More than two years after Kevin O’Keeffe graduated from ESTEEM, the technology at the heart of his business—Maxx Start, a high-powered energy storage device that replaces batteries for starting engines—is poised for mass marketing with a focus on military applications.
“The product has evolved quite a bit,” says O’Keeffe, lead engineer for Slipstream, the startup that has filed patent protection for the technology. There’s been a couple of major pivots. It’s now in the position where it can be put on the shelf and sold. We’ve taken on some seed funding. We are hiring and expanding the company. We are currently positioning ourselves to supply to the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army. Air Force, National Guard, and Navy. We’re still marketing to the civilian sector but focusing mostly on the military right now.”
Maxx Start grew out of Notre Dame Engineering Professor Peter Bauer’s invention, using capacitors in a shoebox to get his old Volkswagen Jetta running on cold winter mornings. O’Keeffe’s work in ESTEEM helped propel it to commercial use. The technology is lighter, more powerful, and longer-lasting than batteries, providing one million charges. In its current embodiment, it is designed for jumpstarting in emergencies, but Slipstream aims to replace starting batteries in all internal combustion engines with their capacitor technology.
Slipstream, which received pre-seed funding in 2015 and made its first sale in October of that year, completed a round of seed funding last September with Elevate Ventures and MAGNET Investors. The company, which has produced its third prototype, expects to expand its assembly operation at its Granger headquarters as sales increase.
“Coming out of ESTEEM, I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” says O’Keeffe, “I wanted to give the startup opportunity a good chance. I was always treating it as a learning experience. I didn’t have any hard expectations. I was planning to go with the flow, have fun, enjoy it, try to make a difference, try to do the best work I could do every day.”
O’Keeffe has provided talks, workshops, and mentoring to ESTEEM students in recent classes. “The set of skills that are required working in a startup, I see in the coursework at ESTEEM—financial forecasting, accounting, business development, customer validation, marketing channels,” he says. “Even the industrial design courses you do in ESTEEM were quite useful as well. We have created a physical product, and there was a lot of design thinking involved in that. It’s been helpful to have a grounding in all these areas. Even though I am not an expert in all of them, I can have an intelligent conversation with the experts.”