Who is Psikick?

In this new technological world, it can be hard to pinpoint companies that are truly revolutionizing the way that we live. One of those companies is Psikick. They are leading what is known as the “batteryless revolution”. Psikick is a startup company formed in 2012 in Charlottesville, Virginia that is quickly growing into a powerhouse of technology.

They have created a chip that will create a massive wireless network through embedded wireless sensors, which can be placed into anything that can be made “smart”, from your coffee maker to your TV remotes. Their technology is based on a technique called subthreshold processing. While their chip is extremely effective, it is through the chips massive power-saving ability that makes it so unique. The Psikick chip uses only 1/100th to 1/1,000th of the power that current sensors use today. With this, there is no need for batteries, as the sensor can be powered by environmental factors such as the heat from your hand, RF, solar and light power, and more.

All From University Technology

All of this massive innovation began with the combination of brain and research power at the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington. Professors at these universities conducted synchronous research on electrical engineering, batteryless foundation, and medical technology to form the backbone of Psikick. When the minds of these universities combined, and shared their knowledge and their technology, Psikick was launched.

All Thanks to Excellent Funding

The growth of Psikick could not have been possible without the funding they have received. As any startup company will tell you, one of the most important and frustrating aspects of the business is finding the money to accomplish what you want to. You can have the idea, but without the money, nothing else will matter.

At Psikick, there are several important backers and investors that have given them the start that they needed. The funding which began at the university level has only grown, with the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan being the dominant investors in the university grouping. The company has won multiple contracts through the Department of Defense. New Enterprise Associates, which is one of the biggest venture capitalist funds, has also given its support to the company. Osage University Partners has thrown in their support leading the last round of $16.5 million in Series B funding in December 2015. This brings the company’s total funding to $22.5 million, giving Psikick a massive start to what is sure to be a successful venture with an innovative product.

How to Tell a Ten from a Two

Making a quick judgement about the potential of a startup company is often very challenging. Regardless of if you are considering investing in, partnering with or acquiring a startup it is important to quickly make an assessment of how likely the company is to succeed in the long run. University startups can be more challenging than others because the technology is often very complex and the management teams mixed.

We simplify the process at Startup.Directory by rating each startup on a scale from one to ten, based on the experience of the management team, amount of funding the company has raised and other factors. The ratings are shown on the top right of each detail page. Those factors can be a good guide, but you may certainly see a startup that has not raised capital and is in stealth mode (therefore receiving a low rating on our site) that is really a promising startup. In this month’s blog I wanted to discuss two factors that you should consider with any tech startup, university based or not, when making that quick assessment.

The first and most obvious factor is the management team. It can be pretty easy to make an assessment if you meet the entire management team in a private meeting, but more difficult if you are just watching one member pitch or you meet just one member in a casual setting. Obviously we all want to see leadership on the management team that has significant startup experience. When someone with those apparent credentials is on the team it is important to evaluate the true depth of their experience.

I’ve seen CEOs who state they have decades of business experience, but when you dig deeper it is clear that they have had success in large corporations but not yet in a startups. There is a big difference. You also need to discern who is really making the day to day business decisions. Some startups will engage an experienced entrepreneur with a title of Chairman or co-founder when in fact they are just serving as an advisor and have limited say in the daily operations.

A second question I ask myself is “is this a problem looking for a solution or a solution to a problem”. University startups can be particularly guilty of taking a “cool” technical solution, starting a company and then trying to find someone who actually has a problem that needs that solution. Maybe they will find that market, but life is too short to risk capital or time on that approach.

To make this assessment I like to simply ask a startup “who will use your product”. A promising startup will have a focused answer that states the value. For example “Cardiologist love this product because it reduces post-operative infections by 43% in Atherectomy procedures increasing hospital reimbursement rates”. After that response I’ll ask them how big that market is and if there are other applications.

The response I don’t like to hear is a rambling list of unrelated markets with no real prioritization. That suggests that they have developed a solution and want to shotgun it to lots of markets and then hope for success.

Most investors probably have a series of other factors and questions that they use but the ones I described here can be particularly useful in evaluating university based startups. I’ll discuss some additional ideas in future blogs.

Taking Advantage of the Startup.Directory Database

This month we’re going to take a different approach to our main article. Instead of featuring one of the successful university spinout companies we are going to tell you about some of ways in which Startup.Directory is being used. We introduced the university startup database in 2011 and have watched the user base grow every year. We now have subscribers from almost a dozen countries, in professions including investing, law, corporate scouting, association management and technology transfer.

These subscribers understand that Startup.Directory provides access to information that is not available anywhere else. Finding and tracking early stage university spinouts is challenging, and requires real analysts conducting research in the old fashion way. The large, expensive databases typically use automated data collection methods and don’t spot all of these startups. The investor databases populated by company funding applications miss the many companies which don’t submit applications on those platforms.

Startup.Directory clearly provides access to information not available anywhere else, but how to customers use it. Let’s look at a few typical subscribers including investors, association managers and corporate scouts.

Most investors, especially institutional investors, have specific industry sectors and company stages that they are focused on at a given time. Finding quality deal flow that fits those criteria is challenging. Networking and local investor groups present only a very small number of opportunities. Using Startup.Directory these investors can search more than 3,000 startups based on sector and stage, identifying ones that fit their criteria. Because the database contains almost all university startups, not just ones which have posted their information on a site like AngelList subscribers get access to potential investments that most other investors don’t have.

