PowerbyProxi leads the charge
There comes a tipping point in any company's evolution when it moves beyond being a hopeful start-up.
Typically there are three ways it can go: muddling along with tepid growth year after year, heading backwards until it fails, or rapidly growing and becoming globally successful.
Kiwi start-up PowerbyProxi falls into the latter camp. The five-year-old wireless power company is about to hit big.
The tipping point has been the miniaturisation of its technology, which allows it to be used in the huge consumer electronic market. PowerbyProxi has developed the world's only receiver technology small enough to be integrated directly into smartphones, tablets, and rechargeable batteries. Unlike existing wireless power recharging solutions that require devices to be placed in a precise spot on a charging pad, its wireless power transmitter station means you can chuck all your devices with a Proxi receiver into one spot at the same time and they'll all be recharged.
The Proxi 3D is equivalent to the now ubiquitous wi-fi modem, the company says.
PowerbyProxi is currently in negotiation with some of the world's largest consumer electronic manufacturers and hopes to have its technology go to market within the next 12 to 18 months.
"We've reached technical maturity and we're getting ready for prime time," says director David Beard from shareholder and venture capitalist Movac, which has sunk about $4 million into the start-up to date.
"We're trying to create some ubiquity around the standard. If all devices use the same transmitter pads you can connect everything together - toys, iphones, tablets - so that's where the holy grail is in all of this."
The start-up was spun out of the University of Auckland's engineering school. The university's commercial arm, Uniservices, remains one of its 10 shareholders.
Co-founder and chief executive Fady Mishriki began work with wireless power during the fourth year of his engineering degree. Under the supervision of Professor Patrick Yu (now the company's chief technology officer), Mishriki and another student spent a year developing a system based on Yu's research into wireless power, which works on the principle of electromagnetic induction. Mishriki always had consumer electronics in mind with the aim of creating a single wireless receiver that would replace multiple chargers.
With help from the university's business incubator, the Icehouse, Mishriki licensed three patents from UniServices.
It was then he met serial entrepreneur Greg Cross, who is chairman of the Icehouse and holds a portfolio of technology companies.
After setting up PowerbyProxi in 2007, the co-founders decided to initially focus on industrial uses to help establish the company's technology credibility before making a consumer play. After considerable market research, they established a need for wireless power in wet, dirty, mobile, hostile environments.
Their first deal was with a New Zealand subsidiary of agricultural machinery giant John Deere, which was having problems with mechanical slip ring failures on its forestry harvesters out in the field. PowerbyProxi's Proxi power rings, which provide wireless power to rotating, highly mobile industrial equipment, provided the answer.
Since then PowerbyProxi has spent the past five years establishing its pedigree in the wireless power field, producing more than 50 products for around 30 large companies in diverse areas including aerospace, security systems, sensor networks and hydraulic control.
With offices in Auckland and Ohio, the start-up is now ready to go the next step into the consumer market and hopes to become profitable sometime next year.
Work on miniaturising the technology into a receiver began nearly three years ago and it has now started delivering product samples to consumer electronic manufacturers in US, Europe and Asia.
Cross is a little cautious about confirming just where they're at inn terms of negotiations with licensing the technology to those manufacturers, who prefer commercial confidentiality around what could become the next killer feature.
Key to its success is nailing these deals.
That's why the company hired former Silicon Valley-based Tony Francesca in June as its vice-president of business development - consumer technologies.
Francesca has many years of successful experience in consumer electronics and commercialising consumer technology and even has three patents issued on his own inventions.
He's leading the charge with the equipment manufacturers and Cross says they expect to see significant progress over the next 12 months.
He says the firm is not letting things slip on the industrial side either, with some major strategic partnerships and a "flood of products" also due out in the next year.
Cross is confident the miniaturised technology will succeed because it answers a real consumer need for unplugged power.
Rechargable batteries have achieved relatively low penetration to date - only around 15 to 15 per cent market share of round cell batteries sold.
People don't remember to recharge them, he says. That's why Powerby Proxi focused on developing a 3D box that people could throw all their devices in at the end of the day and have them recharge overnight.
"That's what we have delivered," Cross says. "But we're still a little way to bringing it to market."
He estimates they've spent around $6m to date developing the company and its technology.
Fady Mishriki 18.45 per cent
Greg Cross 18.45 per cent
Movac's two funds 35.2 per cent
Evander Management (the Holdsworth family) 17.02 per cent