Monday, August 22, 2016

MN Cup finalist Minnealloy Magnetics aims to shake things up in the energy market

Last week, Minnealloy Magnetics advanced to the final round of the Minnesota Cup and now faces just two other teams to win the student division. The startup team, led by U of M Materials Engineering PhD candidate Md A Mehedi, has developed a novel material that will reduce the size and weight while increasing the efficiency of transformers and inductors used in power converters. The technology comes out of the electrical engineering lab of Jianping Wang, who has co-founded various other startup spin-outs from technology developed at the U of M. Last fall, Mehedi participated in an I-Corps program at the University of Michigan last spring in which he focused on honing the value proposition and customer discovery for his technology.  Mehedi entered the MN Cup as a first step in taking this revolutionary technology to market.

We sat down with Mehedi to discuss his experience commercializing his materials science research to drastically increase electrical efficiency. Here's what he had to say:

How did you decide that you wanted to commercialize your technology through a start-up as opposed to simply presenting a research paper or licensing the technology to another company?

Professor Wang, the head of the lab where this technology was developed, has a history of commercializing his discoveries. This past spring, I decided to attend the energy and transportation-focused I-Corps program at NextEnergy in Detroit, Michigan with the full support of Professor Wang. The things I learned through the I-Corps program helped me confirm our inclination that a startup is the right business model for Minnealloy Magnetics.

What are some of the key takeaways from your participation in the I-Corps program?

I came into the program thinking that our technology would be best utilized in smaller electrical devices such as laptop and cellphone chargers. However, through the customer discovery process, I quickly found that this industry is largely concentrated in Asia and is very competitive on price. The manufacturers are able to produce the chargers and ship them around the world at a much lower price point than we would be able to compete with. We spoke with American manufacturers and distributors of these products to understand how our technology may be employed in a different context. Based on this, we pivoted our business model to focus on implementing our materials into larger electrical apparatuses that would be far too expensive to outsource and ship from overseas. For example, we are talking with electrical vehicle manufacturers about employing our technology into a smaller, lightweight and more efficient battery charging system to be used in their cars.

Overall, I went into the program thinking like an engineer and came out thinking like a business person. I quickly realized that I had to redirect the focus of my pitch from the technology itself to the industry in which it will exist.

What's the next step for Minnealloy Magnetics?

We hope to take full advantage of the resources from the MN Cup and use any funding we may receive to develop our first fully functional prototype. After this is developed, we will use the prototype in our application for grants for about a year as we continue to refine our business model and translate our research into easily digestible business terminology. Once we have some promising client leads, we will begin to ask for additional external funding to scale up our business.