Friday, October 31, 2008
Interview with Dennis Grant, WildCharge
Founded in 2005, WildCharge Inc. (www.wildcharge.com) has developed a novel method for recharging portable electronic devices. The Boulder, Colo.-based company's potentially revolutionary system involves a charging pad that is slightly larger than a CD jewel case and plugs in to standard electrical outlets. After purchasing and installing product-specific accessories, consumers can simply lay their devices on the pad to recharge them.
Dennis Grant, WildCharge's chairman and chief executive, recently spoke with Techrockies.com about his company and its products.
How does WildCharge technology differ from conventional methods?
Dennis Grant: Charging with WildCharge is quite similar to conventional charging. Both methods use a conductive approach.
With conventional charging, you have to plug in a wire to the device every time you want to charge. With WildCharge technology, you simply need to place the device down, an action you would do anyway. So WildCharge makes charging simpler.
In addition, with conventional charging, you typically have multiple cords, one for each device being charged. With WildCharge, you get away from all the clutter of those cords and all the hassle of finding adapters because our solution gives you one simple, elegant pad on which you can charge multiple devices.
What do you call this pad?
Dennis Grant: We call it a WildCharger Pad.
And it can charge devices just as well as conventional power cords and adapters?
Dennis Grant: WildCharge technology supports charging at the same speed as the OEM charger; it's easy to see why, since both technologies are, in fact, conductive.
What about safety? Since the pad's conductive surface is exposed, is there any risk of shock or electrocution?
Dennis Grant: WildCharge has built proprietary technology into the pad so that whenever an unintended load—keys, metal or other conductive material, including a human hand or other body part—comes in contact with the pad, it shuts off immediately. When the problem load has been removed, the pad turns itself back on.
WildCharge has patented this safety system as part of its IP portfolio.
Don't the devices have to be modified so they can charge on the pad?Dennis Grant: Yes, there's an adapter, either in the form of a skin or a charging pack, that can be attached to the device.
Our company is basically a licensing model. For example, this is a Wii controller with our charging adapter embedded.
So, if you go into Best Buy, you can buy two adapters and a pad and then throw your batteries away, plug the adapter in and charge it and you're in business.
Does the adapter retail separately from the pad?
Dennis Grant: For some devices, yes, but you would tend to buy them together, anyway. For example, if you owned a BlackBerry, you would go in to the store and buy the Skin for it and a charge pad.
For the game controllers, however, one of our partners is offering a bundle that comes with two adapters and the WildCharger Pad.
What would those items retail for?
Dennis Grant: That varies and hasn't been completely finalized. But if you thought about $80-$90 for a pad and a Skin, you'd be in the ballpark. The pad and two adapters for the Microsoft Xbox 360, the Sony PlayStation 3 or the Nintendo Wii game controllers are coming in at about 50 bucks.
I see the pad is magnetized.
Dennis Grant: It is. That's partly to make sure there's a good contact with the four balls [conducting leads]. It's also to keep the devices from sliding off, so you can keep the pad in a car or lay it on an angled surface.
So you're developing a version of the pad that will plug into a car cigarette lighter?
Dennis Grant: We are. We've already developed a prototype car unit, as well as some other options. These are reference designs that can be leveraged by our licensing partners.
That's the second time you've mentioned licensing. Care to elaborate?
Dennis Grant: We are a licensing company and we're heavily involved in supporting the numerous companies working with our technology. Those companies develop and market products that range from after-market accessories—like the game controllers—to embedded applications—cell phones, video games, etc. There's also the infrastructure sector: hotels, transportation, coffee shops.
The surprising thing is how fast these three verticals are reaching out to us.
Why has that surprised you?
Dennis Grant: The timing. I did not think we would be talking to companies needing infrastructure applications, such as hotels and coffee shops, until well into next year. That just surprises me—very pleasantly, of course.
We conducted our market research and all that, but you're still betting on people actually wanting to adopt your technology, and it just seems to be happening faster than we ever anticipated.
I can't name names, but there are some very, very big players involved. What's interesting is some of these players have been looking at the market for years and they've chosen us.
Was it always your intention to graduate toward a licensing model?
Dennis Grant: We had hoped, but we weren't always sure if it were possible because it's quite challenging to pull off. It has to be real; people have to want to license your product.
And now, we've totally switched to that model because of the incredibly strong interest from diverse verticals, which unequivocally tells us that this is a licensing model play and the best way to get our technology out into the market.
We did it from a position of strength as opposed to one of weakness. We didn't try something and it failed so we tried something else. By going to a licensing model, the unknown was whether we could actually pull it off. What's clear now is the market is strongly coming toward us.
Does WildCharge still manufacture a product?
Dennis Grant: We are ideating products; we are building prototypes to kickstart markets.
For example, we have embedded our technology into laptops and we've also accessorized it, but we haven't taken those products directly to the market. Instead, we're talking directly to laptop vendors and letting them run with it.
Does this pad have applications beyond what we've already discussed?
Dennis Grant: Yes. Laptops, power tools and two-way radios would also benefit from WildCharge technology. Our technology can be adopted for a very wide variety of applications. Pretty much anything that uses an external power adapter or rechargeable batteries can be adopted to WildCharge technology.
We've developed prototypes of numerous laptop models with WildCharge technology embedded and as an after-market accessory. At this time, I cannot mention the companies we are working with in these endeavors, but the laptop application required the design and production of a 90-watt pad, which we have completed. We plan to go to market with this technology next year with numerous partners.
What would the use for such a pad be?
Dennis Grant: You could lay a pad in the middle of a table, and then you could charge three or four laptops by attaching dongles to them and laying those dongles on the pad.
We could also build a pad that is 7 feet long and putting out 150 watts, so, say at 5 watts per device, you could have 30 devices charging on a single pad.
What sort of client would benefit from that?
Dennis Grant: We've had interest from large offices, stores, fire stations, police stations—places where there is an enormous number of devices needing to be charged.
Tell us about your funding.
Dennis Grant: We have raised about $5 million from private individuals and now we're going out for our [Series A]. We're looking to raise $8-$10 million.
Any progress so far?
Dennis Grant: I would say, despite this tough economy, we are getting a lot of strong interest.
How would you use that money?
Dennis Grant: To hire more sales and marketing people, business development people, and to develop more prototypes for other markets. We got this far by kickstarting the market, by doing some of this ourselves, so we'd like to go and work on tools and medical devices and other things of that nature.
Is your product already at market?
Dennis Grant: Yes. We had a product in the market last year for the RAZR phone. That was a great proof of concept, so now we're following up with the game adapters, which should start hitting Best Buy stores this week. They should reach Toys “R” Us and GameStop stores by Dec. 15.
The company behind the game adapters is Griffin International—not Griffin Technology, which makes cases for iPod and other Apple products—and they will be sold under the Psyclone Performance Products brand.
We may also see the Curve and Pearl Skins under other brands at retail stores later this year, although early next year is more likely. The Skins are already available at WildCharge.com.
We're also scheduled to release some Apple products very late this year, but perhaps not in time for Christmas. We can't be more specific on the nature of those products due to our licensing agreement with Apple.
Eventually, we hope that you'll be able to buy adapters for virtually any handheld or portable electronic device in retail stores as more and more of our partners pick up this technology.
Last, but certainly not least: Where do you hope to be in a couple of years?
Dennis Grant: Incredibly profitable...[laughs]...and the de facto standard.