SiNode Systems: 2013 Rice Business Plan Competition champs

  @FortuneMagazine May 6, 2013: 8:23 AM ET
RIC20 rice business plan winner sinode systems

SiNode Systems, the winner of the 2013 Rice Business Plan Competition, has big ambitions -- it aims to build a better battery for the world's 1.3 billion smartphones -- and now it has big money to pursue that goal. The Northwestern University-based team racked up a record $911,400 overall in cash, business services, and funding. That sum included a $100,000 investment prize from Houston's Mercury Fund. The business plan is high risk, but if it works, there's "tremendous opportunity," says Mercury Fund managing director Ned Hill.

The technology was developed in a Northwestern lab and aims to remake the anode of lithium-ion batteries, which are standard issue in cellphones. (The group estimates that the anode market for consumer products is about $1 billion.) Typical anodes are composed of graphite, but this one uses new materials -- silicon nanoparticles and porous graphene -- to produce a battery that charges in minutes and could, SiNode says, make an iPhone last for days on a single charge.

Investor Hill acknowledges that battery-technology companies are usually a long shot and the idea of a silicon anode isn't new. But "from initial appearance the technology approach is novel," he says. Is it a good investment? "That part remains to be seen." So far, the team says, interest is high.

Besides drumming up attention from investors, the group also won top marks at Rice for presentation and preparation. Its chief technology officer, Cary Hayner, cut his shoulder-length hair just for the event. And CEO Samir Mayekar says group members kept their focus during the competition (and saved money) by staying with his parents in nearby Katy, Texas, instead of at a hotel. They practiced their pitch around the kitchen table at night where the founders were also able to personally recharge. "Nothing," Mayekar says, "beats home cooking."

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This story is from the May 20, 2013 issue of Fortune. To top of page

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