Power Play: Team’s Revolutionary Battery Design Has Life-Saving Potential
This is one in an occasional series looking at the journeys of startup teams that have come through H4XLabs.
By Ellen Chang
David Mackanic comes from a military family.
The Stanford Ph.D’s grandfather was a U.S. Army veteran. His father served on a Navy nuclear submarine for six years.
Now David is continuing the family’s military tradition – in his own way: By applying his considerable engineering expertise and business acumen to the development of a new technology, one that promises to improve – and even save – the lives of many soldiers and sailors (and airmen and Marines) to come.
“That is something I get great satisfaction from,” said Mackanic, founder and CEO of Anthro Energy, an engineering startup developing a revolutionary battery design, one that not only conforms to many devices at once, but to a user’s body.
Flexible, foldable, the new device will aid personnel on missions in which speed and equipment dependability are crucial. Instead of multiple heavy, bulky batteries, soldiers will carry one thin power source embedded into a strap or pack.
“We also wanted to create something that was safer,” a battery that would not catch fire or erupt and damage a crucial piece of equipment, he said.
Neither Mackanic nor the others on the Anthro Energy team were thinking about military uses when they set out at Stanford to build a better battery.
“My whole goal was to create a safer battery,” said Mackanic, who was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 class of 2021.
He also sought to solve a problem of form. Mackanic wanted to create a more adaptable power source, one that could better serve medical devices, prosthetics, wearable electronics.
It was while enrolled in the Hacking 4 Defense® course at Stanford that the Anthro Energy team discovered their ambitions could serve a wider purpose -- aiding downed military pilots waiting for rescue.
H4D is a national academic class that teaches students how to use modern entrepreneurial tools and processes to solve critical national security problems at startup speed while participating in a new form of national service. As part of their class work, student teams must speak to the various stakeholders attached to the problem they’re addressing to better understand the problem and devise a workable solution to it.
In interviewing military personnel, the Anthro Energy team quickly realized pilots didn’t have great use for their design.
“The people who cared a lot more were people jumping out of planes. People on the ground,” he said – particularly “Guardian Angels” troops on rescue ops, laden with electronics and with a need to move fast.
“The thing appealing for us with this group is they had a lot of problems that better batteries would solve.”
“As part of Hacking 4 Defense, we saw a lot of excitement on the Department of Defense side, but also a lot of interest from the commercial side,” he said. “It became clear to us there is a demand for this tech.”
Needing to take the next steps to make their battery a reality, Anthro Energy turned to H4XLabs. Mackanic said getting into H4XLabs was “a real pivot point” for the team.
“We began to focus on the commercial side, thinking much more tactically about ‘How do we get them manufactured?’”
Funding has come through commercial and federal sources.
In a major development, Anthro Energy has received $600,000 from National Security Innovation Capital, a new initiative launched by the Defense Department to support start-ups developing innovative dual-use hardware.
Mackanic called the funding “transformative in terms of getting the product to market.”
The goal is to move the Anthro Energy battery from the current lab prototype phase to a product prototype – something that can be fabricated at scale by a manufacturer – within nine months, Mackanic said.
Not only does the Department of Defense funding have obvious practical applications, it validates the new tech as needed and useful, he added.
“Working with the Defense Department has been crucial for us,” Mackanic said.
“It’s been a total net positive in every way.”
He advises those who have a promising idea but not sure where to take it, to cast a wide net.
“You really have to knock on a lot of doors,” Mackanic said. “We were fortunate to find a great fit in the Defense Department, but we explored many possibilities.”
Innovators need to do leg work to find out what opportunities and potential avenues are possible; and talk to end users to make sure an invention would meet an industry need. If not, an idea might need adapting.
“Apply early, apply often and put yourself out there,” he said. “Ultimately it’s a matter of putting the time in, engaging with the community, building relationships, and realizing it’s not going to happen overnight.”
As they embark on the next phase of their journey toward bringing a better, safer, more dependable and adaptable battery to fruition, Mackanic and an Anthro Energy colleague on a recent Saturday visited Fleet Week events in San Francisco, where they were able to board a state-of-the-art Destroyer.
“Seeing all the tech in there was astounding,” Mackanic said. “It is great to be a part of the processes of improving the performance of the tech they use.”
Anthro Energy, pictured, from left: Christina Luu, Matt Klonowski, Shane Shearman, David Mackanic and Joe Papp