Nikola Labs Lands Investment Toward Bringing Wireless Power to Internet of Things
Members of CDME staff helped launch Nikola Labs with support for funding and design/engineering support.
Carrie Ghose from Columbus Business First writes:
Nikola Labs Inc. has closed a $700,000 round from a European investor group, as it works with electronics makers to design components delivering wireless power to the small devices making up “smart homes” and other applications of the “internet of things.”
The Westerville company has launched its Indra chip, a 5-millimeter-square receiver that converts radio frequencies into direct current. The chip incorporates components from Texas Instruments Inc. and Boston-area Skyworks Solutions Inc. and is manufactured by Skyworks in Mexico.
Those larger technology partners are in turn exposing Nikola to large electronics manufacturers that have hired it to design wireless energy harvesting systems for different devices, CEO Will Zell said. That includes a wireless transmitter that sends power to the chip and an antenna appropriate to the device, whether it’s a fitness band, phone or smoke detector.
“No one in the world has put this type of technology in these products yet,” Zell said. “We’re an early player in an emerging market.”
Nikola has raised $2 million since 2015, when the company made a crucial transformation away from making consumer devices. It started with a phone case that can extend battery life.
Lead investor Ikove Capital Partners incubated Nikola in the venture fund’s startup “nursery” near Ohio State University until it was stable enough to take a spot at Otterbein University’s Steam innovation center. Ikove also introduced Nikola to the European investor group, whose identity wasn’t made public.
“They are very much poised to take off,” Ikove CEO Erica Waite said. “We expect to see pretty rapid growth with them.”
Thanks to the round, Nikola was able to hire executives who had been part-time consultants and can hire for their teams: Tad Dritz as vice president of development, and Jim Dvorsky, a former Battelle engineer, as director of product development. Nikola is now at eight workers.
The company is racing competitors trying to harvest energy from heat or vibration for an eventual millions of small sensors and devices.
“The downside of our type of business model is it’s a very long sales cycle,” Zell said.
It is rare to find a hardware maker in the software-heavy Central Ohio tech startup community. Nikola licenses its technology from electrical engineering labs at Ohio State University.
“I believe Columbus, Ohio, is one of the best cities in the world to build a wireless power company,” Zell said. “There’s some of the best engineers in the world in this type of technology. We’re constantly recruiting engineers from Ohio State.”
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