COnovate is a startup that makes a new, carbon-based material for lithium-ion batteries that boosts the energy storage capacity. Compared to graphite, COnovate’s COphite™ material offers faster charging, higher capacity and better safety. The company is targeting its revolutionary technology toward the lithium-ion batteries in power tools, electric bikes and drones.
About Dr. Carol Hirschmugl
A Midwest native, Dr. Hirschmugl received her PhD from Yale University in Physics. After working around the world, Carol decided to move to Milwaukee in 1997 where she later made the discovery of new, carbon-based material for lithium-ion batteries and co-founded COnovate.
CAN YOU TALK BRIEFLY ABOUT YOUR ROAD TO WISCONSIN? HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN OUR STATE?
After completing my PhD at Yale University, while working at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., I moved to Berlin, Germany, to work at the Fritz Haber Institute der Max Planck Gesselschaft as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow. Following my time in Germany, I returned to the United States as a President of the University of California Fellow to work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.
After taking my work from coast-to-coast and even internationally, I returned to the Midwest accepting a job as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). I was promoted to Full Professor during my time with the University. The UWM Physics department has a strong history in my disciplines, condensed matter physics and optics, which was a vital component of my decision to accept the position. During my tenure at Milwaukee, I worked with colleagues from across the state to design, build, and direct an internationally recognized, one-of-a-kind microscope at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Synchrotron Radiation Center. One of the many discoveries I made with this microscope began the path I am on today. This specific breakthrough was in collaboration with my esteemed colleagues in Physics at UWM and was patented through their Research Foundation.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT BEING A WISCONSIN RESIDENT?
After working both overseas and on the U.S. coasts I returned to the friendly Midwest where I was born. It felt like I was returning home! I have always relished Milwaukee’s access to Lake Michigan and tell everyone I meet there is a secret about where I live – Milwaukee is a hidden gem. It is a vibrant and livable city.
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE WHAT CONOVATE DOES AS A LEADER IN TODAY’S REVOLUTIONARY BATTERY TECHNOLOGY.
COnovate is developing a novel anode material for lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). The cost-effective eCOphite™ material will provide faster charging, longer life and higher capacity. We are focused on delivering these benefits from bio-sourced materials such as lignin or cellulosic sugar. As a carbon-based material, our solution will also offer seamless adoption as it works well with incumbent materials, LIB designs and current manufacturing infrastructure.
ARE THERE ANY TRENDS IN THE BATTERY INDUSTRY THAT YOU SEE CONOVATE CAPITALIZING ON GOING FORWARD?
There is always a thirst for higher performing and safer materials. But as we talk to the industry, we are hearing enormous anxiety around the current supply chain for battery materials. Those concerns are centered around issues in mining and processing these materials, such as graphite, that have complete dependencies on high-risk geographies like China. To meet the promise of a cleaner and abundant platform to fuel our energy needs, it will be beneficial for new EV factories to have domestically sourced, high-quality active anode materials for next generation LIBs. For our customers, using eCOphite anode materials also reduces the overall carbon footprint for this aspect of the lithium-ion battery manufacturing. COnovate believes we can provide the desired performance improvements and establish a simplified supply chain with our eCOphite material from locally supplied bio-materials.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE WITH WEDC?
WEDC has been a massive resource for the company, both in terms of providing early funding and needed tools and skills to make us successful. We have participated in multiple workshops to prepare Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) proposals and establish an understanding of industry needs to help formulate commercial strategy through the SBIR Advance Program. In addition, WEDC has been a huge early supporter of the company through a variety of programs, including the match program from the Brightstar Wisconsin Foundation, the Main Street Bounceback Program, and the UW Milwaukee Foundation. This support was instrumental to our early growth.
WHAT EXCITES YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE WISCONSIN BUSINESS CLIMATE GOING FORWARD?
There is good support for early-stage companies, but I would like to see more in-state funds that can lead your next stage, larger preferred rounds.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD?
I think the technology and drive is here in the state of Wisconsin to build a really successful startup community. We hope we are one of the success stories that show the importance of technology in building new local job bases. A couple of successes and we will have a lot of momentum and talent coming to Wisconsin to start and build companies. We want to be a part of building that ecosystem.