Spotlight Series: interview with Christoph Birkl, CEO of Brill Power

10 Mar 2020

Christoph Birkl spotlight series

Who are you?

I am Christoph Birkl, the CEO and cofounder of Brill Power. We are developing the next generation of intelligent battery management systems (BMS) for stationary energy storage and electric vehicles.

How did you come up with the idea of Brill Power?

During my PhD I discovered that more than half of the lithium-ion cells in discarded battery packs are still useable. This prompted me and my co-founders to come up with a new approach to BMS that uses every battery cell to its fullest potential and avoids these crazy amounts of wasted materials and energy.

Sell it to us – how does it work?

Imagine an old-fashioned string of Christmas lights. If one light bulb goes, the whole string goes. The same general principle applies to batteries – there can be hundreds, sometimes thousands of battery cells in a pack. If they are connected in series the pack only lives as long as its weakest cell. Our patented BMS figures out the strength of each cell, or cell string, and controls the cells accordingly – strong cells get higher electric currents and weak cells will get lower currents. This enables us to extend the cycle life of lithium-ion batteries by up to 60%.

What are the best things about working at Brill Power?

The people, hands down. From day one I had the privilege of working with three of the most brilliant people I know (my cofounders), who also happened to be very dear friends of mine. We have since managed to grow to a team of 12 extremely clever, dedicated and friendly people, who are an absolute joy to work with. On top of that, we get to work on some of the coolest tech that can help save the planet, so I’d say Brill Power is a pretty awesome place to work.    

What is the hardest thing about working at Brill Power?

Getting mainstream battery system manufacturers and automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to recognise the demands of their customers and switch to a more affordable and sustainable BMS technology. The end-users of battery powered devices, and society as a whole, will benefit greatly from the reduced lifetime cost and environmental impact of batteries, which Brill Power technology offers.

What’s the biggest thing your company has achieved so far?

We are currently leading, or participating in, two major R&D projects worth more than £2 million and three smaller projects with some of the country’s leading universities, technology companies and OEMs, who recognise the potential of our technology. We are very proud of these partnerships and commitments and are close to moving our technology from the lab to the market.

What are your goals for the future?

Our ambition is to become the new gold standard in battery management technology. Every electric vehicle and stationary energy storage battery can, and should, be improved with Brill Power technology.

What’s the top piece of advice you would give to new entrepreneurs?

You can’t do this alone, so make sure you team up with people who are as committed as you, and clearly set expectations from the start. I have been extremely fortunate with my cofounders and team and can rely on and trust them completely.

What impact has the SME Leaders Programme had on your business?

The programme has helped me develop the skills and techniques I needed to move from my job as a researcher to the CEO of a startup. I learnt from professionals, mentors and peers, who have experienced or dealt with many of the same challenges that I am facing. The programme has also enabled me to take a step back and think about the bigger picture, which you rarely get to do as an entrepreneur in the trenches of daily startup life.

What advice would you give to potential applicants?

Take a close look at the resources offered by the programme and really think about how you can best use them for your business and your own development. This will help you with your application and with making the most out of the programme.

And finally, if you received an infinite sum of cash, what’s the first thing you would do for your business?

Buy a Tesla Model S for every employee, with a Brill Power BMS upgrade, of course.

Quick fire questions

Who is your role model?

My parents. They are the kindest, most generous people I know and have come a very long way from a humble background.

What is your secret talent?

I can play Austrian umpapa music on the trumpet, wearing lederhosen.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Cheeky pints with friends in cosy Oxford pubs.

I don’t understand why… some people put fruit on pizza.

When I’m not working at Brill Power, I am… tending to my vegetable garden.

What makes you happiest in business? Sharing success with my team.

Do you have any business regrets? Not yet.

If you could have a superpower, it would be… The ability to make people have trust in science.

If you could switch places with any famous entrepreneur, who would it be? Jeff Bezos, so I would get the opportunity to invest some of my Earth Fund into Brill Power.

The tech that I could not live without is… My drill. I have drilled way more holes than strictly necessary…

Ever told a white lie to get what you wanted in business?

I told the Enterprise Hub I would get this questionnaire filled in before the deadline to feature in the Spotlight Series blog.

Which fellow Hub Member are you most impressed by?

Claire Fenwick for the impressive progress of her startup Nuron in the challenging industry of wastewater.

If you had to choose another sector to work in, what would it be?

Software. It just seems easier…

And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve?

A train that is affordable, runs on time, doesn’t burn diesel and has seats for everyone.

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