College Park, Md. -- FlexEl LLC, a custom battery manufacturer, will open a research & development and manufacturing facility in Prince George's County, Maryland. Spun out of the University of Maryland (UMD) based on a thin-film battery technology in 2008, the company will lease more than 10,000 square-feet from the university, which it plans to move into in the fall. FlexEl currently has 10 full-time employees and plans to add an additional 50 new jobs over the next five years.
FlexEl develops custom battery solutions for manufacturers that have unique requirements and cannot use off-the-shelf batteries. The company has continued to improve its original thin-film battery technology as well as expand into adjacent battery technologies to develop solutions for wearable technology, medical devices, military applications, disposable consumer electronics, and remote sensing devices.
The thin-film battery market is poised for significant growth over the next several years. The market is expected to grow from $35 million in 2014 to $3.4 billion by 2021, according to a Wintergreen Research Inc. report. The market research firm expects growth to accelerate towards the latter part of the forecast period as technology improves the cost of manufacturing. A big market driver is technology that delivers new capabilities. Key applications include medical implants, hearing aids, RFID tags, wearable devices, and smart cards.
"Thin-film batteries for electronics brings advantages to batteries of less weight, lower cost potentially, higher energy density eventually, and a smaller footprint,” said Susan Eustis, lead author of the Wintergreen Research report, in a statement. “Substantially increasing the energy density while lowering costs is the aim of this industry segment. While this has not yet been achieved, it will be done and those who achieve the breakthrough stand to benefit substantially."
During its startup phase, FlexEl leveraged many of the startup resources available at UMD, including the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program, legal resource center and Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) incubator space. It also took advantage of the university's diagnostic and analytical capabilities. In addition, UMD facility members served as advisors and students worked as interns for the company. FlexEl earned UMD’s Office of Technology’s Invention of the Year Award in 2008 and UMD’s Business Plan Competition in 2009.
"The relationship with the University of Maryland and the resources it has provided have been a critical part of our success, and we want to maintain this partnership as we grow to scale," said FlexEl’s CEO Bob Proctor, in a statement. "Our commercial traction is really at an inflection point that requires a significant facility in order to grow at the rate we see ahead of us. The innovation district solves that and the critical problem of attracting and maintaining extraordinary talent in College Park. This location provides state-of-the-art facilities, access to the College Park Metro station, a new, four-star hotel and relative proximity to both Baltimore and Washington, enabling employees to commute and for FlexEl to recruit from farther afield."
Proctor is also a founding member of Blu Venture Investors (BVI), a venture capital company that supports early stage entrepreneurs in the Mid-Atlantic Region. BVI hosts entrepreneur office hours for Maryland-based startup companies at the FlexEl location.
FlexEl is currently working with innovation teams at a few Fortune 500 companies and is helping them develop emerging technology products through battery innovation. The company has developed a variety of products including flexible batteries, biocompatible micro-batteries, high-power-density batteries, and reserve batteries.