Hyperdrive develops intelligent battery systems to power electric vehicles, homes and businesses. Nothing new there, you may think but the kind of technology it creates is used in an ever-widening range of electric vehicles (EVs), including cars, industrial vehicles and even factory robots. Almost since it started just five years ago, the Sunderland-based firm, which also builds battery solutions for on and off grid energy storage, has been riding a rising tide of topicality.
The fact that the firm has quickly gone from startup to scale-up mode has been aided in no small way by the rapidly expanding EV market. Production of Nissan Leaf in the UK at Nissan's Sunderland plant - making it a convenient neighbour for Hyperdrive - is raising the profile of the technology. “People are no longer asking if EVs will become mainstream, they are now asking when,” says Hyperdrive Commercial Managing Director, Stephen Irish. “Explaining Hyperdrive's story as an enabler has been a key part of it.” For an innovator such as Hyperdrive, that explanation has had to be directed at the investor community to ensure its continued buy-in and backing from the outset. Whilst the firm retains its initial VC support, Hyperdrive has managed to bring in additional funding. But it's been careful in selecting the right partners. “As a technology and product development company, it is vital for us to keep getting the scale-up, the right processes and business structure in place without stifling innovation or compromising our agility,” says Irish. Having the right support, he adds, is “essential for us to be able to maintain our edge in the market”.
Investors in innovation always want to know where their money is going to justify their outlay. This is especially so in the early phases of development, explains Irish. “We have to be able to explain why sometimes we have done something that we don't take forward to market.” Of course, results are expected at some point. “Demonstrating that you have technology that can be commercialised, and how you are going to do that, is essential.” With many examples of early-stage validation to talk about, Hyperdrive's investors are kept in the loop through investor days, site visits and informal updates.
As Hyperdrive grows and matures, its story becomes about more than just the technology, notes Irish. The recent decline in the value of the pound, for example, has seen it having to locally source or engineer a lot of previously imported components itself. There is vital supply chain issue to manage here. As new products go into production and volumes go up, suppliers that make small batches may not always be the ones to cover the increased runs, says Irish. “We still need the involvement of those highly dynamic, `cando' suppliers to get us to the volume, but we have to make sure that our supply chain is sufficiently flexible in delivering our products in the longer-term.”
In addition to backing from its investors, support has been forthcoming from the Government's Innovate UK scheme, with more specific input and advice from the Advanced Propulsion Centre which has helped unlock collaboration with UK universities and industrial giants such as Nissan. Local government has also played a part in the rise of Hyperdrive. With a deep understanding of what firms such as Nissan and its major suppliers mean to the wider local economy, there has been “exceptional support” from Sunderland Council and willingness to understand Hyperdrive's aims as it pushes to keep it and others like it in the region.