Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Russell Walker, Andrew Dilts. The Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management (referred as “Battery Polaris” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Strategy & Execution. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Decision making, Financial analysis, Growth strategy, Manufacturing, Risk management, Venture capital.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management Case Study

Polaris Battery Labs was an Oregon-based startup that provided innovation services to companies in the lithium ion battery industry. Its operating philosophy and expertise in this fast-growing industry enabled it to provide great value to its clients, but as a startup that was seeking growth the company was subject to multiple risks. For Polaris, taking clients, developing new manufacturing capabilities to meet unproven battery technologies, and even extending credit to its clients posed real risk. Many of its clients were startups themselves and had a significant probability of failure. Others were established firms testing new and unproven battery technologies, many of which were unlikely to gain traction in the market. The case examines how a technology-driven firm managed the risk of working with startups, claiming appropriate intellectual property, and developing a sustainable portfolio of clients.

Case Authors : Russell Walker, Andrew Dilts

Topic : Strategy & Execution

Related Areas : Decision making, Financial analysis, Growth strategy, Manufacturing, Risk management, Venture capital

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10019132) -10019132 - -
Year 1 3458158 -6560974 3458158 0.9434 3262413
Year 2 3959483 -2601491 7417641 0.89 3523926
Year 3 3943646 1342155 11361287 0.8396 3311161
Year 4 3227616 4569771 14588903 0.7921 2556574
TOTAL 14588903 12654074

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2634942

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Profitability Index
2. Net Present Value
3. Internal Rate of Return
4. Payback Period

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Battery Polaris shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Battery Polaris have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Strategy & Execution Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Battery Polaris often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Battery Polaris needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10019132) -10019132 - -
Year 1 3458158 -6560974 3458158 0.8696 3007094
Year 2 3959483 -2601491 7417641 0.7561 2993938
Year 3 3943646 1342155 11361287 0.6575 2593011
Year 4 3227616 4569771 14588903 0.5718 1845400
TOTAL 10439443

The Net NPV after 4 years is 420311

(10439443 - 10019132 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10019132) -10019132 - -
Year 1 3458158 -6560974 3458158 0.8333 2881798
Year 2 3959483 -2601491 7417641 0.6944 2749641
Year 3 3943646 1342155 11361287 0.5787 2282203
Year 4 3227616 4569771 14588903 0.4823 1556528
TOTAL 9470170

The Net NPV after 4 years is -548962

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9470170 - 10019132 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Battery Polaris to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Battery Polaris has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Battery Polaris can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Battery Polaris, then the stock price of the Battery Polaris should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Battery Polaris should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

Negotiation Strategy of Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management

References & Further Readings

Russell Walker, Andrew Dilts (2018), "Polaris Battery Labs: Startup Risk Management Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.

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