Laptops are getting lighter and sleeker. But their bulky, heavy power cords are still, well, bulky and heavy. That's the problem that fellow MIT grad students Vanessa Green, Anthony Sagneri, George Hwang, and Justin Burkhart set out to solve back in 2010. Green was getting her M.B.A. when she met Sagneri, Hwang, and Burkhart (no longer with the company), electrical engineers who were working on high-frequency power conversion--technology that could reduce the size of the electronics inside a power-cord brick by 10 times. Together, they started FINsix, which makes "the world's smallest power cord," called Dart.
"I had come to MIT very interested in energy and water," says Green. "I wasn't thinking of myself as an entrepreneur." But a class called New Enterprises changed that. That's where she met her future co-founders, who came to the class with the goal of building a company around the new power technology they had developed. They discovered synergy with Green, who also wanted to work on a technology-based energy idea. They decided to team up and, just two weeks after they met, entered MIT's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition and placed third.
"We went about taking what was really a lab technology and making it real," says Green. For their first product, the team members decided to focus on laptop adapters, which typically account for 30 percent to 40 percent of a machine's total weight. They put together a pitch, talked to potential customers, got feedback, and began approaching investors. Over the next 18 months, they would amass $5.2 million in Series A funding--enough to bankroll further development of the product and also give them some credibility with potential business partners.
FINsix investor Matthew Nordan says he initially passed on Green's pitch, because he was "too ignorant to get it." But after doing some research on innovation in consumer electronics, he realized that the power brick had not changed in 25 years and that Green and her team were onto something. He ended up leading Venrock's investment in the company and is now an adviser.
This past January, the FINsix team--which moved from Boston to Menlo Park, California, last November--headed to the International Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas to debut its first product, Dart. It's a slim but powerful little box (like an iPhone charger, but a bit longer) that comes in a variety of colors and also has a USB port attached. Laptop magazine named FINsix “Best Startup” at CES, and Notebooks.com christened Dart as “Best Overall Accessory” at CES.
To gauge consumer acceptance of the product, Green and her co-founders launched a Kickstarter campaign in April, offering Dart for presale at $79 for PC and $148 for Mac. "We have to buy an off-the-shelf Apple adapter to get the connector," says Green. "And that's expensive." Consumers flocked to the campaign, and the company exceeded its $200,000 goal on the first day. The company raised more than $450,000 in Kickstarter funding. Green says the first Darts will begin shipping in October.
But the big money for FINsix will probably come from OEM partners. Green says FINsix has inked a deal with "one of the top five PC manufacturers" to supply power cords for laptops. She won't name the company, but says other deals are in the works as well for adapters at higher and lower powers. She expects FINsix's power cords to come shipped with at least one brand of laptop by early next year.
"We'll probably focus on AC/DC adapters for a little while," she says, noting that the market for 300-watt power adapters is about $25 billion. But, she adds, "power is in everything, so there are a lot of places we could go with this." Nordan, the FINsix investor, agrees: "We'll see this technology not only in consumer devices but in everything else that plugs into a wall."