Last Thursday before the Tech Week party I went to the iVenture Accelerator gathering at TechNexus. If you don’t know about iVenture, it’s a startup venture lab run by Ryan Singh and Noah Wasserman at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Ryan and Noah do a great job. They started a few years ago. They have learned a lot, and it keeps getting better and better. There are always all kinds of companies in the accelerator. Some work, some don’t. For the students, it really allows them to try on being an entrepreneur and learn what it takes.
I haven’t invested in these companies yet purely because none are usually in my space. If one was, our fund would be all over it. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t help.
I ran into Maker Girl a couple of years ago. I love what they are doing. They raised $32k on a Kickstarter and now are out teaching young girls about technology. Lucas Frye and his team at Amber Agriculture are working on building a very interesting business.
This year during the 40-second pitches I saw Optivolt Labs and thought what they were doing is pretty neat. I wanted to share it with you. They are making a high quality solar powered phone case that can extend phone battery life. They are using bleeding edge solar technology to do it. It works with sunlight or ambient office light.
Here is their story:
We hate planning our day around charging our phone. It seems as if our days are physically restricted by the distance to the nearest wall outlet just so that we can stay connected. There needs to be a better way..
We want to redefine what it means to charge your phone. We realized early on that there is so much unused energy hitting our phones throughout the day that could be harnessed to power our devices. Over three years ago, Rohit, our Founder, started tinkering with the idea of a solar charging solution. After setting some iPods on fire, frying multiple batteries, hundreds of iterations, and three years of research, we were able to finalize our circuitry and develop Particle, an extremely efficient solar battery iPhone case with two patent pending technologies.
The University has an incredible ecosystem that has further helped us in the mission of bringing our product to the market. Our team has adjusted our curriculum to take Technology Entrepreneurship classes to become further involved in this ecosystem. Optivolt Labs has also won three different university start up competitions, bringing home prizes and grant money to help grow our company.
They are all undergrads in the College of Engineering at Illinois except Yoshi who is from the College of Business. Their story is great!
Personally, I am not a fan of solar technology at scale. An on-demand information economy needs steady reliable power. Nuclear and other options are cheaper and more efficient per kilowatt than things like solar or wind. I am a huge fan of unbundling solar. Optivolt unbundles solar.
Sometimes in Champaign, all you have to do is walk from the south end of campus to the north end of campus to run into a great idea. If I had been there in the early 90’s, I might have bumped into Netscape, PayPal, Yelp, YouTube or countless other startups that were built there. Whenever I visit, I am amazed at some of the startups being built there.
By the way Rohit, I want one in Orange and Blue.