En­tre­pre­neur on a mis­sion to trans­form en­ergy sup­ply

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE - By PRIME SARMIENTO For China Daily

Bruneian Bran­don Ng is just 29 years old but he has al­ready co­founded an in­no­va­tive startup that aims to solve one of the world’s big­gest prob­lems — in­ter­mit­tent power sup­ply.

“The word in­no­va­tion is overused,” said Ng, who is now based in Hong Kong. He be­lieves it is most de­served when re­fer­ring to so­lu­tions that are a lit­tle ahead of their time.

“If you have a prob­lem and some­one pro­poses a so­lu­tion that doesn’t make sense today but could make sense in two, three, five or 10 years, then there’s a much higher like­li­hood that is in­no­va­tive, be­cause that’s prob­a­bly gen­uinely new,” he said.

In 2014, Ng, to­gether with en­gi­neer Luca Va­lente, co­founded Ampd En­ergy. The startup de­vel­oped Ampd Silo — an en­ergy stor­age sys­tem which uses ad­vanced, recharge­able lithium-ion bat­ter­ies to gen­er­ate re­li­able backup power sup­ply.

Ampd En­ergy was first run­ner-up for the pres­ti­gious En­gad­get Best Startup Award at this year’s Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas, and Ampd Silo is al­ready gen­er­at­ing in­ter­est among buy­ers in South­east Asia, the Mid­dle East and Africa. Ng him­self was in­cluded in Forbes’ 30 Un­der 30 Asia 2017: In­dus­try, Man­u­fac­tur­ing & En­ergy.

De­spite such early suc­cess, Ng did not set out to be an en­tre­pre­neur or to solve the prob­lem of power sup­ply dis­rup­tion. Ampd En­ergy, in fact, was es­tab­lished be­cause of an elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cle.

In 2012, Ng was us­ing an elec­tric scooter to nav­i­gate the busy streets of Bei­jing. Work­ing at that time as an in­vest­ment banker, Ng was on a one-year ca­reer break, learn­ing Man­darin at Ts­inghua Univer­sity.

He was plan­ning to re­turn to his life in bank­ing in London after mas­ter­ing Man­darin. But his cu­rios­ity over the steep price of fully fledged elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles pushed him in an­other di­rec­tion.

He could not un­der­stand why elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles were retailing for $13,000 each, while a gas-pow­ered one sold for just $8,000. So Ng, who has an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree from Im­pe­rial Col­lege London, part­nered with Va­lente and an­other en­gi­neer. They pooled their sav­ings and pro­duced a pro­to­type of a cheaper elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cle.

“We wanted to make elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles that were both price and per­for­mance com­pet­i­tive with gas mo­tor­cy­cles,” Ng told China Daily.

“The is­sue with elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles at that time was al­ways price. How do we get the price down? The big­gest is­sue is (the) bat­ter­ies — the most ex­pen­sive com­po­nent in the fin­ished ve­hi­cle.

“We spent a lot of time on (de­vel­op­ing) th­ese bat­ter­ies: How do we make the bat­ter­ies cheaper with­out com­pro­mis­ing safety, re­li­a­bil­ity, power and pack­ag­ing?”

Ng said stan­dard­iza­tion of com­po­nents helped in low­er­ing cost with­out sac­ri­fic­ing qual­ity. He added that be­ing in China, with its im­mense man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity across var­i­ous in­dus­tries and mar­ket verticals, gave him ac­cess to sup­pli­ers that pro­duce high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als at lower prices.

The part­ners’ suc­cess in de­vel­op­ing more af­ford­able elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles en­cour­aged them to mar­ket their prod­ucts to the In­done­sian po­lice force. But the black­out that in­ter­rupted a meet­ing with their dis­trib­u­tor in Su­ma­tra sparked a novel busi­ness idea.

Ng re­called: “We joked with our dis­trib­u­tor at the time: Wouldn’t it be funny to power the whole build­ing with our mo­tor­cy­cles? But then we thought: Why do we need the mo­tor­cy­cles? Why don’t we just use the bat­ter­ies?”

Chang­ing the di­rec­tion of the busi­ness made a lot of sense to Ng.

“From a busi­ness value stand­point and from an en­gi­neer­ing stand­point — be­cause that is what en­gi­neers do, solve the big prob­lems — (un­re­li­able power sup­ply) is a huge prob­lem that af­fects 3 bil­lion peo­ple and many en­ter­prises glob­ally. So we de­cided to shift our vi­sion-mis­sion to solve (the prob­lem of ) un­re­li­able power sup­ply,” he said.

Ng and his part­ners went back to the draw­ing board and raised $3.8 mil­lion in seed fund­ing, mostly from an­gel in­vestors.

In 2014 they re­lo­cated to Hong Kong to join the Hong Kong Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Park’s Incu-Tech in­cu­ba­tor pro­gram — for hand­picked, high-po­ten­tial in­di­vid­u­als — and to work closely with their con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers in the Pearl River Delta.

He said that be­ing in Hong Kong, with its open econ­omy, gave his startup the cred­i­bil­ity and net­work sup­port it needed to grow.

Over the next two years, Ng and his team worked to de­velop a bat­tery-pow­ered en­ergy stor­age sys­tem that can be used when there is a power out­age. The re­sult of this re­search and de­vel­op­ment was Ampd Silo.

Ng said he aims to sell Ampd Silo to hos­pi­tals, tel­cos, banks, gov­ern­ment agen­cies and shop­ping cen­ters — sec­tors in which power dis­rup­tion can lead to sig­nif­i­cant costs.

in­no­va­tion. We wanted to make elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cles that were both price and per­for­mance com­pet­i­tive with gas mo­tor­cy­cles.”

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