AMA Management Featured in The Globe and Mail’s Expert’s Challenge Series
The following article was originally published in The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Feb. 05 2014, 5:00 AM EST.
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Long-life Laptop Battery the Tech Industry Doesn’t Want you to Have
Fed up with the dwindling battery life of his BlackBerry Bold 9000, Carleton University chemistry student Tim Sherstyuk took a straightforward problem to his electrical engineer dad, Nick: Could the two of them come up with the technology to make a standard lithium-ion battery last longer?
Lithium-ion batteries are the rechargeable life forces powering most portable consumer electronics. If you have a smartphone or laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve also dashed for a power outlet in a public space once your device reached its first birthday.
After a year of trial and error, the Ottawa-based father-son duo hit an engineering bull’s-eye. By pairing batteries with their own special printed circuit board, they were able to increase a battery’s capacity by 30 per cent. Their battery management system also boosted the number of recharging cycles available. Today’s standard lithium-ion batteries are good for about 300 cycles; the Sherstyuks boosted this to an amazing 2,500.
“The best analogy I can make is, inside the battery there’s something called the SEI layer, and it’s kind of like the plaque on your teeth,” explains the younger Mr. Sherstyuk, 20, who dropped out of school to focus on building the business. “As time goes on, this layer grows and it stops the battery from charging as much as before.
“Our technology is able to electronically maintain this layer and keep it very small, so we’re essentially brushing this battery’s teeth,” he adds.
In 2012, the father-son team patented the technology under the company Gbatteries Systems Inc., and they’re shopping it to major players in the consumer electronics and energy storage industries. They recently relocated to California’s Silicon Valley to test the waters there, although they will keep their headquarters in Ottawa for all development-based work.
Mr. Sherstyuk believes their market edge comes from the fact that they are “using already mass produced batteries and making them work better.”
But at the same time, he’s adamant about promoting the product’s consumer and environmental benefits. Increased calendar life means Joe Laptop won’t have to shell out for a new machine as often. This means fewer dead batteries leaking their toxic innards into landfill earth.
“I would like to do something good for the world, personally, and I think that right now I have the opportunity,” Mr. Sherstyuk says.
Unfortunately, these altruistic intentions are not finding a receptive audience along Technology Row. While he remains focused on promoting the increased calendar life, Mr. Sherstyuk says most of the major players he has met with so far are interested only in the increased capacity and, in fact, want to downplay the longer life. The reason, he says, is that these companies have expressed concern that the longer-lasting batteries will result in fewer units sold, as consumers will be able to hang on to their devices for much longer.
Though their technology would end up increasing calendar life regardless of the way it is marketed, Mr. Sherstyuk feels strongly about aligning with retail partners who share the same value system and are willing to promote its environmental benefits.
While a number of smaller companies have expressed interest in this, Mr. Sherstyuk has held back before jumping into any partnerships. He says he’s aware he has a potentially game-changing product and wants to make sure that, as a newly minted entrepreneur, he’s leveraging his company’s potential to the widest and most lucrative market possible.
THE CHALLENGE: Does Mr. Sherstyuk risk torpedoing the success of his company if he holds too firmly to his ethical beliefs?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN: Barry Sharp, Chief Executive Officer of Consulting Canada Ltd., Vancouver
Ethics are what you do when the going gets tough, and Tim and his father have some tough slogging in front of them.
We tend to say that human life is priceless; however, we don’t all drive expensive European cars, noted for their safety. We understand that locally grown, organic food is better for us and for the environment, yet most of us shop for less expensive alternatives. We tend to consider our alternatives, then vote with our wallets.
That’s how the Sherstyuks should evaluate their options. Is it worth $100,000 to stand by their principles, or is it worth $100-million? If they would turn down $100,000 from a small environmentally protective company and accept $100-million from an industrial giant, then their “price” is between the two amounts.
If they partner with a small company, expansion will be slow and millions more batteries will be discarded before their sales have a noticeable impact. The resources of a large company could quickly increase the number of improved batteries being used, and thereby reduce the waste.
The sooner their product makes it onto the world’s stage, the world will see fewer old batteries in the landfill, so I think their choice is fairly easy. And they can use some of their additional wealth to support environmental projects that they truly believe in.