NZ's PowerbyProxi lands $US4m Samsung investment; talks up power plug-free future

PowerbyProxi chairman and CEO Greg Cross with CTO Fady Mishriki
Samsung smartphones on top of a prototype PowerbyProxi charging mat
Prototype PowerbyProxi wireless charging tub
PowerbyProxi staff

PowerbyProxi, the Auckland company that develops wireless charging technology, has landed a $US4 million investment from Samsung Ventures - the giant Korean company's venture capital arm.

The $US4 million has bought Samsung a 12.47% stake, implying a private equity value for PowerbyProxi of around $US32 million ($NZ40 million).

The deal will also see Samsung license PowerByProxi's technology, and Samsung Ventures America senior investment manager Michael Pachos join PowerbyProxi's board.

The deal is significant because it builds on an a $US5 million investment from US industrial electronics component maker TE Connectivity (formerly Tyco) in April, and takes PowerbyProxi's Series C funding to $US9 million

But, more, it could open a lot of doors. As well as being one of the world's biggest consumer electronics companies full stop, Samsung is now the world's top seller of cellphones, and neck-and-neck with Apple in smartphones. Smartphones could emerge as a key market for one of PowerbyProxi's products under development - a wireless charging power mat.

The deal, which closed Friday, involved two years of negotiations, chairman and CEO Greg Cross tells NBR ONLINE. Samsung gets a board seat as part of the package.

Mr Cross says it's possible Samsung will introduce its first consumer products incorporating PowerbyProxi wireless charging technology as early as the second half of next year.

Charging mats are already available (Nokia has one for its Lumia smartphone series) but are sold as after-market accessories, and often require phones to be inserted into a special sleeve. Mr Cross says sales are tiny; he sees the technology only going mainstream when it's incorporated into phones themselves - a possibility under PowerbyProxi's hookup with Samsung.

Earlier, at the Morgo conference in Queenstown, Mr Cross told NBR that in a decades time, we could see new homes being built without power plugs being put into the world.

"They'll be a proliferation of wireless charging pads - initially onto counters and desktops, but eventually as a part of furniture."

He also sees wireless charging in vehicles, and in industrial manufacturing.

He quotes an analyst report out this month that sees wireless charging growing from a minscule industry today to $US33 billion by 2019.

IPO talk
Mr Cross won't reveal the privately-held company's financials, but says its board's aim was to get a major electronics component maker and a major consumer electronics maker to invest. With US company TE Connectivity and Samsung filliing those two slots, and momentum building, the chairman is now talking about going public.

He says an IPO in the next 12 to 18 months is possible. 

And while he won't be pinned down to a specific exchange at this point, he tells NBR, "We’re very encouraged by the interest the NZX has in NZ tech and growth companies recently."

Commercialising research
Born out of research at Auckland University in 2007, PowerbyProxi is developing systems for wirelessly conducting power for everything from industrial machinery to wind turbines to its recently demo'd gadget for wirelessly recharging batteries without having to take them out of a consumer electronics gadget. It also has a "Proxy-Fi" prototype for wirelessly recharging smartphones.

Other investors include Movac, NBR Rich Lister and majority Datacom owner John Holdsworth, The Icehouse, Auckland University research commercialisation arm Uniservices, CEO Fady Mishriki and chairman Greg Cross. Movac's managing partners include another Morgo regular, NBR Rich Lister Phil McCaw.

Gunning for profit
PowerbyProxi has around 50 staff, including Mr Cross who recently moved from being executive chairman to a full-time role as chairman and CEO (with former CEO Fady Mishriki becoming senior vice president and chief technology officer).

While he won't comment on the privately-held company's financials, Mr Cross says PowerbyProxi is ontrack to become profitable over the next year.

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7 Comments & Questions

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Well done Greg and team.

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This is a great result Greg. Well done. Exactly the sort of deals we need to be seeing much more of.

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I have a Nokia Smartphone which charges wirelessly and I like the ease of the approach very much. It's simple, easy and convenient. There’s nothing not to like! I know anything about this sleeve thing mentioned above??? I just pop my phone on top of the charging pad - which you can put anywhere - and it starts charging. And when it's done you just pick up your phone and go.

I notice too that Bosch (still privately owned by the way, 52.3 billion euros in revenue in 2012) already has a wireless charging system available for electric vehicles although it is more expensive than the standard plug-in approach (US$3000) to charging the batteries. But it just sits on the garage floor under the car, and starts charging once you have parked your car at night. What’s easier than that?

It’s abundantly clear the advantages that this type of technology holds and it is, dear I say, the future.

It’s good to see an innovative and creative New Zealand company getting in on the act as well. Best of luck to them.

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I love the concept of wireless charging, but I found Nokia's charging plate (around $75) just too slow.

And once you've carefully sat the Lumia 920 on the thin charging plate, there's no time saved on plugging in a USB jack or popping it on a dock (The company also sells a wireless charging pillow for around $110, which I haven't had the chance to test).

I don't know if people will every buy a different brand of wireless charger for each of their gadgets.

If this technology flies, it will be with a thin, wide pad that support multiple brands supporting a common wireless standard (currently this early-stage technology has at least two competing standards, plus various proprietary solutions).

And it's got to be quick.

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Great to see Kiwis coming up with yet more winning technology (touch screens, foiling catamarans, wireless chargers, the list goes on) will help keep NZ Inc to the fore.

Do not think charging speed is the most important issue, for me it is multiple devices using same platform, in most homes that is 4 or more phones, the odd toy, and laptop or tablet. Brilliant, just think how many chargers you have thrown out over the last ten years or so.

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Agree multiple device support is the important criteria - and the attendant requirement for phones and other gadgets to integrated wireless charging support.

I mentioned speed because the Nokia charging plate was so slow I wondered if it was even working at first. We're all juggling multiple devices with sub-24 hour battery times (or sub-10 with intensive use) so you've often in situations were you want a fast charge.

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The speed is not an issue for me (and it's not that slow although it is slower than a plugin) as I use it to charge my phone at night by my bed. It cuts off automatically when the phone is charged. I'm surprised you said you had to take great care to sit the phone on the charger correctly as I haven't found any great care is needed at all. I just plonk it on.

But I agree there is room for improvement with this technology, however having said that this is the early Model T stages of it, and with innovative companies like Powerbyproxy working in this space I'm looking forward to what improvements they come up with.

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