented a material to increase the power of lithium batteries while still a doctoral student, and later became one of management consultancy Arthur D. Little’s youngest partners.) What drew you to the startup route?
Christina Lampe-Önnerud: I am no stranger to big companies, and have been part of the leadership team of multiple large organizations with operations in multiple countries. [Dr. Lampe-Önnerud was a director and senior scientist at Bell Communications Research and later served as a director and partner in the Technology & Innovation Practice of Arthur D. Little before founding Boston-Power in 2005.] Bridgewater Associates, an investment management firm in Westport, brought me on in 2013 as part of its senior management team, which is how I ended up in Connecticut. I started Cadenza because when you have ideas that go outside the norm, it’s really advantageous to be laser-focused on stress testing the idea, which you can do at a startup. By forming your own company, you have the ability to commit to that idea, finish that idea, and find out if it works.
CI: What is Cadenza’s team focused on today?
CLO: We’re providing battery storage, which is one of the building blocks of the future. We live in unprecedented times, and those of us who have experience [in energy and related industries] are hearing an innate call to action: “Let the data speak, lock hands, do good, and do well.”
Today, individual consumers can generate and store power, but there is room for improvement in battery technology. At the other end of the spectrum, utilities are getting better at managing peak shaving—batteries are a very cost-effective solution here—to improve efficiency, lower costs, and reduce their carbon footprint. More predicative behavior in batteries is a cornerstone of the future. We’re having a lot of discussions with federal agencies and others. [Everyone’s looking for] the cheapest, highest-performing, safest batteries. At Cadenza, we get credit for our tech innovation, but this is also about business innovation. There’s a mega trend of new energy coming on to global markets, a real-world win-win.
CI: You have experience building companies with impressive global reach. Can you share the strategies that enabled you to expand internationally?
CLO: I relied on my personal relationships. I’ve always been in an international environment solving global problems. Even early on, at MIT [doing post-doc work], I enjoyed a super international environment. I learned that people would bet on you if you have something real. I also learned that you can be nice and tough at the same time.
CI: You’re a successful entrepreneur and a sought-after speaker, yet you still make time for music. Do you have tips for balancing your personal life with the demands of running a company?
CLO: Well, I wanted to be an opera singer but my parents made the choice for me to pursue academics. I don’t have any tips, but I do have a great life. Along with running my company, I’m in Silk’n Sounds, an all-female a cappella group. The music really forces me to be present.
CI: Cadenza’s success is certainly impressive. Leading manufacturers in China and Australia license the company’s technology to power buses and cars; the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $4M to Cadenza through its ARPA-E program so it could further develop technology for the electric vehicle market, and the company already has 15 partners, among them ABB, Alcoa, and UConn. What’s next?
CLO: We were recently awarded funding for a demonstration project to further New York State’s nation-leading clean energy goals and support Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s energy storage target of 1,500 megawatts by 2025. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is funding the initiative, which will be located at the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) headquarters in White Plains.
CI: What do you like about Connecticut as a place to start and grow a business?
CLO: From the flowers to the weather to the ocean, Connecticut is just beautiful, plus, people are kind and helpful and it’s a great community. Aside from the stunning ecosystem, Connecticut Innovations is an amazing partner. Pauline Murphy [a senior managing director at CI] has been so supportive. We tell her we have an idea and she says, “Interesting,” and we go from there. Plus, she’s made invaluable connections for us. The Connecticut Angel tax credit program is great, too. [Through the program, angel investors who invest at least $25,000 in a Connecticut startup in approved sectors receive an income tax credit equaling 25 percent of their investment.] Connecticut is a great place to be.
CI: It’s been really inspiring to hear about Cadenza Innovation. Thanks for your time, Christina.
CLO: My pleasure.
Serial Entrepreneur on Batteries, Balance, and How She Built a Global Business in Connecticut