John Deere makes it happen for local start-up

US giant injects money into development of contact-less power transfer technology

All it took to get the ball rolling for start-up company chief executive Fady Mishriki was an email to John Deere’s US headquarters. Within five hours, the agricultural machinery giant had replied, saying it was interested in Mishriki’s proposal.

Mishriki’s company, PowerbyProxi, develops technology which allows electronics manufacturers to transmit power to their products without wires. For example, the technology allows the wireless charging of cellphones or the powering-up of industrial robots.

Since that first email, John Deere has become both an investment partner and the start-up’s leading customer. PowerbyProxi is based at Auckland’s The Icehouse business growth centre.

John Deere has invested “a substantial amount of money” in PowerbyProxi, specifically in the development of a wirelessly powered robotic arm, says Mishriki.

“[John Deere is], basically, forward-funding the development of the product. We’ve been quite lucky to get a deal like this,” he says.

Normally, a start-up company would have to find an angel investor or venture capitalist firm to fund product development and then, once it has got the product, would have to go out and find the customers, says Mishriki.

John Deere responded to Mishriki’s email saying he should go and meet the people at its New Zealand subsidiary, Waratah.

PowerbyProxi was in discussions with John Deere for six months, says Mishriki. The US company then agreed to invest in the start-up and committed to buying a certain volume from the company each year, in return for exclusivity in its field, he says.

Mishriki initially worked on the contact-less power transfer technology in 2003, when he was at Auckland University’s School of Engineering. He started the company in 2005, working part-time for nearly two years before he could go into it full-time, he says. The intellectual property is owned by the University of Auckland and licensed to PowerbyProxi.

Besides Mishriki, the company employs a product development manager and a team of four students, from the University of Auckland, who work for the company under a research contract. Greg Cross, a former managing director of Microsoft New Zealand, is PowerbyProxi’s executive chairman.

The company was awarded a Technology for Business Growth (TBG) grant, from the Foundation for Research Science & Technology, late last year. The grant will go towards developing the platform technology base, says Mishriki. This will mean the company can prototype and develop custom wireless power solutions very quickly in the future.

PowerbyProxi is currently also in talks with another large US company, says Mishriki.

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Tags icehouseJohn Deereroboticsstart-ups

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