UWM-incubated startup SafeLi LLC awarded $1 million federal commercialization grant

Grant will fund scaled-up production, paves way for venture funding

Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska and Carol Hischmugl, UW-Milwaukee physicists, are using their STTR Phase II grant to bring better lithium-ion batteries to the market through their startup, SafeLi LLC. (Photo: Derek Rickert, UWM Photo Services)

Last updated on October 3rd, 2019 at 12:50 pm

Shorewood-based startup SafeLi LLC has received a $1 million federal grant to further commercialize the graphene-based materials it has developed to disrupt the lithium-ion battery market.

SafeLi was founded in December 2016 by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professors Carol Hirschmugl and Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska. The physicists have developed lithium-ion battery parts made from a patented material called graphene monoxide, which boosts the energy storage capacity of li-ion batteries.

The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Small Business Technology Transfer program, follows SafeLi’s completion of a phase one technical and commercial proof-of-concept grant award.

The phase two grant will support the scaled-up production of graphene monoxide to allow for the development of larger prototype batteries for electric vehicles. It will also allow SafeLi to grow to 10 employees and begin pursuing angel, venture or corporate capital funding.

The grant brings SafeLi’s total federal and state funding to $1.5 million.

SafeLi was incubated at the Milwaukee I-Corps program, a partnership of five area universities that allows academic participants to explore commercializing their research ideas. Milwaukee I-Corps is administered by UWM and funded by the National Science Foundation.

Through the program, Hirschmugl  and Gajdardziska-Josifovska were mentored by Loren Peterson, an entrepreneur in UWM’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center. They were also accepted into the national I-Corps program.

“Our anode material, due to its properties, has the potential to be disruptive in the battery market,” said Hirschmugl. “The I-Corps experience made our startup possible in a way that we never would have expected.”

The company recently won third prize in the Advanced Manufacturing Division of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Competition, and first prize at the SEED SPOT pitch competition, co-hosted by the Association for Women in Science.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.