Mahfuz Kamal undertook his PhD at Newcastle University as a member of the first cohort of Faraday Institution PhD researchers. He is the first generation of his family to attend university, an aspiring entrepreneur, and keen to harness the commercial potential of his research. Mahfuz launched his start-up, Recovolt, which was recently awarded a Faraday Entrepreneurial Fellowship.

In this #FaradayPathway he shares with us the value of mentorship and role models, the rewards of pursuing one’s passions, thoughts around overcoming barriers, and the importance of believing in yourself and your product.

A pathway to a PhD in electrical engineering

Mahfuz began by reflecting on the profound influence one engineer had on his career path and decision to attend university and whose guidance catalysed his passion for electrical engineering.

“In secondary school I volunteered at my local community centre, which was a prayer hall as well. We had a lot of issues with the AV technology. I got reeled into that section because I was doing a lot of electronics on the side as a hobby. I worked with an engineer who volunteered at the centre. I expressed my curiosity to him, asking how he possessed such innate understanding of electronics while I struggled with manuals and instructions. He told me, ‘As soon as you understand the fundamentals of electronics and engineering, everything else just kind of falls into place.’ That was kind of the light bulb moment for me. I thought if that’s the case, then I should follow his footsteps.”

A picture of Mahfuz Kamal and his mother.

Mahfuz Kamal and his mother.

Mahfuz is from the first generation in his family to go to university. Reflecting on his journey, he shares the pivotal role his mother played in shaping his academic path, underscoring the significance she placed in his education and its profound impact on his achievements.

“My mum was very strict, she put a lot of importance on education. She made me go to tutoring groups, kept me out of trouble and ensured that I did all my homework. She emphasised the significance of education. At the time, I may not have fully appreciated of her efforts, but now I am profoundly grateful for all she has done. It’s because of her I’ve been able to come this far.”

Reflecting on his undergraduate years, Mahfuz fondly reminisces about his time studying electrical engineering at Newcastle University and the pivotal moment that sparked his motivation to pursue a PhD.

“Undergraduate at University of Newcastle was fun. It was a lot easier than A levels – I was doing something that I enjoyed. I was playing about with actual electronics in an environment that allowed me to be creative.

“One day I bumped into one of my lecturers who introduced me to his son-in-law, another electronics enthusiast. We started talking and he showed me his electric bike. The next week I bought a bike and converted it to electric!

“We became best friends, and he urged me to consider my future beyond graduation. I said that I was done with education and that I wanted to get a job. He said ‘That is wrong. Maybe you can go off and get a good job, earn a lot. But that is not where the real skills lie. You need to go do a PhD. Your research will do something.’

“I truly appreciated his guidance. Before then I couldn’t see how research could make an impact in the world.”

A PhD in battery engineering

How did Mahfuz find out about the PhD opportunity and how did he end up in battery research?

“I wanted to do a PhD in power electronics. I spoke with several university lecturers, initially without success. Then I came across an email from Dr Simon Lambert at Newcastle mentioning a battery-related PhD. Next thing I knew, I was admitted onto the PhD programme.

Mahfuz Kamal and Cohort 1 Faraday Institution PhD researchers.

Mahfuz Kamal and Cohort 1 Faraday Institution PhD researchers.

“My PhD was very enriching. Especially being part of the first cohort of Faraday Institution PhD researchers. That was special. We weren’t just researchers in science and engineering, we also got uplifted with the necessary skills to do well outside of the academic environment.”

“Beyond academia, we developed skills in stakeholder management, project management, and managing your timeline. And it was truly fun. When I compared my experience to my colleagues, everyone was just doing research, whereas I was out in Oxford, doing STEM outreach, giving biweekly meetings, doing a mini-MBA. So, it’s a very hands-on, uplifting approach.”

In a YouTube video of PhD Cohort 1 successes Mahfuz mentions how the MBA equipped him with the fundamental knowledge to reach higher. Watch the video here.

“Another thing that I liked about the Faraday PhD training programme was that it is very industry focused. We had industry visits, worked with industry partners, which made us appreciate the research that we were doing. This ensured that our research was not merely academic but aimed at driving tangible improvements in current processes.”

