The University of Newcastle, Australia

Materials scientist and founder shares his story of driving renewable energy uptake

Friday, 7 August 2020

Professor Erich Kisi shares his innovation journey as co-founder of renewable energy storage company MGA Thermal at I2N's Startup Stories

Professor Erich Kisi has enjoyed a cutting-edge career in materials science developing technologies capable of large-scale energy storage, and is now leading his team as the CEO and Co-founder of University of Newcastle spin-out, MGA Thermal.

At I2N's Startup Stories virtual webinar on Wednesday 5 August, Professor Kisi shared his innovation journey developing a world-first technology which is fueling the shift to renewables by providing a scalable and economic grid-scale energy storage solution he describes as, 'the perfect technology for right now'.

MGA Thermal are a fast growing Newcastle startup delivering a world first renewable energy storage solution. They have proved their technology in partnership with Swiss-based E2S Power Ag, repurposing decommissioned coal power plants into fossil fuel free energy storage plants. The team recently closed a seed investment round of $500,000 with CP Ventures and was awarded a $495,000 Accelerating Commercialisation grant, paving the way for grid-scale storage and boosting the capability of a renewable energy future globally.

Catch up on Startup Stories with Professor Erich Kisi.

MGA Thermal

Top Takeaways

  • 'We’ve had quite a bit of input from I2N and other support organisations like these. They are incredibly valuable when you are trying to transition into a commercialisation frame of mind'.
  • 'It took us a long time to realise that the technology we have created is not obvious to everyone. Your story needs to be told and retold, and in a way that makes sense to the listener'. I2N Navigator can help you translate your ideas and articulate their value.
  • When asked about funding their venture Erich explains, 'It’s very difficult to navigate your commercialisation journey without funding. The Valley of Death is something you must navigate very carefully.'
  • Erich reflects that he was not an extensive networker in his previous career. 'In business you cannot be like that, you must build a network of people, jump onto LinkedIn, go to ecosystem events and from among that network something will pop up'. I2N events are a great place to network, subscribe to our newsletter to keep up-to-date on what’s happening.
  • When asked about contracts and administration of his company Erich states, 'The first time you look at a contract is tough. We are lucky and have a good legal team who specialise in IP based startups. By working with them I’ve become proficient at looking over contracts myself. Embrace it! It’s something new to learn and doesn’t have to be a chore and it will add value to your business'.
  • Erich describes scientists as being precise and needing to measure things to absolute precision. 'That’s not business, business is very ‘by-the-gut’ and you have to that understand and work that way'.
  • When sharing his thoughts on research outcomes Erich says, 'If you want to connect your technology with ‘real world outcomes’ not just papers and grants, you should engage industry.'
  • Erich expands on this by explaining, 'Once you start looking around, you’ll find you’re chasing the wrong market and the customers just aren't there for your technology. It may be a great invention, but the market is completely different from what you expect. You need to validate your idea or invention by testing your assumptions and talking to customers and users'. I2N Validator is a great opportunity for teams to validate their solution with real world customers!
  • When answering a question on the behaviour of potential customers Erich states, 'In order to get people to change you need your Technology Readiness Level (TRL) to be at an 8 or 9. Our TRL going into ON Prime was at a 4, and it’s now at about a 6'.
  • Erich warns that publicly listing on an exchange very early comes with many risks. 'You may get a lot of capital, but you may not be ready for that injection. You must be ready and able to deliver what you’ve said you will deliver otherwise the share price will go through the floor'.
  • When in negotiations, you have to try and understand exactly what you want in a ranked order of outcomes, and you also need to know what the other side needs out of this negotiation. 'Don’t assume that their goals are the same as yours'.
  • Erich shares a tip for Newcastle-based founders overcoming impostor syndrome, 'It is difficult but it’s important to look back and review your progress over the last 6 months and you start to realise that you can do this and it’s going to happen despite feeling like it’s a dream!'

The University of Newcastle's I2N works with individuals and organisations from across the Hunter region and beyond to turn ideas and challenges into opportunity. As a leading driver of economic and business growth, the I2N cultivates an entrepreneurial mindset that is behind many of the region's most innovative businesses and leaders.

Keep up to date with future I2N events, programs and opportunities by subscribing to I2N's monthly newsletter or visit www.newcastle.edu.au/i2n


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