Xconomist of the Week: Sakti3’s Sastry on How to Succeed in Cleantech
Xconomy readers are no doubt familiar with Ann Marie Sastry. She’s the co-founder of Sakti3, a next-generation lithium-ion battery development company, and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan.
Sakti3’s battery has already attracted deep-pocketed investors such as Khosla, General Motors, and Beringea. In April, the company’s solid-state batteries made the MIT Technology Review’s annual list of 10 emerging technologies predicted to have the greatest impact. Sastry herself is also earning notice in the national press. Last month, she was named one of the top 12 women in the cleantech industry by Forbes magazine.
As you can imagine, Sastry is a very busy woman, but we were able to ask her a few questions about being a leader in her field and the future of electric vehicles.
Xconomy: Congratulations on being named one of Forbes’ “Top 12 Women in Cleantech.” Why do you think so many women are attracted to cleantech?
Sastry: All emerging technology areas, including cleantech, tend to attract a broader cross sections of technologists. Keep in mind that in new areas, people don’t have to rely on a family or demographic “tradition” to become interested in joining the field. People join because of the appeal of the purpose, and the technology. So you tend to find more demographically balanced populations of workers in newer, less traditional fields.
X: Tell me about your personal journey into the field. For instance, I have known since I was a child that all I ever wanted to do in this world was write. Did you feel that way about mechanical engineering? Along the way, did you have to battle stereotypes that women don’t have the same scientific aptitude as men?
S: I find it interesting that people in general feel it is socially acceptable to say things like, “I’m just a disaster with math,” and hand the check to someone else to compute a tip at a restaurant. But no one would dream of saying, “You know, I’m just rubbish at reading,” and hand a newspaper to someone else to read aloud to him or her. So I think that as we get the next generation interested in really making an impact on the world, we need to think about how to educate them about the tools required, which of course include math and science. I believe that young people will work to develop needed skills, if they believe they can make a better impact by being well rounded.
X: What characteristics does a person need to possess in order to start and run a successful company?
S: An ability to see the world as you think it should be, and a belief that your team can make it so. A healthy sense of optimism. An ability to see the good and the potential in others.
X: What advice would you give someone who is interested in starting their own cleantech company?
S: Pick a technology that you care about, and select excellent team mates that you enjoy working with.
X: How close is Sakti3 to starting the pilot battery-production phase?
S: We’re committed to sending out some prototypes fairly soon.
X: Are you satisfied with the pace at which consumers are buying electric vehicles?
S: Low gas prices in the U.S. relative to the rest of the world will mean that adoption of electric-drive vehicles will be slower here. Costs of batteries need to come down, also.