WiTricity: Investment Wishlist

The Technology

Witiricity (short for “wireless electricity”) is an engineering startup based in Watertown, MA that was founded by engineers from MIT and is backed by Stata Ventures, Argonaut Private Equity and Toyota.

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Witricity is developing a line of devices that use a form of wireless energy transfer to provide electrical energy to objects remotely—without the use of wires. The technology is based on strong coupling between electromagnetic resonant objects to transfer energy wirelessly between them.

The Witricity devices are coupled almost entirely with magnetic fields, which makes them safer than resonant energy transfer using electric fields, since most materials couple weakly to magnetic fields. The Witricity devices also are unusual in that they support efficient energy transfer for “mid-range” distances several times larger than the diameter of the resonant objects—meaning devices can receive electrical energy at a further distance from the transmitting source.

An Emerging Market

Witricity is particularly appealing due to the timing of its entrance into the market. In the last 5 years there has been a tremendous amount of innovation in the mobile/portable device space. In the past, consumers used their electronic devices in primarily stationary capacities, now, however, users are utilizing and experiencing technology “on the go.” This makes the market ripe for Witricity as it provides a plethora of compliment goods (such as cell phones, ipads, laptops, etc.,) that currently require plug-in chargers, with new, more convenient ways of powering up.

Witricity could mimic the success of wireless Internet providers. Finding an outlet or carrying around a charger is simply inconvenient for many mobile users. Similar to the wireless Internet, which offers users the ability to connect to the Internet almost anywhere, Witricity will enable users to charge devices anywhere they go. Imagine being able to go to Starbucks and not have to spend 5 minutes hunting around for an outlet but rather settling into a chair and having the ability to have the electricity beamed to your device from one central transmitter that multiple users could get power from at the same time.

Moreover, Witricity is well positioned to be at the forefront of this wireless powering trend. Whereas many of Witricity’s competitors, such as uBeam and Powercast Corp, are still in the research and development stages of the product cycle, Witricity is ahead of the competition in that it already offers a range of fully tested commercial products. Importantly, the products have so far been proven to be safe as the magnetic fields interact very weakly with biological organisms (such as people). High barriers to entry in the form of expensive hardware and patented scientific knowledge prevent smaller startups from emerging. Meanwhile, no large companies (titans like Google, IBM, Microsoft, GE, etc.,) have expressed interests in the wireless electricity industry as they are focused much more on high profile markets like Saas, enterprise, mobile, etc.,

Signs of Profitability

Witricity would be a great company to have in the portfolio if for no other reason than the varied markets it could appeal to and the diverse revenue sources it could garner. Already the automobile industry and public transportation industry have demonstrated interest in alternative forms of energy. In addition, restaurants, coffee shops, malls, parks and other public gathering places would all be perfect places for wireless electricity. If production costs were reduced, Witricity’s product could even be used in the household to power household electronics.

In terms of predicting success, from a leadership point of view, the management team is also very strong and has a previous record of success. There are a large number of MIT scientists who work in various capacitates for the company, ensuring that the technical aspects of the products are well researched and developed. In addition Eric Giler, the CEO, is a successful serial entrepreneur with a track record of leading startups to successful acquisitions.

If successful enough, clear exit opportunities for the startup would be via an IPO or an acquisition by a larger tech company such as Microsoft or GE. To sum, Witricity possesses all of the ingredients of a potentially very successful startup: an innovative product, the right market timing, growing demand, a clear competitive advantage, strong management and feasible exit opportunities. I would be love to be a shareholder in the company.


Looking Back at 2012: The Big Winners

Looking back at 2012, there have been a number of startups that have stepped it up. This is my list of 5 big winners from 2012, many of which started off the year as obscure little companies but have since become household names.

Spotify: Music streaming service that provides access to millions of songs. Several things set Spotify apart from its competitors (like Pandora). First, the service is consistently good across a range of platforms including: computer, mobile, tablet and home entertainment system. It is even possible to download songs for when you are offline. Second, Spotify connects you with facebook friends allowing music selection and discovery to be a more social process. Third, Spotify offers different services and prices for different segments of customers allowing flexibility in the choice of a product line. Importantly, I have also found the search feature on Spotify to be far quicker and more accurate than that of its competitors.

Instagram: Since its acquisition by facebook, Instagram continues to be (in my mind) the best photo-sharing application out there. Instagram actually makes taking and sharing photos fun because it is easy to 1) take the photos 2) transform the photos into “works of art” and then 3) share the photos across a range of social platforms including facebook, twitter and tumblr. Instagram is also a case study on how to do mobile the right way.

Flipboard: Flipboard is one of my favorite news source apps because it lets me to read about things that I care about the most. The application aggregates news stories from various sources (everything from major news publications to twitter) and then provides a customized magazine-style interface from which to consume that news. I love how the app allows you to feel like you’re actually reading a physical magazine through its primary design feature—the ability to “flip” to the next page. The app also makes the internet-less subway ride to work everyday more enjoyable.

Pinterest: Pinterest is a fun way to view and share photos and videos from around the Internet in a social setting. The ability to share content via online pinboards also allows people to show their creativity and originality. I run an education-focused nonprofit on the side and while writing entries on our blog is certainly useful, I find collections of photos to be far more effective in communicating the vision behind what we’re doing.

Shazam: Shazam is a great tool for discovering new music. All you have to do is hold your phone up to the music or TV source and within seconds you’ll get more information about the song that is playing, like the name of the track and artist, streaming lyrics, videos and special offers. It’s a really great way to learn about new music, and I use the app all the time while on the go.