Dr. Deeana Ahmed VP of Strategy & Government Relations Shares the Clean Energy Vision
SBN Detroit talked to Dr. Deeana Ahmed, VP of Strategy & Government Relations at Our Next Energy (ONE). Ahmed holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience and nutrition from Columbia University, an MSc and MPH in policy from Tufts University, and a BS from the University of Michigan.
She is also a published researcher and policy analyst who has conducted large policy evaluations for the NYC Department of Education, managed grants for a Silicon Valley non-profit, and owns and operates a start-up education technology firm. Ahmed is an alumnus of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team, where she led the development of the nationally and globally ranked solar car, InfiniUM’s battery pack.
Here she shares ONE’s visions and accomplishments toward decarbonizing the grid, the importance of workforce development, and the role it plays in the future of clean energy.
Q: What is involved in your role as Vice President of Strategy & Government Relations at Our Next Energy?
A: I oversee corporate strategy and government relations. I’m at the front end of the business and my team works to incubate partnerships to help grow our footprint. Currently, we are focused on securing raw material vendors to enhance our supply chain and identify partners there.
In tandem, my team leads site selection for future factories and seeks additional federal and state funding dollars to scale our manufacturing capacity.
I am also involved in thinking about new verticals and conducting market analysis and business case development around potential partnerships.
The government relations side is engaged in local and state-level advocacy, working toward net-zero goals to facilitate the transition to electrification.
The government and strategy teams at ONE act as our internal think tank and consultants for the business. We wrestle with perspective business ideas and drill deeper to qualify them.
Q: What are your immediate goals?
A: In the very short term we are working to establish new factories and achieve federal funding for that.
Overall, we are looking at and working to help operationalize decarbonization goals for cell manufacturing.
Another focus is the facilitation of a circular economy for ONE where we are integrating ground-up refinement of materials used in our cell manufacturing to the deployment to second-life applications and recycling at the end of life of our products.
Q: What are your longer-term goals?
A: We are thinking about how we can deploy resources in a way that reaches people in measurable terms of impact. We are planning to scale up our factories, bring manufacturing back to the U.S. and move toward a “green industrial revolution.” By doing so we hope to create up to 2,000 jobs and build an upward trajectory of employment to create an impact on the communities we are in.
To that end, we realize we have an impact on the lives of the people who will one day work for this company and help to grow a cleantech industry in the U.S.
In parallel, we’re excited about participating in an energy transition in the U.S. in concert with other companies and innovators to reestablish our country’s position as leaders in technology.
At the end of the day, I have a two-year-old, and I want her to have a beautiful planet to call home.
Q: What are the biggest challenges?
A: Workforce development. ONE is growing at a breakneck pace, having gone from 12 to 160 employees in the past 1½ years. Working to recruit the right people while scaling has been a strength and a challenge.
There is also a challenge in transitioning the workforce from combustion engines to electric. If it’s done well and with the right stakeholder engagement there are a lot of upsides.
And as with everyone in manufacturing, the supply chain is a challenge. Sourcing raw materials requires a lot of industry collaboration and engagement of the right people and investments across the country.
Q: In January, ONE demonstrated a prototype battery in an EV that traveled 752 miles in December at 55mph without recharging. Please elaborate on this success story and the next steps?
A: This accomplishment represents to me true engineering grit. We were working toward an arguably unachievable goal and the team came together to show that the seemingly impossible can be possible.
This surrogate pack represents our Gemini battery. We recently announced a partnership with BMW
and will demonstrate the range extender battery in their iX platform this year. We are working to be able to demonstrate 600 miles on a single charge in the platform by year’s end. Doubling the current range of EVs is a paradigm required to move the market, and that is what we are working toward.
Q: What drives your passion?
A: I like to wrestle with big problems, and the energy business now represents generational investments moving toward solving the biggest problems.
As a mom working on one of the hardest problems right now, I have an opportunity to impact generations to come.
Launching a new manufacturing facility means we can help decarbonize the grid and deliver clean energy globally. That’s a huge undertaking and the world is paying attention. I’m so lucky to be part of that and bring a lens of public health and impact on kids to this equation – and their future.
Q: You also own and operate a start-up education technology firm – please elaborate.
A: Yes, Ivy Admissions. I founded this a little over 10 years ago. While tutoring 8th and 9th graders, I realized that at this stage in their life, if these kids receive the right “input” the output could be amazing. Meaning that if their interests and skills are realized and cultivated there is so much upside to be had for the trajectory of their abilities and seeking opportunities.
Ivy Admissions now has over 30 consultants and over 60 active students. We have seen these kids publish research, start their own companies, seek grants… It has taught me a lot of lessons and skills that apply to my work today.
Q: From your perspective – what is the role of businesses in Detroit in terms of sustainability overall for the city?
A: Investing in the city and in those who have been doing the hard work is another opportunity for businesses to start to drive sustainability initiatives in Detroit. We need to focus on the whole picture and bring the community into the discussions. We can learn so much from residents – gaining this knowledge will inform and drive solutions.
So ultimately, my advice is to listen, invest, and continue to partner with other local entities, residents, and the overall community.
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