Meet one of the hottest Charlotte-area tech companies you may never have heard of

Photo courtesy of Atom Power

Huntersville-based Atom Power has grown from a small startup on the UNC Charlotte campus to a powerhouse garnering 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, according to Reuters, announced a $100 million investment in Atom Power, the local company’s biggest investment to date.

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

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

Enlarge: 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.

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

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

“I personally saw that there was going to be a wave of transitioning from carbon-based fuels and going all-electric, which is really happening,” Kennedy says.

Today, he describes Atom as a power distribution company. Atom manufactures digital circuit breakers to power electric vehicle chargers for customers such as large-scale developers and multi-family properties.

Zoom out: SK’s recent investment will allow Atom to expand its operations throughout the United States and around the world, Kennedy said.

  • SK also announced a $50 million stake in Atom Power, making it the local company’s largest outside investor. Other big Atom investors include Siemens and ABB.
  • To note : SK pledged earlier this year to invest $22 billion in a range of technologies and “clean technology 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 an office in Raleigh, he adds.

And after: Atom plans to use its technology to help evolve electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Scalability, says Kennedy, has been a challenge for manufacturers of electric vehicle chargers.

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

Car charging is Atom’s main market today, says Kennedy, but the technology could adapt to any electric industry. This could go in a data center, commercial building or residences, for example.

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

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