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.


Making a Bunch of Green by Going Green

I thought it would probably be a good idea to write about something that has to do with the environment as I haven’t yet touched on this yet. The problem is I have always had some degree of reservation when placing entrepreneurship and environmentalism in the same sentence. It’s not that entrepreneurs can’t uphold environmental principles or help reduce pollution or any other dilemma. It’s simply the intense difference in image and meaning surrounding the two concepts. Often people will say that going green should be an altruistic thing that you do for the earth and for future generations. The concept of making a profit while doing so is often associated with greed or inefficiency.

Yet, I would say that making a profit while simultaneously bettering the environment is something that should be respected, and perhaps even promoted in the coming years. And entrepreneurs who innovate in this manner may soon become leaders of the environmental movement.

Take James Poss of Needham, Massachusetts for example. He invented the BigBelly trash can and started Seahorse Power Co. to advance his product. The BigBelly trash can is similar to any other trash can except it uses solar energy to compress trash when the trash can gets too full. This means that people can pile more trash into their trash bins, which in turn means that trash collection frequency is drastically reduced. As the number of diesel-burning garbage trucks decreases, the amount of fuel burned by these trucks decreases as well. Moreover Poss’ Device has put him in places of influence on a national level—the U.S. Forest Service and the Borough of Queens are both clients.

Other entrepreneurs such as Professor Daniel Kammen tend to focus more on the research and innovation end of entrepreneurship. Kammen, a professor at UC Berkley and Cornell alumnus, developed a UV tube for light bulbs that saves energy and cuts down on costs. Although Kammen had the opportunity to plunge fully into growing a company, he chose to stay in the innovative phase so that he can contribute more to the current knowledge of sustainable energy. (Click here to listen to eClips content from Kammen)

While entrepreneurs like Poss and Kammen have different goals and priorities, it is clear that such entrepreneurs are jumping into the market very rapidly. The Center for Small Business and the Environment (CSBE) said clean-tech startups accounted for 6.4 percent of all North American venture investments in 2003. And this number is only going to keep climbing in the coming years. Clearly, environmentalism is becoming a global issue. Look to entrepreneurs to lead the way.