Academia to Industry — The honest account of Federico Pesci! 🔬

Federico Pesci, Fed to his friends, has recently stepped out of academia and landed firmly on his feet as a Senior Scientist at Hydrogen Startup, H2GO Power. Nice work!

With a PhD in Chemistry and over ten years of experience working in energy storage systems, it’s safe to say Fed is an expert in his field. Fed’s knowledge spans from photoelectrochemical water splitting to solid-state lithium metal batteries and hydrogen storage. Being able to store hydrogen in a safer, lighter and more efficient way compared to the current technology, would make it one of the most promising materials in the race to meet decarbonisation targets. Fed has the strong belief that this research is the basis for a cleaner and more sustainable world, and I for one couldn’t agree more! 🧪

Thinking of a similar leap of faith into industry? See what Fed has to say about the transition, plunging straight into the deep end and why it’s a fantastic idea to join an energy startup!

So Fed, can you tell us a little bit more about the man behind the science?

Well, I’m Italian! I moved to the UK and fell in love with the culture and way of living a decade ago and I’m still here. I play the double bass with friends, love the outdoors, the great British sunshine 😉 and of course the English pubs! That said, science is a huge part of who I am, I’ve always been super interested in energy-related subjects and it’s what I hope to do for my entire career.

Let’s talk academia — the good, the bad & the ugly…

The best thing about academia is the freedom in the research, often you don’t work toward a commercial target and the final goal remains very open which enables you to explore more and gives you great freedom and flexibility. That freedom, combined with travel, meeting brilliant people and an international environment is probably what kept me there so long.

The downside… losing contact with the ‘real world’ — sometimes end up focusing on very tiny problems and losing focus on the ‘why’ and often never seeing a final product. In academia, you’re often working on very fundamental research, focussing mostly on understanding what limits the performances of materials to enable better engineering, rather than building a new and exciting product.

What was your perception of working in industry?

I actually had a really positive perception; I liked the idea of building a product with reason and purpose and the opportunity for personal and professional development. The big thing for me though was building something that people will actually use!

That said, I knew the deadlines would be stricter and I was actually very unsure how much ‘research’ there would be in R&D!

So, it sounds like you were ready to make the leap!

Yes, I’d reached a stage where I wanted to use my experience and my knowledge on something that could be commercialised and have an impact on both people and the planet. It just felt like the right time. I’d tried to make the move 3 years prior but my heart wasn’t there yet, so I ended up staying put a little longer.

The big question — how did you set about things?

I used LinkedIn a lot, I asked a lot of colleagues for insights and contacts, chose a field I was passionate about (hydrogen) and started applying for jobs! The support I had was great, with loads of interesting conversations, and lots of encouragement — it’s always good to talk to people! Somewhere along the way, I applied to H2GO Power, there was a great fit from the start, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Was the job search daunting?

Actually no, I really enjoyed it — it was a great experience, and I was lucky to meet a lot of interesting people and companies.

And 6 weeks in… how does it feel now you’re on the other side?

I’m thrilled! Very happy indeed. Joining a young and growing company is very exciting and the people are great! It’s a nice feeling, the sense of energy in the people and a great sense of shared commitment and purpose. Being part of something with a clear, defined vision and a great purpose and taking that to market is a fantastic opportunity, and the joint effort is even stronger than the sum of each person. Talking of people, the team is great, very ambitious, very supportive — everyone was happy to help get me up to speed very quickly. In short, I’m really loving it.

How easy was it to integrate?

Academia taught me how to learn new things, what I’m doing now isn’t directly linked to my post-doc but the mindset academia gave me is very useful in this transition. For others who may be unsure, my advice would be if you can adapt in research, you will be ok adapting to industry. Sure, it’s a different way of working, shorter objectives, faster pace, but a clearer end goal with no time to waste getting there which keeps you focused. It’s full throttle!

The other big change is the shift in mindset, and the move away from continuously striving for perfection towards a focus on commercial viability. It’s really exciting and motivating, but I must admit I do have to hold back my desire to get into the tiny details… thankfully the drive to build the product allows me to keep focused.

How does it feel to be working on something that will be used by the public?

It’s great — starting with the basic chemistry and moving towards a final working product. I also really like the multidisciplinary nature of what we are doing — electronic engineering, chemistry, mechanical engineering and AI coming together to make the final product that will be commercially viable this year! Having freedom and independence within your own area whilst still being very connected to the whole team is perfect for me.

What does the future hold?

Continuing to learn and develop. I’d like to take more responsibility for people as well as chemistry in the future. And of course, I’m looking forward to a successful launch, and to exploring more applications of the product and doing my bit towards making H2GO Power a market leader.

So a whole new world — what else are you focusing on?

Well, I’m growing my network is this new world. Actually, we’re based in the Imperial College Incubator with 10 other start-ups so loads of new people here and also continuing to network via LinkedIn, seminars, events and hoping to find an industry mentor too. I’m also keen to keep my finger on the pulse with advancements in academia, keeping an eye on finding new materials for what we are doing here at H2GO Power. Oh, and of course I’m looking forward to meeting up in pubs again! It’s important to keep the social side of work collaboration.

Looking forward to that too — first round is on me to toast your new adventure!

Any final advice for the person sitting and wondering if they should make this move?

Think long and hard, but if you are ready to make a bigger impact on society then 100% go for industry, it’s very rewarding — Go for it!!

Avid Traveller. Sustainability Advocate. London based Recruiter. Sustainability and Cleantech Writer. Cyclist. Muay Thai Enthusiast.