Track the progress of NEXTGEN 2022


James Eaton of IONETIC since winning NEXTGEN 2022

3 months on from winning NEXTGEN 2022, we spoke to James Eaton about his business progress and how he’s finding the ongoing support from WoodWhite, as well as what the future holds for him.

In April 2022, we announced the winner of our NEXTGEN competition to find the next generation of entrepreneurs with a winning business idea. With a prize worth £25,000 of business support, accountancy and marketing advice, the four finalists presented their business plans to a panel of business professionals. After careful consideration, the founder of electric vehicle (EV) battery company IONETIC, James Eaton, was chosen as the winner for his innovative business idea.

Our NEXTGEN winner is in an exciting space

Meeting at Imperial College London where James studied and operates his business, we first asked him to remind us about his company and the idea behind setting up IONETIC; “We're a battery pack technology company focusing primarily on the niche automotive market in the UK. We aim to help them make the transition to electrification easier ”

Whilst his business will play a big part in making major and necessary changes for the future of the UK automotive industry, James hadn’t planned to launch an electric battery technology company; “From a very young age, I just wanted to do mechanical engineering, go to university and get a degree. Everything was geared towards this one moment, and then I did it. No one tells you that you have to work out what you do after this point. I just spent twelve years trying to reach this one goal. And then what?”

“Quite quickly after graduating, I became a Research Assistant at Imperial and was part of various research projects with industry partners. Companies would come to us with their battery problems and we helped solve them. Whether it was for specific technical projects or designing an entire battery pack.”

To be the first company to design AND manufacture battery packs in the UK

The conversation turned to how to design and manufacture batteries, as James decided to start IONETIC after realising how much demand there was for electric batteries in the automotive industry.

“We started speaking to potential customers - niche automotive companies about what they needed most and it was clear they needed both design and mass manufacturing for battery packs. So we’re now aiming to be the first company in the UK to design and manufacture battery packs. It makes sense to do both because you can't get design optimization unless you carry out mass manufacture and it's a lot more difficult to do mass manufacture if you didn't do the design. So we're doing a few things to develop this value chain and including developing a battery pack platform called ARC.”

We then asked James how he discovered NEXTGEN and how he felt after winning; “I found out about NEXTGEN when Chris, one of the partners at WoodWhite, reached out to me on LinkedIn and suggested that I apply for the competition. I was very pleased to have won. It's quite nice business validation, sitting down with the five business people in a room and everyone's like, yeah, you’ve got a good idea. That's always nice.”

Great support from the WoodWhite team makes a difference

As James had already established his business idea before winning, we asked James what he had been doing with the WoodWhite team since NEXTGEN and what difference it had made to him already; “The WoodWhite team, in particular Paul and Craig, have been very helpful over the last few months with all the different things. Paul and I are emailing almost daily, sorting different things out - it's been very helpful. We’ve updated the website with some new copy, new images and fun animations. I’ve also set up a detailed financial model with input from Paul, which I could not have managed alone! I'm on LinkedIn every day, it's one of the tabs that’s always open because there are always messages. I cannot stress the value of LinkedIn to entrepreneurs - it's enormous.”

Having so much extra business support at your fingertips is bound to expose you to many new experiences and force a few new lessons too, something James is very aware of. We asked him to share some of the more important things he has learned about himself since winning the competition; “ I've learned 400,000 things a day for the last three months! I'm told my ability to ‘sell’ is quite good. I've never really thought about it, but we'll really see when we start getting sales leads converted.”

James has learnt a lot about himself in the last 3 months

Having the confidence to conduct important business meetings as well as secure those key contracts are just some of the new skills James has had to develop quickly. We then asked James what the next 12 months looked like for IONETIC; “Over the next 12 months, we're hoping to be in our new R&D facility. That's probably the biggest goal. We need to do that to support the development of our pilot line which will be the basis of our factory when that opens towards the end of next year (2023). We also need to do all kinds of destructive testing which can’t happen here in central London.”

With his sights set on a factory and hiring engineers in the next 12 months, James’ desire to get his company’s reputation out there is largely driven by his passion for climate change and making a difference now. We asked James what his response is to electric car sceptics and companies who aren’t moving fast enough to make positive changes; “We need to fix global warming in seven and a half years. That is an insanely short period to go from our carbon output now to carbon-neutral, or at least significantly less. So we have seven and a half years to fix this. So we can either think about what we do in 20 years when we have to recycle all these battery packs, or we can just get everything electrified to get our carbon emissions down, and then in ten years, we can start working out how we can efficiently recycle lithium and all the other materials.

With major players in the car industry making noises about a lack of UK battery pack supply chain potentially forcing manufacturing jobs abroad, it would seem James is in the right place at the right time.

Winning NEXTGEN is a massive value add

We finally asked James if the NEXTGEN competition was something that he’d recommend to other people with great ideas; “NEXTGEN is suitable for pretty much any stage of a startup. I mean the guys who were in the final with me, we were all at varying stages, some more developed than me and some less. I think it's open to wherever you are at as it's judged on business potential, the value of your idea and you as a founder.”

And what advice would he give to anyone considering applying for 2023; “I think the value of NEXTGEN; £25,000 worth of business support over 12 months is a massive value add.”

Know anyone who should apply for NEXTGEN 2023?

We’ll continue to share the progress both James and IONETIC are making already and look forward to supporting James and his team over the next 9 months and beyond. If you’re sitting on a great business idea or know somebody who might, or perhaps want to apply for the NEXTGEN 2023, keep an eye on our website and LinkedIn page for updates soon.

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