Boston-Power Pulls In $60M More to Push Battery Technologies Into Electronics, Cars, and Utilities
One of New England’s most prominent cleantech companies is making strides today in a very active field. Westborough, MA-based Boston-Power, a maker of advanced lithium-ion batteries and energy storage technologies, says it has raised $60 million in Series E growth equity funding, co-led by existing investors Foundation Asset Management and Oak Investment Partners. Previous investors Venrock and Gabriel Venture Partners also participated in the new round, which brings Boston-Power’s total funding to $185 million since it was founded in 2005.
The company says the money will be used to expand into international markets, ramp up production of its battery technologies, and strengthen its sales, marketing, operations, and engineering team, especially in the Boston area. Boston-Power now has about 100 employees in Massachusetts and some 500 workers and consultants worldwide. So it caught my ear when I heard the company is now planning to double in size over the next two to three years.
“This is a pretty happy day for us,” said Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Boston-Power’s CEO and founder. “It’s been a very interesting journey.”
Indeed, the road to building a better battery is a long and winding one. But battery design—and energy storage in general—is becoming increasingly important in markets ranging from consumer electronics to transportation to power grid management. Boston-Power’s main innovation is in the chemistry and engineering of lithium-ion batteries that are safer, more reliable, longer-lasting, and more eco-friendly than the status quo. Other companies working in the lithium-ion battery sector include A123 Systems (NASDAQ: AONE) in the Boston area, ActaCell in Texas, Sakti3 in Michigan, Mobius Power in California, and Korea’s LG Chem and Techno Semichem (which both have U.S. operations in the Detroit area).
Boston-Power’s strategy has been to break into established markets with a new technology—and that takes time and money. First, the company established itself in consumer electronics, forming partnerships with companies like Hewlett-Packard to provide batteries for notebook computers. Next, it moved into transportation with electric and hybrid vehicles, inking deals with automakers like Saab (for which Boston-Power is the sole provider of battery systems).
Now the company is pushing into the electric utility market, addressing ways to store energy from renewable sources, for example. It’s too early to give more details on that, but Lampe-Onnerud says, “we do have customers.” She adds that there are “some visionary leaders inside the energy storage space that are connected to the grid utility market that are capable and eager to try new things.”
The company is on a 10-year growth plan that includes ambitious goals to tackle very different market sectors and geographies, including Asia. It could be a daunting task. But Lampe-Onnerud, a former postdoctoral researcher at MIT, seems to have a clear head for history and international relations as well as technology and business.
“If we go back to the oil crisis in the ’70s, I remember that. I am now a lucky recipient of all the money and resources put into renewables,” she says. On the topic of selling the company’s technology in Asia, she points out that every country is different culturally, but adds, “You can come in with a level of humility and curiosity that enables you to do deals.”
As part of today’s funding announcement, Oak Investment Partners’ Bandel Carano has become chairman of Boston-Power’s board, succeeding Tony Evnin from Venrock, who remains on the board. And joining the board is Oak Investment Partners’ Allan Kwan, who is based in Beijing. Kwan has a lot of expertise in both U.S. and China business operations, including executive experience at Motorola (in its paging products division in greater China) and at Yahoo International (after its $1.7 billion investment in Alibaba.com). That might bode well for Boston-Power’s chances in Asia, and beyond.