Sep 25, 2022 - Business

Meet one of the splashiest tech companies in the Charlotte area you may’ve never heard of

Photo courtesy of Atom Power

Huntersville-based Atom Power grew from a small startup on UNC Charlotte’s campus to a powerhouse grabbing global attention for its electric vehicle charging technology in less than a decade.

Driving the news: Last month, SK, South Korea’s largest conglomerate behind Samsung, per Reuters, announced a $100 million investment in Atom Power, the local company’s largest investment to date.

Why it matters: Historically, the Triangle has gotten all the attention for tech talent in North Carolina (it’s even the reason Amazon snubbed Charlotte for its HQ2 shortlist). But Charlotte is rife with engineering and technology workers, says Atom co-founder Ryan Kennedy, a Charlotte native. That’s why he has his company’s headquarters here.

“That’s the assumption, that there’s not a lot of tech talent here. The reality is quite different,” Kennedy says. Charlotte just doesn’t market itself well enough as a hotbed for technology workers and jobs, he adds.

Zoom in: Kennedy worked for years installing electrical systems in Uptown buildings before going to college — first for two years at Central Piedmont then three at UNC Charlotte, where he studied electrical engineering. For years after college, he worked in building design and construction management, again at big Uptown towers like the Duke Energy Center.

Flashback: He started Atom Power in 2014. The idea was to create a simple, unified platform (a circuit breaker) as an alternative way to generate energy, Kennedy tells Axios.

  • Atom designed its technology to be able to scale quickly — the charging infrastructure has to be able to keep up with demand, per the company.

“I personally saw there was going to be a wave of transitioning off of carbon-based fuels and transitioning everything to electricity, which is really happening,” Kennedy says.

Today, he describes Atom as an energy-delivery company. Atom manufactures digital circuit breakers to power electric vehicle chargers for clients like large-scale developers and multi-family properties.

Zoom out: SK’s recent investment will allow Atom to expand the business to the entire U.S. and globally, Kennedy says.

  • SK also announced a $50 million stake in Atom Power, making it the local company’s largest outside investor. Other large Atom investors include Siemens and ABB.
  • Of note: SK pledged earlier this year to invest $22 billion across a range of technology and “clean tech industries” in the United States,” WRAL reported.

Between the lines: With SK’s investment, Atom also plans to expand its workforce. The company employs about 70 people in Huntersville today; the goal is to grow to 240 by the end of 2023, Kennedy says, primarily in manufacturing and engineering.

  • The company also plans to open a Raleigh office, he adds.

What’s next: Atom plans to use its technology to help scale the electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Scalability, Kennedy says, has been a challenge for EV charger manufacturers.

  • What’s more, SK cited Atom’s core technology as the reason for its investment, per a statement from the two companies. This means the tech could be applied to a range of different industries.

Charging cars is Atom’s primary market today, Kennedy says, but the tech could scale to any electrical industry. It could go into a data center, a commercial building or residences, for instance.

“Atom Power has helped put Charlotte on the map in many ways, globally at this point,” Kennedy says.


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