Michael Burz of Enzinc

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Michael Burz (co-founder and president) of Enzinc, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Enzinc – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Enzinc started when we were exploring the future of electric vehicles. I ran the development of a race car for Nissan in my earlier career, so EVs intrigued me, and we came across a revolutionary way to harness the power of zinc for rechargeable batteries.

Why batteries? Because they are key to decarbonizing everything from vehicles to the grid. The problem was that the two key technologies had issues: lead acid batteries are low power and bulky, while lithium batteries are supply chain constrained and can be a fire risk. Zinc solves all those issues, but had not worked in the past because no one knew how to stop it from rapidly degrading with repeated charging. Our solution is a breakthrough as we use a zinc microsponge that solves all those problems. The result is a powerful and affordable battery.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

Compared to software development, building a “hard tech” company takes more time and money as you can’t go to market quickly with a basic product and fix problems along the way. Silicon Valley’s “fail fast” mindset simply doesn’t work with a product that may be in our cars, our e-bikes, and our homes. Helping investors understand that they need to look at the development timeframe differently has been a challenge, but the visionary investors we are working with now understand the potential payoff of solving these large and hard problems.

What does the future hold for Enzinc?

We’re scaling rapidly with a new round of investment coming in, and we’re starting third-party testing of our prototype battery for e-bikes later this year. Because existing lead acid battery factories can be easily converted to build Enzinc-powered batteries, production will scale very rapidly as we commercialize.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Richmond?

Richmond is an emerging place for startups, and while it’s close to Oakland, which has been the traditional site for many energy software startups, it was my top choice for growing a company with “hard tech”  (that is, technology development that needs a lab, not just desks for software engineers). Richmond, especially the Richmond Field Station that’s owned by U.C. Berkeley, offers lab space so I can be hands-on and work side-by-side with the product development team. A lot of support for founders is virtual these days, but when it comes to finding space to start and grow a business, Richmond is one of the Bay Area’s best kept secrets.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Surround yourself both with senior advisors who complement your skill set and bring real-world experience to the table, and with emerging talent you can mentor and grow. And make sure you have fun on the ups-and-downs of the entrepreneurial ride.

 

For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series