Interview with Aceleron’s Amrit Chandan: On Using Business to Change the World, and ‘Giving Back’ Through Employee Share Schemes.

“Lawyers will tell you it’s about incentivisation, accountants will tell you it’s about making sure people stay as long as possible, but for me it’s actually about giving back to the team who are giving us precious years of their lives.”

 Can you tell us what Aceleron does?

Aceleron is all about making circular-economy-based batteries. The way we achieve this is by making our batteries serviceable, to prolong their lifetime. So, for example, if you have a car that can last 2 years on the same battery, by replacing that with our lithium batteries - provided the right maintenance goes into it - we can keep it in service for as long as needed. This obviously means an overall much lower battery life cost.

What sparked the idea of starting the company?

Aceleron started as part of an ongoing conversation between myself and Carlton [Cummins]. He’s from the Caribbean and he worked in the solar industry for a number of years. While he was there, he realised that solar panels can last for 25+ years, but the battery solutions which store that solar power typically last for 3-7 years. So there’s a disparity there that makes it difficult both to get financing and to make the technology accessible to a wide audience.

Coupled with that, when we met we were both working in the electric vehicle consulting space, and we knew that electric vehicles are coming to market. But one of the challenges of that is the production of battery waste. So we started having conversations around this, and a few months later we left our jobs and started testing as many batteries as we could to understand how much useful life they have left. It was through this process of taking lots and lots of batteries apart that Carlton came up with the brilliant idea of how can we assemble them in a way that makes them easy to service and maintain.

You have a strong science background. Was the transition, or bridging together, between science and entrepreneurship challenging?

Actually, surprisingly not. It just made sense to me. I did chemistry in my undergraduate degree and a PhD in chemical engineering. But, whilst doing the PhD, I realised that I was more interested in how technologies are commercialised and how they grow within markets. It was whilst studying that I started my first company, and I got a taste for running a company. It was hard work, but that’s how I ended up getting a job after my PhD, at a low carbon vehicle consultancy, which is where I met Carlton. So, personally, even though I still find research interesting, I always wanted to have more of an impact in the world, which I felt I could do by working in a company. That’s why, from day one, I’ve always said to Carlton that this is a commercial entity; because we believe that business is one of the greatest tools to effect change in the world. We want to be an example of that.

What’s an achievement you’re particularly proud of - personally or as a company?

We always saw Aceleron as a social fight - we wanted to make the world a better place, and this really became real for me personally when we needed to get batteries into Kenya. We had partnered with a company there - called BBOXX - through our pilot with the Shell Foundation. BBOXX rents a solar panel, plus a battery, plus an appliance of choice, and we were providing them batteries for solar appliances. The challenge was that it’s difficult to move lithium batteries in that way. However, we’ve always had the philosophy that our batteries are simple to put together; they’re made to be serviced. So what we did is we shipped components into Kenya, effectively using people from the street, with no prior experience, and relatively unskilled. We did a pop up build, and built 150 odd batteries there. It was great - we got to see in action our technology upscaling the local workforce and making a difference in the area in general, because now these batteries are deployed in houses, powering people’s appliances. That was a pretty good feeling. Now we are also powering houses in the Caribbean, after a year of investigating how we could make this work. So it’s great to see our projects come to fruition, but also to know that we’ve brought some social good to the Caribbean, Kenya, and hopefully soon other areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

On a different topic - Aceleron uses an employee share plan. How many employees participate at the moment?

It’s still early days. The team is growing but, for now, we’ve brought five of our core employees to our stock option scheme, and these are not necessarily the most senior employees but the most core individuals that make Aceleron great.

And have you found the process challenging so far?

Yes, we have. For the EMI scheme, you first have to get the legal paperwork, which we did fairly quickly ae had our solicitors to put that together. But then the challenge was finding an accountant that could do the EMI valuation for us relatively quickly. Plus, most of them ask for a substantial amount of money to do the valuation, but this is something you have to re-do every time you issue new shares, if it’s outside the window of opportunity that you get within the valuation. So that was a pain point for us, definitely. It took us a while to find someone who we were happy with and who charged a reasonable rate for this. I think the form didn’t look so complicated, so I could have done it myself, but there’s just no time.

What are you hoping to get out of the scheme?

For me - and this is central to our philosophy at Aceleron - we are all about uplifting everyone that we can. So now we are on this journey and we want to share that with the people who are really adding value to the company. I think we’re paying people fairly well, but we also want to uplift everyone that we can. So the lawyers will tell you it’s about incentivisation, the accountants will tell you it’s also about making sure people stay as long as possible, but for me it’s actually about giving back to the team who are giving us precious years of their lives.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs out there?

Get a mentor - that’s the number one piece of advice I’d give to anyone. Someone who has experience. Because it really helps to discuss things with somebody. And oftentimes it’s really just about having someone tell you ‘yeah that’s great, that’s a good idea’, because usually the first person to shut down ideas is yourself. You know the saying, ‘he who says he can’t and he who says he can’t are both correct’. So find a mentor, show them the pathway you hope to walk, and then use their support, bounce ideas off of them, and have them be a bit of a ‘yes’ man to some of the ideas you’re putting forwards.

Is there anything we didn’t cover that you would like people reading about Aceleron to know?

What has shaped my thinking quite a bit is my favourite quote, by George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. That really resonates with me. I always thought that if we’re going to do this, we have to look past the status quo that everyone sees around them. Otherwise why are we bothering? We want to change the world.

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Anastasia Valti
Anastasia Valti

Anastasia holds an MSc in International Marketing, and is currently our Marketing Associate at Capdesk's London office.