Some association managers use Startup.Directory to provide some unique information to their members. One association reviews our monthly subscriber newsletter and identified new startups or updates relevant to their membership. They then research the startups further and publish that information in a special section of their association newsletter. The members love the relevant information on industry startup activity and the association saves days of research by leveraging Startup.Directory.

Finally let’s look at how corporate scouts use Startup.Directory. In corporations individuals in the role of business development, technology officers and scouts have responsibility to monitor and track startups relevant to their company. Their company may be interested in buying products from startups, partnering with them, acquiring them or just monitoring their development. It is critical that these scouts not miss startups, which could end out partnering with or being acquired by one of the corporation’s competitors. For any of the high tech and life science industries where university startups play a central role, Startup.Directory is an essential tool for these scouts.

In these applications as well as many others, Startup.Directory provides users well researched content on a critical set of startup data for a price that can’t be beat.

University of New Mexico Spinout, Comet Solutions, Raises Additional Venture Capital Funds

Comet Solutions, a software engineering firm which has commercialized technology developed at the University of New Mexico has received another $3.5 million investment to continue developing and marketing its simulation software platform for product design.

The company, which launched in 2004, has now received almost $14 million from venture funds including the New Mexico Angels. Backers include Athenian Venture Partners, Flywheel Ventures, the Tri-State Growth Capital Fund and Sun Mountain Capital.

Comet Solutions markets simulation software for engineering firms that integrates all product development into a single platform. That allows design engineers to fully share information and collectively coordinate product development. Comet Solutions® provides software and services that simplify the complex process of engineering product systems. Comet has developed a suite of powerful and web-deployable SimApps™, which embed expert knowledge and methods, but remove the complexity of general purpose Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) tools. SimApps make design-driven simulation suitable for use by everyone from CAE experts to design engineers. With Comet SimApps, companies exploit the full potential of their existing CAD/CAE/PLM tools and resources by exploring more design alternatives, enabling product innovation and the rapid development of higher quality and more cost-effective products.

Solution-specific Simulation Applications (SimApps) are targeted, easy-to-use applications that drive complex simulation templates, and speak the language of the user/engineer. SimApps allow product designers and engineers, without expertise in the use of simulation tools, to safely and quickly evaluate their designs using complex simulations.

In company press releases Comet Solutions CTO, Malcolm Panthaki said “Simulation has been the exclusive domain of too few for too long. It’s time to put to rest the notion that simulation cannot be safely used unless you have deep expertise in the art of extracting reasonable results from today’s simulation software. Comet SimApps deliver the full power of simulation to everyone who needs it, from a salesman who needs to understand the feasibility and cost of a design that meets customer requirements, to a systems engineer who wishes to accurately compare the relative tradeoffs of various architectures, to design engineers who need accurate and rapid assessments of the change in performance of a design variation, to a junior engineer who is still learning the intricacies of CAE codes.”

Comet has gained market traction with manufacturers in the U.S. and in Asian countries, including aerospace, automotive and electronics firms. Customers include companies such as American Axle & Manufacturing, Magnum Pi Automotive and Intel Corp. The company has made significant market progress in Asia, including in China, where it has five distribution partners and operates a local office. Comet also has a software development team based in India.


Sakti3: The Battery That’s Transforming the World

Launched from the University of Michigan in 2009, Sakti3 is a promising startup behind an extremely significant breakthrough in battery technology. Its remarkable success in doubling the density life of current lithium ion batteries on the market has attracted the attention of heavyweight funders ranging from GM Ventures and Khosla Ventures to the Japanese conglomerate Itochu. With over $30 million in funding and a tremendous amount of support from many in the auto industry and beyond, investors are hopeful that Sakti3’s technological innovations will soon revolutionize the world of electric vehicles and consumer electronics.

What is it about Sakti3’s new battery that is capturing the attention of such an influential range of investors?

First and foremost, it’s important to take note of the achievements that the Michigan startup has already achieved to date. Under the leadership of Ann Marie Sastry, a professor of materials science at the University of Michigan renowned for her intense entrepreneurial and executive qualities, Sakti3 used advanced numerical models and empirical data from laboratories to develop vacuum deposition technology. In layman’s terms, this technological innovation allows the startup to produce solid-state batteries with outstanding longevity at an affordable price.

Perhaps the most important application of this technology will be increasing the longevity and lowering the cost of electric vehicles, which investors anticipate will transform how consumers relate to electric cars. With this technological breakthrough, the auto industry will finally be able to overcome the hurdle of producing electric vehicles that have an adequate range and low enough price to keep consumers happy. For the very first time in the industry’s history, electric vehicles will be able to compete with the gas mileage of conventional cars.

When it comes to pinpointing exactly where Sakti3’s breakthrough has occurred, it’s important to take note of several points. Firstly, the startup has solved a strictly materials problem by producing batteries that can store a tremendous amount of energy. The cutting edge researchers at the firm were able to create batteries without the liquid component that exists in today’s car batteries, which solved numerous issues regarding efficiency, safety, and expense. This innovation in materials would be noteworthy even independent of other factors, but another aspect which has investors lined up behind Sakti3 is its scalability into extraordinarily diverse areas.

As expected, when a startup doubles the energy density of its competition—an exceptional feat that sets it apart from any other existing technology—others begin to take notice. In addition to tens of millions of dollars in funding, Sakti3 has been awarded numerous prizes from prestigious organizations, including being named as one of the most 50 innovative companies by the MIT Technology Review. With a combined 100 years of specialized experience on the senior team, the feeling both inside and outside of Sakti3 is that the best has yet to come. It’s becoming clear that a high performing, low cost, reliable battery has nearly unlimited potential, and Sakti3 is at the very core of the battery revolution.