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The story of how Bill Gates discovered (& backed) a battery startup

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Investors and entrepreneurs don’t always connect via the standard VC pitch. According to Phil Giudice, the CEO of a battery startup called Liquid Metal Battery, his company found their most high profile investor, Bill Gates, through a more unusual way: the classroom.

Giudice told me during an interview at the Department of Energy’s research and development program ARPA-E last month that Gates started taking a class from Liquid Metal Battery founder and MIT Professor Don Sadoway via MIT’s online open-course program. Gates took Sadoway’s 34-lecture series on batteries and contacted Sadoway by email to meet with him and learn more, said Giudice.

“At first Don thought it was a joke,” said Giudice, “but then realized it was actually Gates and that Gates was serious,” said Giudice. Soon after, Gates invested in Sadoway’s new battery venture Liquid Metal Battery, and has also invested in at least four other battery startups.

Liquid Metal Battery is developing a battery for the power grid using molten salt sandwiched between two layers of liquid metal. The battery is still at least two years from commercialization, and the team has built a 16-inch prototype, though they might later scale that up to 36 inches. The startup is still figuring out if they want the battery to be squarish or circular, says Giudice.

The bulk of the development work will be focused on getting the cost of the battery down. Sadoway, who spoke at TED last month, told us last year that what drew him to use liquid metals for a grid battery was a belief that a battery based on liquid metal electrodes would be stable and scalable at an acceptably low cost for grid storage and renewable energy storage applications.

In addition to Gates, the liquid metal battery project received an ARPA-E grant of $6.9 million, as well as a $4 million investment from oil company Total.

9 Responses to “The story of how Bill Gates discovered (& backed) a battery startup”

  1. It is indeed a nice story, especially since cutting emissions is probably the number 1 issue facing mankind. Cool to see how they met. I hope to have a similar encounter at some point re meeting Bill Gates . Probably wishful thinking unless he reads and even then only if he decides to investigate further. We are making a list of green energy projects to invest in as we ramp up, so I think it is essential for other entrepreneurs to do the same thing.

  2. school…. fuck it!… I was forced into a 10-key and PowerPoint class just a couple years ago over by northgate… I had to start taking the amphetamines again cause with the antipsychotics I could not concentrate… I was just trying to get out of the mental health system….

    I started using a DecAlpha over 2400baud when I was 14… had external scsi gig.. it was like 4 inches THICK!

    I could lead some Mexicans to do some solar water heating.. if I had rolls… I can also grow stuff with modelica and arduino.. yah.. I need some wheels

    but if you want serious… igotta be eating from my own garden….. with my doctor in my kitchen