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NuCurrent gets a charge with $3.5 million

NuCurrent Inc., a Chicago startup that's trying to become the leader in wirelessly charging consumer electronics, just raised $3.5 million.

Backers include Hyde Park Angels, Harvard Business School Alumni Angels, Northbrook-based venture fund Independence Equity Management LLC and several unnamed investors.

The five-year-old company, which traces its roots to a business-plan competition at Northwestern University, started out looking to solve a problem with charging implantable medical devices but later switched to consumer electronics.

The tiny startup, with just eight employees, is at a critical stage. It has won 16 patents and has begun selling its wireless-charging antennae and licensing its technology.

“We're feeling significant pull from the market,” CEO Jacob Babcock said. “We had two major chip companies contact us this month to use our technology in their demo kits. Some small wearable companies have contacted us.”

He says demand for wireless charging is beginning to take hold. Researcher IHS Inc., based in Englewood, Colorado, calls for sales of wireless charging equipment to soar to $8.5 billion in 2018, from just $216 million last year.

As more consumers own more portable devices — such as smartphones, tablets and fitness trackers — using power cords for each is becoming less attractive.

“We've gone wireless with data and everything else,” says IHS analyst Ryan Sanderson in Wellingborough, England. “The last connector that's left is the power cord. If you can get rid of the last connector, you can make the device wireless and dustproof. That's got some real advantages.”

Manufacturers are beginning to team up in efforts to set common standards so chargers and devices will work together.

Phone makers such as Nokia, Google Inc. and LG Electronics have begun incorporating wireless-charging. It's in the smart watches from Motorola Mobility and Apple Inc., too. Oak Brook-based McDonald's Corp. and Starbucks Corp. also are rolling out wireless charging. Deloitte Consulting LLP and hotel chain Marriott International Inc. also are experimenting with it, Mr. Sanderson said.

“We see 2015 being quite an explosive growth year,” he said.

But NuCurrent could face some huge competitors, such as Duracell and Energous Corp., a Stockton, California-based company that went public earlier this year.

“It's unclear how the market is going to unfold,” Mr. Sanderson said. “The market is in its infancy. There's a long way to go, there are going to be a lot of startups, partnerships and consolidation. (NuCurrent has) got as much chance, at this stage, as anyone.”

Mr. Babcock he expects headcount to double over the next year.

“We've done the research and development,” he said. “We need to commercialize our technology and get it into customers' hands. More products are being developed, and we need to have the financial backing to be able to partner with (manufacturers). We need engineers to support custom development and people to do business development.”

“More products are being developed, and we need to have the financial backing to be able to partner with (manufacturers),” Mr. Babcock said. “We need engineers to support custom development and people to do business development.”