Past the singing slot machines and billowing clouds of cigarette smoke at The Venetian hotel and casino in Las Vegas, stands Eureka Park, a place for startups to make their play at CES. In one of the no-frills 10-by-10 booths is ChargeCard, a California-based startup making a next-gen smartphone charger about the size of a credit card. This company stands out at Eureka Park for two reasons: First, in the world of thrown-together apps and wonky prototypes, ChargeCard is a fully realized piece of inventive hardware ready for primetime. Second, ChargeCard has raised more than $160,000 on Kickstarter with the help of more than 5,000 backers.
The story of ChargeCard starts with an eclectic group of friends: Noah Dentzel (the tech guy and entrepreneur), Adam Miller (the industrial designer), and Brian Hahn (the chemist). The spark of invention behind the device came to Dentzel while bumming around Spain with his brother.
“I was visiting my brother in Barcelona, and we would walk around all day. After a few hours our phones would die,” Dentzel says. “People were taking turns in coffee shops with one poor guy’s charge cable to power up.” That’s when the idea hit Dentzel: What if he could create a product to fit in a wallet or on the back of a phone for charging on-the-go—eliminating the need to carry your charge cable around with you.
“Keys, phone, wallet; these are the only three things you should have to remember,” says Dentzel in true bro fashion.
It’s Not a Credit Card
ChargeCard has a thin plastic body with a phone connection on one end (such as a 30-pin iPhone legacy port) and an articulating rubber arm with a USB connector for plugging into a laptop or adapter.
Dentzel approached Miller with the idea who was then building animated floats for Disney and creating rotary tattoo machines. The two hunkered down to create a prototype. It started with sketches and evolved to rubber cutouts, then casting functional models. The final prototype phase was producing a model on a 3D printer.
Miller says that although the design is simple, there were some significant challenges. First, the model had to be thin enough to wow buyers and make them want to carry it always. Another challenge was bonding two materials—plastic and rubber—on one device. Also, as with anything with a moving part, the team had to make sure the wiring inside the rubber arm was strong enough to withstand repeated flexing.
After many failures and equally as many successes, the duo took to Kickstarter with the 3D printed prototype, hoping to reach a funding goal of $50,000. As a surprise to almost everyone involved, the company far exceeded the goal.
“Kickstarter is awesome because it acts as a market research tool as well as a pre-selling and funding tool,” Miller says. “It allowed us to break down the barrier of making hardware.”
With the Kickstarter cash burning a hole in the team’s pockets, the pair set off to master the manufacturing process. Because of the precision required to create the device, Miller and Dentzel decided to stay in California where they enlisted the help of Anaheim-based Craftech Corp. to make injected molded ChargeCards.
Jumping from 3D printing to injection molding posed its own sets of problems like achieving enough precision for the 30-pin connected of the iPhone-friendly ChargeCard. The metal components just wouldn’t cool properly in the plastic mold and stay slim enough. That is where Hahn came in. He figured out a special chemical process that would help the metal stick to the injection molded plastic, using a special type of glue. With this process, ChargeCard was able to overcome one of its biggest hurdles, in the meantime creating a new manufacturing process to be applied to future products for anyone to use.
When asked why they decided to stay in California rather than outsource the design to China for cheaper manufacturing, the team agreed:
“We just felt like California would be a good place to make what sometimes seemed like the impossible happen,” Dentzel says. “You know, in L.A., you have directors asking people to build things like giant submarines for movies—and they do. We just thought that this philosophy of making the impossible happen would work well with our vision.”
The team hopes to sell the product first online, and eventually in stores like BestBuy. With positive reinforcement from the tech community at large, and more than 5,000 backers on Kickstarter, no doubt ChargeCard is off to a great start.