Co-founder & CEO, NanoGraf Technologies
If Samir Mayekar ’13 has anything to say about it, the lithium-ion battery powering your smartphone is about to go extinct. His company, NanoGraf (formerly SiNode Systems), has developed a revolutionary battery material — a composite of silicon and graphene — that can enable a battery to last for days and charge in minutes. Mayekar is also now the Deputy Mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development for the City of Chicago.
Yet, as Mayekar explains, the application of this technology goes far beyond mobile devices. “The reason we started this company is to power electric vehicles,” he explains.
Mayekar is now seeing that vision come to life. In June 2016, NanoGraf Technologies was awarded a $4 million contract by the United States Advanced Battery Consortium — a collaborative organization of Fiat Chrysler, the Ford Motor Company and General Motors — to develop advanced batteries for electric vehicles. The award is share-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
“This award is a game changer for a growing company like NanoGraf,” says Mayekar. “By working directly with the U.S. big-three automakers, we can speed our time-to-market and receive direct customer feedback.”
NanoGraf has been on a fast and furious trajectory ever since it was incubated in an NUvention course in 2012. After finishing the class, NanoGraf’s founding team — a blend of students from Kellogg and the McCormick School of Engineering — went on a whirlwind tour of business plan competitions, where they swept nearly $1 million in awards. The momentum continued after graduation, as the startup opened a new lab facility, closed a round of private financing, partnered with a multibillion-dollar chemical company and received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
In addition to managing its new auto partnership, NanoGraf is now working with an undisclosed pilot customer in the consumer electronics market. It plans to launch its first product in 2017.
Mayekar credits much of NanoGraf’s early success to what he calls its “secret sauce: We have world-class technical minds and also have world-class business leaders,” he explains. “You need both to build something sustainable and with competitive differentiation.”
He’s also quick to point out that, without support from Kellogg and the broader Northwestern community, “the company wouldn’t exist today.” Through the alumni network, NanoGraf found some of its earliest investors, advisors, partners and board members. “When I email alumni, I get a 95 percent response rate,” Mayekar says. “That is unbelievable.”
He also points to the support network on campus, which provided everything from press coverage to travel reimbursement for competitions to one-on-one mentorship. “Linda Darragh and Mike Marasco were some of the people that I called on my brightest and darkest days for counsel on major decisions,” he notes.
Even as an alumnus, Mayekar says he feels bolstered by the community and often gets emails from classmates looking to connect NanoGraf with new opportunities.
“It truly takes a village to build a startup in this sector,” he says. “And it’s really awesome to have a village as big as Kellogg to help you be successful.”