Startups to Watch: Picasolar, Overwatch plan for production

by The City Wire staff ( 22 views 

The past few months have been a blur of activity for execs at Silicon Solar Solutions/Picasolar and Overwatch, both tagged as startups to watch in 2014 by The City Wire. Each of the two startups have been in the midst of product design and testing as they work to get their inventions to the manufacturing phase.

The startups also are working to secure more capital to see their products into production and manage long-distance relationships between principal members.

Flying high from a national SunShot grant, Douglas Hutchings, with Silicon Solar Solutions and its sister startup Picasolar, said their technology for the N-type solar cells came through the first battery of federal testing with strong results.

“We passed UV testing and that is a big milestone we are glad to have behind us,” said Hutchings. 

The startup received test results Monday (March 24) from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He said the improvements ranged from 4.41% to 9.67% with an average efficiency improvement of 7.6%. The goal was to be at 5% by October, which puts them ahead of schedule.

“There is still a lot more work to be done in terms of optimizing the process to be ready for high throughput, but this is definitely a big step in the right direction. These results were delayed significantly because a third party vendor broke several of our samples which caused all sorts of scrambling to catch back up,” Hutchings said.

The startup also is dealing with less than optimal communication among vital team members. One principal is sorting out some immigration related issues that is forcing him to work from abroad which is not ideal given the time zone differences. In the meantime, Hutchings said they are finalizing the paperwork to add a fairly high profile Arkansan to its board of directors.

“The individual is highly accomplished and should bring a lot to the team having held industry and political positions where he has been very successful. We should be collecting final signatures over the next couple of days so we can announce something,” Hutchings said.

The startup also continues to work on plans for local manufacturing of its solar equipment.

“We have engaged AEDC and other stakeholders within the state to start ironing out infrastructure needs. We recently recruited Rick Schwerdtfeger as chief operating officer who has built a $1 billion manufacturing company in the past at ARC Energy. We are leveraging his skills and prior experiences. Ultimately the facility would create around 113 jobs by 2017 if we are successful.” Hutchings said.

Picasolar is actively engaging investors for its next round of funding. Hutchings said the group will make visits outside the state to find more funding sources. He said the company has received letters of intent from two customers wanting to purchase the new technology. The two sales, if made, exceed the company’s total projected sales through 2017. Hutchings said this shows investors there is good demand for their product, which is why the startup is eager to get this new technology to market. The Picasolar technology is part of the SunShot Incubator Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“We successfully submitted another proposal for the next tier of the SunShot Incubator Program. … We proposed a $1 million project to the Department of Energy and we should start receiving feed back in the coming month or so,” he said. 

Josh Moody, CEO of Overwatch, told The City Wire the Bentonville-based startup is reeling with excitement as its gaming application is 90% complete.

“We have just finished the designs for our hardware case mount and are sending it to Cyber Gun this week (March 25),” Moody said. “Their manufacturer will likely tweak the design some and we expect to hear back in the next two to three weeks.”

After that, Moody said they will work on packaging, but in the meantime, the lean and long-distance team has focused on promotional marketing plans for a product launch in June. Moody is finishing up his senior year at Little Rock Catholic High School and working on the designs and marketing plan in his spare time. His partners, Joe Saumweber and Michael Paladino, of RevUnit in Bentonville, are providing the software engineering and technology services to Overwatch.

Moody said the software gaming application is nearing completion and will be distributed to the startup’s beta testers within the next month. 

“We have a lot to pull together for a June product launch,” Moody said. “We expect the hardware will be ready to ship to retail stores in June and we want to package the software application with the hardware case mounts.” 

Overwatch is closing up a funding round for $300,000 in capital, which Moody said is needed to get the product to market. He said the startup will likely get the full amount needed from Arkansas investors, but the company is not opposed to looking outside the state if necessary.

“We are in talks in now for the funds we need to cover the final expenses of getting this product launched into retail,” Moody said.