Women 2.0 talks to Meredith Perry, Founder and CEO of uBeam, a company aiming to charge your electronics without the cords. Meredith graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2011 with a degree in Paleobiology. Women 2.0: How did you first come up with the idea for uBeam? Meredith Perry: My school, The University of Pennsylvania, has an invention competition every year, and I told myself I wanted to invent something cool before I graduated. I kept an idea book with me at all times in case I thought of something interesting. Whenever something bothered me, I’d write it down, because that meant there was an opportunity to create a solution.
One of my issues this year was that I frequently left my laptop charger at home and always had to dim my computer back-light just to keep it alive during my classes. I also hated being restricted by the length of my cord. I asked myself, why can’t charging be more like Wi-Fi? How can I beam energy to my computer?
Women 2.0: What a cool idea. How did you begin gauging whether it was viable or not? Meredith Perry: I started out doing very basic research on beamed energy. Through my research, I learned that while energy from the entire electromagnetic spectrum could be harnessed, half the spectrum was too dangerous to beam, and the other half was inefficient and/or too tightly regulated. I knew there were range and form factor issues with induction and magnetic resonance coupling, so what else could I do?
I looked into harnessing energy from vibration using piezoelectric materials. But I needed to figure out a way to induce vibrations without something physically moving -- and then it clicked: sound. And better yet, ultrasound, because humans wouldn’t be able to hear it. I looked into acoustic weapons to learn more about sound power. After realizing that there was enough energy from sound to create a bomb, I knew I could probably charge my laptop with it.
Women 2.0: How many people are at uBeam currently? What are your top priorities when growing your team? Meredith Perry: Currently there are two people working the day-to-day, but I have a number of advisers working with me virtually. The most important thing for me to do right now is to create prototype #2 with my engineering team. The business hires will come second. I am focusing all of my energy on engineering and have been pretty lucky to find incredible people who are interested.
Women 2.0: What is the scariest part about starting your own company? Meredith Perry: I think the scariest part is the fear of under-delivering. For whatever reason, the uBeam idea caught on quick and people really like it. What scares me is that I have been getting thousands of emails per week from people asking me for the product or when it is going to come out. I clearly want to make sure the product turns out great. I don’t want to be that person that almost made it but failed.
Women 2.0: What is the most rewarding part so far? Meredith Perry: The most rewarding part? I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with some ridiculously smart and talented people that think uBeam is awesome. I’ve been really lucky to share ideas with them and have them take me seriously, especially as such a young woman, so early in the game.
Women 2.0: Did you always know you wanted to start your own company one day? Meredith Perry: Not really, and definitely not at 21 years old! Laughs. This one kind of fell into my lap. I always had dreams of inventing things and coming up with creative solutions to problems, but I never thought much about the business side. The week after pitching this idea at the Penn invention competition, we were invited to present at All Things Digital.
Part of getting ready for the presentation was turning uBeam into a real entity -- which included incorporating. And then, boom, there it was -- uBeam LLC, and I was the CEO of it! Even though I have only been in the startup space for a small amount of time, I can’t really imagine going back to a typical job now. It’s been an amazing process to learn how to run my own company and steer the ship.
Women 2.0: What advice would you give to women who may want to start a company of their own one day? Meredith Perry: JUST KEEP PUSHING, because 95% of the people will tell you that you are going to fail. Even though I am not at the point where I can say, “Look at me. I’ve succeeded,” I never thought I could get to this point with my idea. I would say 95% of the engineers and professors I talked to said I should not move forward. But I kept hearing the same story over and over about people saying things are impossible, but then someone else figuring it out. If you are really passionate or excited about something, then keep doing it while you can. Tenacity is half the battle.