Skip to main content
Justin Reed
November 9, 2023

Justin Reed: 2023 Early Career Award recipient

Written By: Staff


Justin Reed
MSEE ’07, PhDEE ’14 (BSEE ’05, University of Washington)
President and CTO, C-Motive Technologies Inc

Justin is an electrical engineer, innovator and executive who is driving the future of electric machines through sustainable, pioneering high-efficiency motor technologies.

How did your experience in the College of Engineering influence your career path?

I came into UW with an interest in power engineering, and I always had an interest in entrepreneurship. A lot of my career path is very closely tied in with the company that I founded with Dan Ludois in our time in WEMPEC, where every Friday, a sponsor talks about their innovations, products and interesting challenges. With motors, we saw a lot of the same stuff every time, as electromagnetic motors have been around for such a long time. That got Dan and I thinking about different types of motors using different physics, and we ended up starting the company as a result.

What professor made the biggest impact on you?

There’s a whole lot of people, but it’s hard not to acknowledge one’s advisor. You’re really attached at the hip for years and years. So, Professor Giri (Venkataramanan). I learned a lot of electronics design and modeling from him, and the elegance of simplicity. I tend to overcomplicate things; he’s the exact opposite—the beautiful simplification is something he excels at. That really has helped me over the years to look for simple solutions to problems.

Give us a few highlights of your professional career.

I’m drinking from a fire hose! I’ve learned a lot about early-stage companies and how to develop technology; the learning never ends. I manage all of our IP; we’re developing the intellectual property that other companies will use to make products incorporating electrostatic motors, which isn’t something taught in grad school. A couple of years ago, we hired our now-CEO, who brought in some startup-veteran former colleagues, and that’s also been a learning experience of its own. They understand that things are shifting, priorities change very frequently, and some of those changes are just fine, while other changes you need to manage very carefully. So I’ve learned a lot from them as to how we should be treating our organization as it continues to evolve, and controlling what we want to evolve into, with a keen eye on the culture we’re building.

Describe the impacts you’ve had on society as a result of your contributions.

Companies are very much becoming aware that electrostatic motors are a thing—and a practical thing
at that. There’s likely still a healthy dose of skepticism out there, and we still have development work to do, but we also have demonstrated orders of magnitude more torque and power with this approach than anyone else in its 275-year history. So now some of the world’s largest companies are paying attention to our tech as a way of meeting their sustainability targets. When we get to our destination of customers buying our products and integrating our motors into their industrial equipment products, we will have delivered a more efficient, more sustainable, environmentally friendly technology that is responsible for gigatons of carbon reductions. And that’s something that benefits everyone the world over.

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?

This electrostatic motor concept has been around since Ben Franklin’s time and we’re giving it perhaps the biggest developmental push it’s ever had, seeing it through to practical use. We continue to set world records for torque production and power production with electrostatics, and it’s only going to go up from here. Setting a record is something that makes you feel pretty good and that you’re doing something right.

What do you like best?

Winter or summer in Madison?

Fun on the Terrace or fun on Lake Mendota?

Camp Randall, Kohl Center, or the Fieldhouse?
Camp Randall.

Sweet Caroline, or Jump Around?
Jump Around.

Flamingos or Badgers?
Badgers all the way.

Orange custard chocolate chip or anything else?
Orange custard chocolate chip is great. Blue moon is good, too.