1. Tell us about the journey since Voltaic Systems’ launch.

Our objective from the outset was to participate in the clean energy market through innovative applications of emerging solar technologies. Our first effort was the development of the solar backpack, designed as a mobile charger for phones and other electronics. We received such an overwhelming response from both the media and customers that Voltaic was born at that moment, as a consumer electronics company.

Over time we expanded into the B2B market as we developed expertise in designing and manufacturing rugged, small scale solar systems which are essential for powering remote IoT and other sensors. One of our early customers was JUMP (a former New Lab member) who developed their GPS tracking systems for bicycles using our small solar panels. Today we work with hundreds of hardware tech companies, leveraging our engineering and manufacturing skills to develop off-grid solar powered products. 

Solar panels power bio-acoustic monitor – Photo credit Rainforest Connection 

2. How are you applying transformative technology to create a positive impact?

The majority of our customers are building applications that pretty clearly improve the world around us. We manufacture hundreds of thousands of power systems each year used for air quality monitoring, weather stations, wildlife protection, irrigation systems, ocean monitoring, and GPS tracking systems. 

As an example, we worked with Rainforest Connection to develop their iconic solar panel which powers a bio-acoustic monitor, listening for the sounds of illegal deforestation and poaching. Alerts are then sent to local partners who can take enforcement action.

We assist in the product development process of many other innovative companies. In AgTech, our customers are using a variety of image and audio based techniques to identify crop-damaging pests. Other partners are using AI to monitor and detect methane leaks at natural gas sites. Sensedge is monitoring air pollution from wood burning stoves. All of these systems require continuous power 365 days a year. A well designed solar system is often the only thing that can keep them running. 

In parallel, our consumer products are widely used in the aid and development community, in everything from disaster recovery, to election monitoring, and vaccine rollouts. 

Arc 20W Solar Charger – Photo credit Savannah Cummins, Climber Will Saunders

3. What has been your biggest challenge as founder, and how have you learned from it?

Voltaic has consciously not taken outside funding. So we have always needed to manage the company to be cash flow positive. It has meant moving slowly at times, which can be frustrating when you see other businesses on hiring sprees or running high-visibility marketing programs. 

This approach has forced us to focus on what works for our customers and makes sense for us. We have always been conservative about investments in our team, space, inventory and product development. That discipline helped us manage well through the COVID crisis and others. There is tremendous satisfaction in building a diversified resilient business with the backing of satisfied customers. Ultimately this challenge has enabled us to build a more successful business.

4. What role has Newlab played in helping you advance Voltaic Systems?

Moving to Newlab has been fantastic for Voltaic in so many ways. The physical space itself is beautiful and the energy of Newlab makes all of us happier coming to the office. This is definitely a draw in recruiting, and helps a lot when we need to host clients in person. 

We regularly rely on the 3D printing services, the metal shop, and electronics lab for testing, prototyping and some small batch production. 

Most importantly we all feel a part of a vibrant engineering and manufacturing community. Our engineers have taken classes to advance their skills, we’ve shared contacts and strategies on production and marketing, taken to slack when we need advice or a tool, and are inspired by other companies building beautiful products all around us. In several cases, we’ve done work with New Lab members like JUMP or Jason Krugman Studio, or have been introduced to IoT projects in NYC through New Lab’s partnership with the city. Overall Newlab provides an environment for Voltaic in which we feel at home. 

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