Each year millions of people are affected by weather related events like storms, blizzards and hurricanes. Among other challenges, these weather events result in wide spread power outages and damages to electrical infrastructure—requiring repair that often takes weeks to restore. It is estimated that nearly 8 million people on the east coast lost power during Hurricane Sandy and another million people faced power outages this past weekend during Winter Storm Nemo. Many of these people went days if not weeks without power.
To address this I propose the creation of multi-weather energy generators (MEGs). Similar to traditional back-up generators, MEGs would provide an alternative form of energy to power homes and commercial businesses during and in the aftermath of major storms. However, these devices would be multi-faceted and would work throughout the year to continually store and synthesize various forms of energy into some sort of battery format that could then be used on an as needed basis. During the Summer/Spring for example, MEGs would use solar panels to continually convert solar energy into stored electrical energy. During the Fall/Winter, MEGs would use wind turbines to convert and store mechanical energy into electrical energy.
For most of the year the energy created by MEGs would simply sit as stored energy in a battery format. However, during the 2-3 weeks of the year when weather sours and households faced major power outages, MEGs could be drawn on to provide much needed power until the power grid is restored. In designing these devices the focus would be on making them light-weight, low-maintenance and affordable to ensure that consumers would not incur a large cost in terms of money spent and time needed to maintain the devices.
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.
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.