After nearly a half-dozen startups, Rob Weber is looking to keep things simple.
A founder of local angel investment group Robin Hood Ventures, Weber’s latest venture alongside longtime business partner Albert Charpentier is AgileSwitch, a company that manufactures electronic components that help green technologies such as wind turbines convert wind to electricity.
The initial production units, which measure four inches by five inches, cost an average of $100.
“Four dollar gasoline does a lot to increase the interest in solar panel and wind turbine,” he says.
However, despite the fact that Weber once founded an angel investing group, Weber is placing an emphasis of keeping AgileSwitch lean. Last month, the company accepted $50,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Parters as its only outside funding.
“People see that we are two guys that have done this before, that we have some credibility,” says Weber adding that the company is utilizing former employees and contacts from past ventures to quickly get a prototype to market.
We chatted with Weber about having a serial partner, the dangers of accepting too much funding and his adventures with 3D body scanners.
As always, edited for length and clarity.
Explain AgileSwitch to us like we’re five years old.
Basically we make the electronics involved in renewable energy generation. If you had a bank of solar cells or wind turbines you are accruing electricity but you need to convert that electricity into something you can use in your home or factory. So we make the equipment that handles that.
So how did this idea come about?
I’ve been working on electronic businesses with [AgileSwitch acting CTO] Albert Charpentier since the early 80’s. We had a company [Intellifit] that we started that produced 3D body scanners for clothing measurements. We sold that two years ago.
So we then did a lot of research and went to a trade show for renewable electronic products. We have a history of applying a digital mindset to a traditionally analog process, and here we found that the conversion prcess was very analog. There was a need for smarter conversion.
Wait. You’ve been with the same business partner since the 80’s? How many business have you done.
We’ve done at leastâ€¦ [pauses] four.
You’ve lost count?
We’ll he was a partner of mine in Robin Hood Ventures so there’s lots of companies we were involved with from the start. So it’s hard to give a quick count [laughs].
You company took $50,000 investment from Ben Franklin Technology Parters, why not Robin Hood Ventures, which you founded?
My partner and I have started company where we raised a lot of money and others when we didn’t raise a lot. We’ve found that we have more success when we don’t raise a lot of money, when we make a prototype first. So the plan was to prove the concept first. We put in $50,000 of our own cash, our own time and we took $50,000 from BFTP. That should be enough to have a prototype and validate that theres a demand for it.
It sounds like you are the classic startup: keeping small and lean while putting a lot of sweat equity to get a test out.
What’s next for AgileSwitch?
We’re just finishing up a run of 30 systems. We are putting them in the hands of customers to test. We’re shipping them out every day to the companies that make converters and turbines and electric vehicles and other things where conversion occurs.