Start-up charged by sound science
A student who wondered why wireless devices have wire chargers defied naysayers to make one that is powered by sound waves
Her idea, she discovered, meant marrying the fields of sound, electricity, battery technology and other sub-specialties.
“It was such a multidisciplinary idea,” she said, “and everyone in each different department basically told me that there was no way that you could get past all the hurdles.”
She kept running into the same genre of problem. “I was working with a couple of different people at the beginning who would say there was no way to get this high-power sound over this distance without creating shock waves,” she said. “Of course, I would have my 10-minute panic attack and think the whole thing was over. Then I would do some research and figure out how to achieve high-power sound without creating shock waves.”
Afterwards, she said, “I would go back to that person and he would say, ‘Oh, yeah, that should work’.” Each expert seemed to dwell in his own private silo, so that whenever she crossed from one discipline to another, she would run into the same wall of constricted thinking.
Even after winning attention at a D: All Things Digital conference, where she transmitted power an impressive 3 feet using piezoelectrical technology, she still couldn’t attract start-up money.
So she decided to research who had financed “crazy things” and gained the attention of Peter Thiel, the former PayPal entrepreneur whose Founders Fund provides venture capital for unusual ideas.
Scott Nolan, one of the Founders Fund members who most enthusiastically backed Perry, remembered precisely what made her proposal stand out. “We invest in low single-digit percentages of what we see,” he said, but Perry had thought far beyond just the mechanics and technology of her idea. She had already done the advance work of contacting manufacturers and potential institutional customers.
After the Founders Fund signed on, more than a half-dozen venture capitalists also kicked in to create $1.4 million in startup financing including Mark Cuban; Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer; the Andreessen Horowitz firm; and even Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager. At first, Perry thought of calling the company “Taking Charge,” but settled on “uBeam.” It now has a half-dozen engineers working on it.
Perry has always looked out at the world and seen petty annoyances that she then tries to correct. In the third grade, she made her own reading glasses with little lights on them. Later, she devised a bicycle umbrella, but never pursued it. “I wondered if I really wanted to pour my life into something like this,” she recalled. “Am I passionate about umbrellas?”
In the end, it’s the problem-solving and the fiddling that keeps her interested. “It’s like being on crack – don’t quote me on that – but it’s just so much fun you can get sucked into solving the problem and all you want to do is tell everyone about it.”
With venture capital to create wireless charging, it’s still a pleasure, if a bit different from bicycle umbrellas. “Now I’m not allowed to tell anyone anything,” she said, “which is less fun.” – (New York Times News Service)