By Chris Meehan | Jan 19, 2015
Salt Lake City, Utah
Electric chargers for outdoor use
Salt Lake City
Employees: 12 plus seasonal interns
Co-founders Paul Slusser and David Toledo are growing the upstart manufacturer with crowdsourcing to make innovative electrical chargers for the outdoor market.
Power Practical isn't called Power Traditional for a reason. The young company has engaged Kickstarter to launch its products, appeared on ABC's Shark Tank, and attracted a $250,000 investment from Mark Cuban -- all since launching out of a garage in 2010.
The company's first hit was the PowerPot, a pot with a thermoelectric adapter that converts excess heat energy into electricity, which can power a light or charge a mobile phone.
On their own, such thermoelectric generators are inefficient devices: They convert about 3 percent of thermal energy into electricity, co-founder Paul Slusser explains. "Instead of saying it's a 3 percent generator, I'd like to say that it's a 103 percent effective system -- that is, you get hot water, which you needed anyway and you get electricity," Slusser says.
When Power Practical introduced the PowerPot to the Kickstarter community, it was wildly successful, and the company has launched each subsequent product through Kickstarter.
"We didn't have a shop to build PowerPots in scale when we launched the PowerPot Kickstarter," Slusser says. "The PowerPot Kickstarter not only got us our first 1,000 customers, it also got us the tools that allowed us to build the next 3,000 or 4,000 units."
But crowdfinding has provided more than money. "The ability to generate feedback and get the idea vetted by the crowd before you go to production is super valuable. . . . As opposed to pitching your idea to some wealthy individuals -- you're pitching to everyone else to see if they want to get on board."
Power Practical also appeared on Shark Tank in April 2014, which ultimately netted them the investment from Cuban. "The Shark Tank appearances were very helpful in getting our name out to a much broader audience," Slusser says.
The company's upcoming devices -- fast-charging, ruggedized batteries called Pronto packs -- recently closed a successful crowdfunding campaign raising $375,249, blowing away the $50,000 goal. The funding will allow Power Practical to get Pronto into production in the first half of 2015.
The outdoor-oriented batteries boast some impressive specs. The larger of the two, the Pronto 12, absorbs enough electricity in five minutes to fully charge an iPhone. In an hour, it can store enough energy to charge nine iPhones. The smaller Pronto 5 can store an iPhone charge in 15 minutes and can juice three iPhones after an hour's charge.
"I love having a portable battery pack," says Slusser. "It's the most practical portable power solution for recharging devices like smartphones."
Slusser's epiphany came when he and co-founder David Toledo realized the batteries in power tools and electric vehicles charged much more rapidly than those in mobile devices.
"We set out to raise the bar, to put some of that tech together into a sleek enclosure that would make it look good, and have high performance," Slusser says. "We're using the types of batteries that can handle that level of power, basically the top-shelf lithium polymer batteries."
Power Practical's products are now available across the country at EMS, REI, and Cabela's and have won awards and recognition from CNET, The Wall Street Journal, and Backpacker.
Slusser says the company will stay in Utah for the long haul."There are a lot of entrepreneurial-minded people, there's a lot of skilled labor, and those types of things -- good infrastructure, good recreational activities -- that are important to starting up companies."
Challenges: Staying on the cutting eege. "Some revolutionary technologies could broadside us," says Slusser.
Opportunities: "There are billions of people worldwide who need access to a reliable and innovative source of energy," Slusser says. "I think the opportunity for Power Practical is very large in developing new ways to service those markets which are off-grid."
Needs: Growth capital. "As you grow, your capital needs grow before your ability to supply customers with sales," Slusser says. "We are looking to raise funding in the traditional sense. Kickstarter helps, but there's still a need traditional funding, so I guess the venture capitalists can sigh a little bit."