A revolutionary new lightweight motor in development by C-Motive Technologies, a startup based in Madison, WI, could change the way machines have run for over a century. The “C-Machine” is an electric motor that does not use steel, copper or rare earth metals, making it extremely light and capable of providing significant savings in fuel and material costs…features that would make it a game-changer in the manufacturing of electric vehicles and airplanes, among other industries.
So, what has powered the research and development behind the C-Machine?
Founded in 2012 by Dr. Justin Reed and Dr. Dan Ludois, the concepts behind C-Motive Technologies were formed when they were in the Power Engineering graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While there, several promising “outside the box” ideas led them to pursue patents through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) in 2011. At the same time, C-Motive reached out to the Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) at the University of Wisconsin-Extension Division for Business and Entrepreneurship for assistance in preparing applications for the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which offers highly competitive grant funding to support early stage technological innovation by startups.
WARF invested in the company and led a round of seed funding in 2013 and, after several attempts, C-Motive also received a Phase I SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). In combination, these two successes provided the resources necessary for C-Motive to fully launch into developing their technologies, growing from prototype to the Beta test phase. Reed and Ludois also give credit to the Wisconsin School of Business Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) program for helping them to make influential connections and meet investors. Following their Phase I SBIR award, they applied for and received funding from the CTC’s SBIR Advance program to help them advance their technology and further develop a business model that would be competitive in applications for additional federal funding. Then, in September 2015 they received $721,000 in Phase II SBIR funding from NSF.
“With our Phase I award we achieved a large amount of research that we are still learning from,” noted Reed, now the CEO of C-Motive. “Then getting Phase II was a huge success – enormous! Fundraising for hardware development is very labor intensive, and all grants have been enormously helpful.”
Reed is quick to point out that C-Motive’s original SBIR grant applications to the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy were not successful, and that it took a lot of hard work to win the NSF grants. “It was a gradual learning experience, and we ended up using several CTC resources and the Micro-Grant program. They [CTC staff and approved service providers] guided writing, did a lot of revisions to our writing, packaged it up. They had provided a work break-down structure and checklist – way helpful.”
“The SBIR Advance funding for Phase I and the first year of Phase II was also really helpful, it provides more flexibility,” explained Reed. “You never know, especially with hardware development, there are always surprises along the way that come with an additional cost. More market research in advance means fewer surprises, and you end up having more money to spend on both the technical and non-technical sides.”
Market research conducted by C-Motive under the CTC’s Lean StartUp class, which is required for SBIR Advance awardees, led C-Motive make a major pivot in the direction of their product development and target market. Their original Phase I grant was focused on technology specifically to develop large wind turbines. “We found a lot of challenges with going after that market. It was just too large to pursue as a small company, and there were a lot of business-related risks with potential customers,” said Reed. “Our focus is now on industrial automation and advanced manufacturing.”
When asked about the company’s goals for the future, Reed emphasized that C-Motive is currently interested in talking to manufacturers about how the C-Machine can work inside their products or be put to use in their manufacturing lines. “We are continuing technical research and development and applying for additional grants because we want to accelerate our development. Electric motor development has been all incremental advances over the past 100 years – up to now. This is the first time this type of motor has been available. We want to hire more people and focus on getting our first product out the door.”