Small business export success charges battery development in Halifax
A quick conversation changed both the directional current of Chris Burns’ career and the landscape for battery technology.
The president and chief executive officer of Novonix co-founded the company in 2013 after his PhD research at Dalhousie University uncovered worldwide demand for better research tools for rechargeable lithium-ion battery development.
“I had worked on particle physics projects and after my undergrad I was casting around for something interesting to do next,” says Burns.
“I met with Jeff Dahn’s group at Dalhousie for 10 minutes and that was it. The research was interesting and there was a direct application into daily life.”
Dahn is the Tesla Canada Industrial Research Chair and has been at the forefront of battery technology for more than 35 years. The practical application of batteries in daily life very quickly became an everyday preoccupation for Burns when their research spun off into Novonix, which Burns co-founded with David Stevens, a research associate of Dahn.
Their research allowed companies to reliably test battery life in only a few weeks instead of waiting months or years. This immediately sparked international interest and demand.
“The biggest challenge along the way was in the core development and bringing our product to market,” says Burns.
“The first four orders were from all over the world, in Asia and in Europe. We needed to make sure our equipment would do what we said it would do, and we needed to deliver a customer-ready product. Successfully doing this is really what set us up to continue to grow and build the company,” he says.
Data shows that companies that export generate higher sales profits and grow faster than non-exporters.
Although the first year and a half of business was a nail-biter, Novonix now has a small core team of 17 and has further hiring plans.
“We have lots of opportunities to hire fresh grads for interesting work in this region,” says Burns.
Burns says consumer giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft have turned their attention to batteries and battery life, and the emergence of the electric vehicle industry has all major automakers looking for batteries that need to function for decades.
“Chemistry and cost have finally gotten to a point where technology can grow into a huge number of new markets,” says Burns.
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