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January 17, 2022
EV battery startup Our Next Energy scaling up quickly, to open new HQ in Novi
Electric vehicle battery startup Our Next Energy Inc. plans to quadruple the size of its footprint and double headcount as it prepares for production and another round of fundraising.
The Novi-based company is scaling up quickly after securing $25 million in Series A funding last fall from an investor group including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates that is betting on its vision of long-range car batteries.
The company is poised to launch a Series B round after its prototype battery took a Tesla Model S on a 752-mile trip on a single charge. The test drive, completed last month in Michigan, added to the buzz of a company that has caught the type of attention more common in Silicon Valley.
That's where founder and CEO Mujeeb Ijaz, 54, launched it a year-and-a-half ago after leaving his role of senior director, energy storage, at Apple Inc. As Ijaz sees it, the West Coast may be full of big ideas for mobility, but the real work bringing them to life happens in Michigan.
Our Next Energy
“... the honeymoon of a product is design, but the marriage is the manufacturing,” said founder and CEO Mujeeb Ijaz in Our Next Energy's lab in Novi.
"Actually, the honeymoon of a product is design, but the marriage is the manufacturing," said Ijaz, who first moved to Michigan in 1992 and worked on battery technology for a combined two decades at Ford Motor Co. and A123 Systems LLC. "What I need is manufacturing. I need supply chain. I need, basically, the work product of a manufacturing system that then creates batteries that are going to go into vehicles."
Last March, Ijaz moved the company's base to a 19,000-square-foot office in Novi, where a staff of 10 has grown to 71 and is expected to hit 150 by the end of the year.
Next month, the company plans to move into an 80,000-square-foot space at 45145 W. 12 Mile Road near Twelve Oaks Mall. It will serve as the company's new headquarters with office space and an expanded research and development lab to include cell test equipment, cell research facilities and pack factory equipment.
Our Next Energy
Our Next Energy has demonstrated its Gemini 001 in an electric vehicle that achieved 752 miles without recharging.
The company is negotiating final terms on a 10-year lease and declined to say how much money will be invested in build-out.
While years in the making, the electrification of the automotive industry is now moving at a rapid pace with automakers expected to spend more than $300 billion on the shift to EVs over the next five years, according to experts. When that shift takes hold ultimately depends on how quickly consumers latch on to EVs.
Range anxiety and fear of battery fires are among the main barriers to adoption. Ijaz said his company is closing in on a solution with two types of batteries: the Aries, for daily commutes, and the Gemini 001, for long-distance driving. Together, they would create the ideal power source for most any EV.
So far, the company seems to have cracked half the code. Its Aries battery, designed for delivery trucks and buses, is on track for production in November. It is composed of lithium iron phosphate, with no cobalt or nickel — an important differentiation from other EV batteries that rely on such chemicals that are prone to fire and in short supply. The battery's range of 350 miles per charge is better than most in the market, according to the company.
Ijaz said he has landed four customers for its commercial vehicle battery business. He declined to name them or disclose the value of the deals but said, "It is worthy of large factories to be able to produce the amount of business that we've done."
The company is contracting with an undisclosed tier 1 automotive supplier in Southeast Michigan to set up a factory line where its Aries battery will be brought out of the R&D lab and into mass production.
"We want to leverage other peoples' deeper skills in running a factory," Ijaz said. "We're a startup. We want to effectively launch with quality systems in place."
Its long-range Gemini battery is still in the R&D stages. The prototype battery doubled the range of a normal Tesla in its test drive last month, but it contained cobalt, which Ijaz has pledged to avoid in the name of sustainability.
Our Next Energy
Our Next Energy says its Aries battery system yields higher system-level energy density than leading competitors.
"We have three principals: double range of electric vehicles; doing it without nickel and cobalt to avoid risks on supply chain and safety; grow a North American raw materials supply chain," he said.
The next step in bringing its Gemini battery to market is linking up with an OEM in a joint venture, which Ijaz intends to do this year. He is aiming for a full supply deal within a year or two after that.
In the meantime, the company is looking for another capital uplift to help it launch production of its commercial vehicle battery, launching a Series B round unusually soon after closing its Series A.
"The commercial truck business is a fairly rapid path to market," Ijaz said. "The needs of the company to scale and expand facilities are now accelerating the normal timeline."
Ijaz declined to say what the fundraising goal is or who are the target investors. In addition to the well-known billionaires, other participants in the first round included BMW i Ventures, Volta Energy Technologies, Flex Ltd. and Assembly Ventures.
Ijaz said he is the majority owner of the company and that an unspecified amount of equity was sold in the Series A round. Developing sustainable energy solutions, he said, is more important than a lucrative exit.
"I did not start Our Next Energy with the idea to try to sell the company as quickly as possible," he said. "We came back to Michigan with a very deep purpose of growing the manufacturing, core technology development and the infrastructure and ecosystem of our company in Michigan because that actually is the nerve center, going back 100 years, of automotive."
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