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Ten-Nine Technologies is dedicated to developing new materials for new economies. Venture-backed and based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it is led by founder and inventor Paige Johnson. In 2017, Ten-Nine Technologies announced a world-first achievement of fossil-fuel level energy density in a battery material. www.ten-ninetech.com
By Scott Meacham
If you asked me to name the profession most similar to entrepreneurship, I would say science. Both are based on problem-solving, experimentation, data, and the confidence to recognize that failure is a critical aspect of the path to success.
Paige Johnson, founder and CEO of Tulsa-based Ten-Nine Technologies, is a noted research chemist, nanotechnology inventor, and entrepreneur who comfortably wears both hats — science and entrepreneurship.
Johnson invented the technology for a new class of non-toxic nanomaterials for batteries with energy equivalence to fossil fuels. But there were a lot of speed bumps along the way.
“I don’t think I understood that to start a business — especially a scientific business, the barriers could be so high,” Johnson said. “At one point, right after our seed round, our synthesis process stopped working. We didn’t know why. Every day we did 16 experiments per day that baked in an oven overnight.”
Johnson and her team would come in the next morning full of dread. This went on for months — 272 experiments. Finally, experiment 273 worked. The technology (with four approved and another 15 filed patents pending) was validated by two independent sources. It is a world-first achievement of fossil-fuel level energy density in a battery material. Ten-Nine Technologies received the 2017 Battery Innovation Center (BIC) award for the development of hydrocarbon parity lithium battery technology.
With validated battery prototypes, the company was ready to scale.
“It was a long hard fight to raise money, more than eighteen months” Johnson said. “We talk a lot about new manufacturing jobs, but we found that there is an undervaluation by capital markets of the creation of new manufacturing jobs. There is the perception that hard technology, or deep technology as they call it—making the physical objects that make the digital world run—is far more risky than digital, yet digital businesses go bankrupt all the time.”
The next roadblock was the reluctance of coastal VCs to invest in a Midwest company, but Johnson overcame that too, convincing a notable group of Oklahoma and Midwestern investors—funds and angels—of the commercial potential of Ten-Nine Technologies’ nanomaterial, which can significantly extend the battery life of things we rely on most. That led to $5 million Series A round.
The i2E Management Company, Inc. (iMCI) led investment in Ten-Nine Technologies includes $1.65 million from the Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund, as well as $500,000 from the Accelerate Oklahoma Fund and $350,000 from the Oklahoma Angel Fund. Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund, Accelerate Oklahoma Fund, and the Oklahoma Angel Fund are each managed by iMCI. Regional investors provided $2.5 million to close out the round.
This Series A financing is for new research and development facilities as well as a manufacturing plant capable of tonnage battery material production. The new funds will also be used to build out Ten-Nine Technologies’ engineering, business development and managerial team and continue development of its innovative battery materials.