BBV Founder Spotlight: Jonathan Tan— Coreshell
The BBV Founder Spotlight is a series of posts highlighting founders from our portfolio companies and the incredible work they are pursuing to solve challenges in critical industries such as health and climate through technology innovation.
Thank you Jonathan for taking the time.
Contributor Irfan Vissandjee
Tell us about your company. What defines your innovation?
Coreshell is working to enable the widespread transition to electric transportation and zero-emission energy by solving the fundamental degradation problem in rechargeable batteries. We’re doing so with our unique nanolayer coating innovation that enables higher energy, improved safety and ultimately up to a 50+% reduction in cost/kWh in current and next-generation battery technology.
Where did your company’s name come from?
We wanted to convey the concept of the technology as well as provide a sense for what we’re trying to accomplish. Essentially, we’re developing a new method for protecting the inside of the battery that now goes into everyone’s Teslas. We’re hoping to create a safer, lower cost and higher energy EV battery cell. We felt like Coreshell captured that in a nice way.
What was the motivation behind starting your company?
My Co-Founder Roger and I have known each other since we’ve been freshman at Cal almost 20 years ago now. Ever since then we’ve both devoted our entire careers to combating climate change and improving sustainability — and I think that call to action has never felt more urgent. What lead us to start Coreshell was the realization that the cost and capacity of batteries has become the bottleneck in the major clean energy transitions like electric vehicles and renewable energy production. We knew that we had a unique opportunity to bring a product to the battery market that could solve a fundamental battery challenge. And because of our industrial thin-film expertise, we could do it in a low-cost and truly scalable way that no one else had been able to do.
What role did the University play in the formation of your company or technology?
Both Roger and I first developed our technical foundations at Cal. For Roger, he got both his undergrad and grad degrees in Material Science and Chemistry at Berkeley. For me, I did my undergrad in Chem E. We both decided to go into industry after that, but when we wanted to start a company, we came back to the university. The entrepreneurial ecosystem that has been built at UC Berkeley was one of the key resources that allowed us to jumpstart Coreshell. First the CITRIS Foundry was the first believer in our vision and first check in the door (through BBV). Later, Berkeley Skydeck gave us a platform to raise our first VC funding round. The University has been an integral part of our entire entrepreneurial journey.
How did you meet your co-founder? How long did it take?
We’ve been close friends since first Freshman Chemistry class at Berkeley. It just happened to be serendipity that after that our careers took the right pathway for us to start a company together. Roger had been a leader in thin-film materials R&D for the solar and electrochromics industries. I had been working in the polymer membrane industry, but as a technical product and business development manager. We both knew what a thin-film coating process needed to look like in order to be adopted by the battery industry, but we had enough differences in our focuses to lead the effort from different perspectives. Roger from the technical development and myself from the commercial efforts.
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
When we first started, we self-funded and built a complete wet chemistry and battery R&D lab from scratch in a warehouse space in Richmond, CA. For the first 2 years of the company, it was mainly just the two of us getting things off the ground. Since then, we’ve raised $5.5+M in funding, grown the team into almost a dozen key roles (part-time & full time), built a new state-of-the-art R&D lab, and have a number of major corporates in the battery ecosystem working with us to test and qualify our coating technology.
How has the fundraising process been for the company?
When we first started Coreshell in 2017, very few people were interested in funding a battery materials startup. It was difficult to get a lot of investor traction. We have BBV to thank for seeing something that not a lot of others did at that time and being our very first investors. Since then, it’s been amazing to see both the growth of the innovation as well as the change in investors’ perception of the battery market. I think we really turned a corner in 2020 in both our company maturity but also in the battery market realization and that allowed us to raise our first significant VC round ($4M Seed round lead by Entrada Ventures). However, we wouldn’t have made it this far without that first investment capital from BBV way before anyone else had the foresight.
What aspects of BBV’s coaching and support was the most helpful?
The early support on how to get things going from the start was super vital to Coreshell’s initial success. BBV believed in us before any other funds would have considered us. The belief in super early science-based companies has not had a lot of funding opportunities elsewhere. BBV has been our greatest supporter from the very beginning and we wouldn’t be where we are without their incredible support and guidance. The BBV team saw something promising in our team and innovation way before anyone else had the perception to do so and we’re super thankful that they did.
What’s ahead for your company in 2021?
The EV battery market is exploding right now with lots of high-profile news coming from companies like Tesla, Quantumscape and others so we’re super excited by the opportunities for Coreshell. I think we’ve set ourselves up really well to capitalize on that opportunity in 2021. We’ve already built some strong industry connections with major players in the battery & EV space and we’re developing a technology that is a key enabler for lower-cost, longer range EVs that can be affordable for average citizens. When Tesla’s can sell at the same prices as Corolla’s — that’s going to be a tipping point in the EV revolution and Coreshell can be the catalyst. 2021 is going to be a big year for us.
What lasting impact do you want to leave with your company?
If Coreshell’s innovation can meaningfully improve battery technology and accelerate the transition to zero-emission transportation and energy production, then we will have realized the highest form of the vision we had when we first started.
Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less.
Impact & Innovation through Transparency & Community.