Power and Compassion
Patrick Murphy and his partner Jason developed the idea for Gridless Power in an undergraduate business plan competition. With some money awarded to them from the state of New Jersey, they forged ahead with a business model that would eventually make energy available in situations of distress.
The two had experience in both solar and batteries. “This was back when solar panels were $5 a lot, before they became way cheaper,” Patrick says. He says they saw the market bottoming out and weren’t prepared to compete with China for low priced solar panels. “We wanted to add value on the battery side and with the power systems.”
“We had a lot of our customers looking at our systems and asking just for the batteries,” Patrick says. That was the lightbulb moment.
A Powerful Product
Patrick’s portable batteries have been put to the test by military customers and in catastrophic events such as Hurricane Sandy. Today, Gridless Power has commercially available products sold through third parties. “We’ve been growing pretty rapidly,” Patrick says. “The first year was mostly demos and last year we deployed units all over the world. We had units deployed during the Ebola epidemic in Africa and in Nepal after the earthquake.”
Even with the growing book of business, Gridless is still a lean team at five full-time employees. They’ve recently struck a partnership agreement with Verizon, and Patrick guesses the team will triple in the next year in part to meet the demand coming from this group of sellers.
Starting out with state and local customers has yielded a scaling model they can support.
Patrick says they have a limited customer base. “We’re staying laser-focused on disaster response,” he says. Over time, they will start to expand into more commercial uses such as events and construction rentals.
Patrick says this path for expansion came about in an interesting way. “Our office has a coffee shop out front. We got friendly with a couple people and they asked to borrow some units so they could power an outdoor concert,” he says.
Even though it was a new concept, the challenge was irresistible. “If we’ve never powered something before, we try it,” Patrick says.
Patrick says some local towns saw the unit at the event and wanted them, and just like that Gridless started seeing rental demand for their units.
Now they partner with a couple big rental companies, again outsourcing the sales and technical challenges to third parties. “Our strategy has been business-to-business or business-to-government,” Patrick says. He doesn’t rule out targeting the consumer space in a few years as well.
Patrick says that some of the press they’ve gotten from being on the scene during catastrophes has won them recognition and new clients. For example, they got some PR on their response to a big Amtrak crash, and now can count the transportation agency amongst their customers.
“We’re slowly developing a strong brand within this extreme rescue/emergency area,” Patrick says. His plan is to develop a following and report within that market and expand from there.
“Whenever there is a big emergency, we don’t go try to sell units; we just go with units to try to help people,” he says of their approach. “A couple weeks after the disaster, we ask them to send them back. There’s no hard sales approach, we don’t ask them to buy them.” Usually, however, these entities become quick customers after realizing the usefulness of Gridless Power’s batteries in times of need.