Small business: Your business online - Greg Cross

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Greg Cross, co-founder of PowerbyProxi, a wireless power company building solutions for some of the biggest industrial and consumer electronics companies in the world

Greg Cross, co-founder of PowerbyProxi. Photo / Supplied
Greg Cross, co-founder of PowerbyProxi. Photo / Supplied

What is your technology used for?

Wireless power enables our customers to deliver unplugged power without cables and mechanical connectors with applications ranging from getting power and data across the rotating joints in a wind turbine to wirelessly recharging batteries and smartphone. The company was started when I was introduced to Fady Mishriki a graduate of the University of Auckland and together we decided to co-found PowerbyProxi. The University of Auckland has been one of the top research centres for wireless power in the world over the last 30 years so we derive significant competitive advantage from the quality of the people we can employ out of their wireless power program and the depth of the patent portfolio we have access to via licensing arrangements with UniServices.

How international has the business been from the beginning?

We have been international from day one - we have never made a sales call in NZ and we don't market our products here. Our first market was the US and our first customer was John Deere. As soon as we completed our Series A capital raising we employed our first VP of business development in the US to build on our initial focus in the industrial component market. For us only R&D is based in NZ, everything else is based offshore. Our sales and marketing head office is in Silicon Valley and with growth in new customers and markets within 12 months, I expect we will have established a physical presence in Germany and Taiwan.

What potential is there for this technology and how scalable is it?

Already we have developed solutions that could revolutionise the rechargeable battery market and integrated our technology for use in smartphone. So we are talking about the potential for billions of units in the future if we get it right and beat out our competitors. Equally you are likely to see wireless power solutions proliferate in homes and offices with recharging pads and stations becoming as ubiquitous as wifi routers and the humble power plug. Application markets will continue to evolve such as automotive and medical devices so the scope for building a substantial business is huge.

What markets do you intend taking it to?

Geographically we have solutions in use or under evaluation by large OEMs in the US, Germany, Spain, China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. In the industrial sector we are working in industrial automation and materials handling with partners like TE Connectivity in the wind turbine market. We are also building solutions for medical devices, automobiles and the oil and gas industry. In the consumer sector we are working with chip manufacturers, the large OEMs in the smartphone and tablet sector and some of the big battery companies.

How are you introducing it to new markets?

Right from the outset we employed experienced senior business development executives with a deep knowledge of the markets we are targeting. They are the highest paid people in the company but unless you have the best people on your team you have no chance in incredibly competitive international markets. We have invested heavily in our web presence and we blog continuously to drive fresh content. We have learnt the art of guerrilla marketing at large trade shows which we just can't afford to take a stand at yet.

What international investor interest has it created?

Our first two rounds of funding were led by leading NZ VC firm Movac. We have just completed our Series C funding round and attracted a large international corporation to make an investment in PowerbyProxi. Details of this deal will be announced shortly. In the future it is likely more funding will definitely come from further international investors as we scale and grow the company.

How zealously are you having to protect the IP internationally?

Our IP and patent portfolio is extremely important. We have filed 30+ patents applications in our five year history and have access to another 90 patents via our licensing arrangements with the University of Auckland. This puts us in a really strong position when large OEMs get into due diligence on PowerbyProxi. They want to know that we can help protect them as they innovate with our technology and that we aren't going to infringe on other patents in the wireless power market.

Who are the main shareholders of the business?

The original shareholders were Fady and myself as co-founders. Movac have been involved in all three of our founding rounds as our VC partner, with Evander (the investment arm of the Holdsworth family) also building a sizeable stake. Our new international investor has just taken up a 10 per cent shareholding in the company.

Do you have the staff you need to take the business onto the next level?

Sales and marketing staff we employ in our international markets and because of our growing reputation we seem to have no problem attracting high quality people. Here in NZ, our R&D team is scaling rapidly and we always struggle to find experienced engineers. We have recruited a lot of people to come to NZ to work for us mainly from Asia. But as we are likely to double the size of our team again in the next 12 months we will probably have to look at an offshore location for some of our product development where there is more depth in experienced engineers.

Is this kind of technology where NZ tech companies can excel and do well internationally?

High tech engineering is an area where a number of NZ businesses are excelling on the international stage. We are really fortunate that Professor John Boys has made it his life's work to build such an outstanding research capability here in NZ - it really is the best in the world.

Do your clients know you are a NZ company or could you be from anywhere?

Our clients do know we are from NZ but they also know we use experienced local people who understand their needs and solution requirements. The history of wireless power from the University of Auckland is well known and is a big part of our competitive advantage.

- NZ Herald

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