Open seats next to electrical outlets at coffee shops, airports and other public venues are some of the hottest real estate in Los Angeles, crammed with people on the move reviving their fading cellphone batteries.

If uBeam Inc. founder and Chief Executive Meredith Perry has her way, the headache of being stuck with a dead battery and no access to an outlet will be a thing of the past.

Perry’s Santa Monica company is developing transmitters that convert electricity to sound waves that can be beamed to receivers embedded inside gadgets up to 15 feet away. The sound waves are then converted back to electricity, which charges the device – automatically.

“We’re confident our solution will be able to provide the holy grail of a Wi-Fi-like charging experience,” said Perry. “We want to be in every coffee shop, movie theater, everything.”

She’s not alone. UBeam is locked in a race to market with a Bay Area company that could shape up to be as hard fought a battle over standards – and huge sums of money – as the Betamax-VHS war of the 1970s.

$500 million

Potential value of uBeam – if it survives a looming war.

She has lined up backing from some of the most prominent venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles for the technology she devised as a student in 2011 at the University of Pennsylvania, where it won her a student entrepreneurial competition.

By the next summer she had raised $1.5 million in seed funding from such notable firms as Menlo Park’s Andreesen Horowitz, Peter Thiel’s Founder’s Fund as well as Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Marissa Mayer. Santa Monica’s Upfront Ventures led uBeam’s $10 million Series A round in October, which included many of the company’s seed investors.

A recent TechCrunch story citing unnamed sources said the company is looking to raise a $50 million Series B round that would value the firm at $500 million or more and that uBeam has scored interest from Starbucks Corp., Apple Inc., Samsung and Starwood Hotels.

Perry, 25, declined to comment on potential partnerships, new funding or the specific hurdles that remain before mass production can begin.

“We’ve proved out all the technology and now we’re just optimizing the experience,” she said.

Stiff competition

One reason for Perry’s reticence might be that uBeam has competition in the wireless charging sector.

Consumer products that utilize a base or mat for charging have been around for more than a decade, and several companies are using that type of technology to charge phones. Powermat Technologies Ltd. has partnered with consumer products giant Procter & Gamble to roll out its charging mats in Starbucks stores across the country later this year. The nine-year-old company, headquartered in Neve Ilan, Israel, has also signed agreements with McDonald’s Corp., General Motors and AT&T Inc.


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