The first cohort of 13 Faraday Institution PhD researchers have now all successfully transitioned into full time roles in the battery sector.

Early entrepreneurship

Mahfuz’s journey into entrepreneurship began with various ventures, each reflecting his innate drive for innovation and enterprise. From experimenting with graphic design and hair cutting to exploring DIY projects, he displayed early signs of an entrepreneurial spirit.

However, circumstances led to a shift in focus towards his PhD research. With the emergence of meaningful results and specialised training from the Faraday Institution, Mahfuz redirected his energies entirely towards academic pursuits, showcasing his adaptability and commitment to pursuing impactful endeavours.

Entrepreneurship, the value of mentorship and a supportive network

Mahfuz Kamal and his mentor Simon Lambert

Mahfuz and his mentor Dr Simon Lambert

Mahfuz is founder of Recovolt, a spin-off focusing on a cutting-edge battery discharge system for use at their end-of-life to ready them for battery recycling. By leveraging advanced power electronics and intelligent algorithms the technology can discharge multiple batteries simultaneously – addressing a productivity area that the recycling industry has identified as needing urgent action. The technology originated from Mahfuz’s PhD thesis, which he completed as part of the ReLiB project.

He talks about his preconceived ideas around the barriers of spinning out a company.

“Firstly, I thought only rich people could establish companies. I deemed it impossible for me as I don’t come from a wealthy background. However, my perspective shifted during the Battery School in Newcastle, where Professor Paul Christensen shared his experience with a spin-out venture. Additionally, a mini-MBA session shed light on the process of setting up a business. I soon learned about the accessibility of funding from external organisations like Innovate UK and EPSRC.

“The second barrier as I saw it is that there’s a lot more spin-offs happening down South. There isn’t so much of a culture for entrepreneurship up here in the North-East, though Newcastle University had some successful spinouts such as AEM. I started voicing my opinion that I’d like to do a startup and my supervisor Dr Simon Lambert backed me from the start. Momentum really grew after I got promising research results.”


London and the South East of England account for 34% of the UK business population. The North East has the fewest privately-held businesses: only around 154,000.

Source: MoneyZine: Eye-Opening UK Startup Statistics for 2024


Mahfuz benefited greatly from being in a network that included other entrepreneurs, who freely shared their knowledge and experience. Kieran O’Regan (a fellow member of cohort 1) and Gavin White co-founded About: Energy, a spin out from the University of Birmingham and Imperial College London.

Mahfuz outlined how he turned his spinout into a reality – the importance of perseverance when applying for funding, the need to believe in yourself and your product, and the value of knowing the right people that can guide you.

“As soon as I handed in my thesis, I went through the Innovate UK ICURe programme. I was able to travel widely and speak to different stakeholders within the battery value chain. It really allowed me to understand the market pull, and that shaped the product proposition we now have.

“There were points when we didn’t have funding when I started to doubt myself. That was nerves kicking in. But rejections build your character. My mentors told me it is normal to get hundreds of rejections – that it’s something that you need to factor into your emotions. It took me some time but now it feels like part of the process. You really need that one person to believe in you.”

Stephen Irish, former MD of Hyperdrive Innovation was one such person for Mahfuz:

Mahfuz Kamal giving a presentation.

Mahfuz giving a presentation.

“Stephen has been a cornerstone in navigating the early stages of our startup adventure. Introduced through the Faraday PhD Training Programme, he quickly became more than just a mentor; he’s been a guiding force. With a keen eye for commercial strategy, Stephen’s advice has been invaluable in directing our projects trajectory. His role in shaping our approach to the market has been fundamental, offering insights that have sharpened our focus and opened doors to new opportunities.”

Mahfuz’s ICURe funding was for 3 months, and he then won an Impact Accelerator Award (IAA) from EPSRC for another three months. In March 2024, he was awarded a 12-month Faraday Entrepreneurial Fellowship.

“The entrepreneurial fellowship will build the business case for an efficient and effective battery discharge system to streamline the recycling process and to adjust the technology so that it becomes more commercially viable.”

So what does the entrepreneurial fellowship mean for Mahfuz?

“It means that I can fulfil my dream.”


Written by Digital and Social Media Coordinator Petra Gudelj, and published May 2024.