Interview: Larry Grumer, Energy Harvesters CEO

Last week I attended TechCrunch’s Boston Pitch-Off, where 15 startups had 90 seconds to pitch their products and services to a panel of judges.

Voted "fan favorite," Energy Harvesters LLC is commercializing the Walking Charger™. Embedded within your shoe, the device transmits the kinetic energy built up from walking into a battery to charge your phone. By being voted "fan favorite," Grumer and co-founder Sherry Handel won two tickets to TechCrunch's Disrupt event in New York next April.

I caught up with co-founder and CEO Larry Grumer to talk about this interesting concept.

WALKING

1) Tell me about yourself, how you came up with idea, what are the basics of what your product does and what pain point for the consumer does it address?
I followed a typical career path to start with. After earning my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, I initially worked in engineering and then field sales positions, and over time advanced to profit & loss product line management. An opportunity came up to help lead a business turnaround, which focused my interest even further on business operations. I went back to college and earned a MBA and subsequently worked in program, marketing and corporate management. I eventually went out on my own to start companies and commercialize technology.

The idea for Energy Harvesters' Walking Charger came as a result of me running another startup company within the energy harvesting space. At that time we researched several markets across automotive, medical, industrial and personal energy harvesting. They all required a deep technical dive to get to working product, and then a big investment in facility scale up. With Energy Harvesters, the focus is on personal energy harvesting, but with a solution that is practical, implementable and producible. Thus we invented the Walking Charger innovation and filed our patent with 20 claims.

The Walking Charger is a small device that is embedded within footwear products. Each step a person takes produces a spike of energy which we convert to charge batteries.

We give consumers the ability to charge the batteries in their mobile electronics devices anytime, anywhere – just by walking. With people tethered to and highly reliant on their electronic devices, running out of battery power, when there is no access to an electric outlet, no longer needs to occur.

2) How does it feel being the fan favorite of the TechCrunch Pitch-Off and to be able to attend their next Disrupt event?
My co-founder, Sherry Handel, and I felt elated to get two loud rounds of applause from the audience at the TechCrunch Boston Pitch-off event on November 13, 2013. This connected audience of over 700 attendees really gets what we're doing with our Walking Charger innovation.

Giving a demo of our in-boot prototype really jazzed the audience. As I walked across the stage, the energy from my walking was converted to electricity and used to power up the LED lights on my right boot. For those that missed this event, here's a similar demonstration of our prototype: Walking Charger Demo. We are looking forward to attending the Disrupt NY event next spring.

3) What would you say is your biggest challenge? What is your strategy to set yourselves apart and disrupt this space?
My biggest challenge is keeping our team positive, dedicated and focused on our business to secure investor funding and move our product to commercialization. We’ve been self-funded to this point, so working without compensation has been very tough, and our team has contributed greatly to getting us to where we are now.

Our dedicated team has advanced our startup by building several demonstration prototypes, providing key customer introductions that have led to ongoing discussions with leading footwear brands, as well as creating buzz about our startup through social media, PR, business plan competitions and pitch contests.

The strategy to set us apart is two-fold. Our customers are major brand footwear companies. We directly sell them our Walking Charger power platform, which they integrate into their footwear and sell to their commercial, military, and consumer customers through their well established global distribution and retail channels. This is incredibly efficient and cost effective for us because we do not have to secure shelf space within retail outlets like REI, Eastern Mountain Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gander Mountain and others. The footwear brands have these relationships, the economies of scale, and the logistics know-how.

Our second level of strategy is to reach global customers, especially in developing nations where there are 5 billion mobile phone subscribers, and surprisingly 500 million of these people do not have electricity at home to charge their cell phone batteries. For this market, we will be looking at a Walking Charger product line that is swappable between footwear. We will rely on local in country manufacturing, distribution and retail channels.

4) After you have been through building, strategizing and launching, do you think you would do this again?
Yes! I consider myself to be a serial entrepreneur. At this time I’m deeply committed to building Energy Harvesters. However, down the road, I expect that I would be involved in other startups by helping to mentor and advise other entrepreneurs.

Although starting and growing companies has loads of risk, the ride is awesome. You experience the highest highs and lowest lows, but the journey is exciting and invigorating. The people you engage with, the public, the media – has all been very positive. Although uncertainty tends to be the order of the day for startups, being able to create sense and order from the chaos is very rewarding. Incremental wins add up to greater business gains and success.

5) What do you think the future of your product is? How do you define success?
I think that the Walking Charger will become a gateway product helping to advance the trend of wearable electronics. We can see it becoming an integral part of footwear; a ubiquitous shoe feature that will be widely available. It presents green-tech appeal for delivering personal power and for not disposing of batteries.

Success is doing well by others, living and acting with integrity, improving people’s lives, providing gainful employment, and hopefully making money for our investors and our team.

Bonus----funniest/most awkward story you have around the product
In May we were in Washington, DC, exhibiting at TechConnect World 2013 and the National Innovation Summit and Showcase. We had our demonstration hardware with us. One of those articles was our only hand held, table top unit which simulates the operation of the Walking Charger. A retired U.S. Marine decided to give it a try, and damaged it, or so we thought. Although we were all embarrassed by this, there were two unexpected outcomes. The demonstrator continued to work in spite of the damage – indicating our product was pretty robust and durable. We wound up teaming up on a government proposal with the commercial company the Marine works for.

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Comments

Great work, Larry and Sherry! The fan award is another worthy accolade for all the hard work and good technology that is in your Walking Charger. I'm looking forward to hearing of your distribution partnerships, and good luck at the Disrupt NY event.

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