By Andrew Patterson
Fady Mishriki could well be the epitome of New Zealand’s quest to build a country full of high tech entrepreneurs building high value exportable products in what former NZ Institute CEO David Skilling once described as a “weightless economy.”
PowerbyProxi, the wireless power company he founded in 2007 with Greg Cross, a former CEO of Microsoft NZ, ticks all the boxes when it comes to technological expertise and growth potential.
Arriving in NZ in 1999 as a 16 year old teen from Bahrain, where he was born, Fady Mishriki is one of a growing number of migrants who are powering this country’s innovation revolution.
He developed an early fascination with electricity famously cutting through an extension lead with a pair of scissors at the age of eight to see what would happen. Fortunately he lived to tell the tale but it created a challenge for him to rid the world of power cables which has now become his life’s quest.
“My aim by the time I’m 35 is to have created a company worth hundreds of millions of dollars that is a world lead in wireless power technology.”
Right now, he’s well on track to achieve that ambition.
A graduate of the University of Auckland with a joint degree in Engineering and Commerce, he says New Zealand has already become something of a world leader in wireless power technology.
Simply put, PowerbyProxi has created technology that allows electricity to literally flow through thin air and can be used in applications as diverse as powering wind turbine blades through to a range of industrial applications.
“Our technology is often located in wet, dirty and remote locations where reliability is critical."
One example is Spain, the world’s third largest generator of wind energy. PowerbyProxi has been contracted by IM FutuRe, the country’s largest wind power generator, to replace the conventional slip rings located inside their turbine blades with its own wireless technology on 500 of its turbines.
This has resulted in substantial savings by reducing maintenance costs and significantly increasing reliability - particularly given the remoteness of many of its wind farms.
The simplest way to explain how the technology actually works is to think about a current running through a wire which generates a magnetic field around the wire itself and by placing another wire next to it a magnetic field iscreated which in turn generates a current.
The amazing Nikola Tesla
The idea behind wireless power isn’t new. It was first conceived by Nikola Tesla, a Croatian born American electrical engineer almost a century ago, but few people then could see any application for the process so the idea faded into oblivion.
However, in the late 1990’s a group of engineers began to rediscover Tesla’s work and the idea of developing commercial applications for wireless power quickly began to take shape.
“I have a copy of his first patent sitting on my desk” says Fady Mishriki.
Like any start-up, getting the business up and running has had its challenges over the last five years, particularly the issue of recruitment.
Two left in NZ out of class 20
“Getting staff has been a real issue for us. We require specialist embedded system and electronic power engineers and we have to compete for those people against other global job offers they receive.
In my own case, I’m one of only two people left in NZ from my graduating class of 20 and the other person actually became our first employee.”
What is also of interest is that of PowerbyProxi’s total staff compliment of 22, less than 10% were actually born in New Zealand.
“I remember one of our chief engineers, a recent migrant, literally camped in our reception area until I gave him a job. He couldn’t speak English that well, but something inside me told me to give him a chance and he has gone on to become one of highest performing staff members.”
PowerbyProxi was fortunate to have been born global after John Deere, the world’s largest manufacturer of farm and forestry equipment, signed up as its first customer.
Since then the company has gone on to secure customers in the United States, Germany, Spain France and the UK but strangely it has no customers based in this country – well not yet.
So how difficult is it operating a global business from NZ when your customers are all located on the other side of the world?
“It can be a real challenge. Sometimes you feel like moving to a place like Silicon Valley where everything you need to access is more or less on your doorstep, but at the same time this is such an amazing country to live in, we are really very lucky and a big part of me wants to join those who have proved you can actually do it from here."
The slowdown in the global economy has also created its own set of challenges with many companies less willing to commit to new technologies and capital expenditure budgets being put on hold.
“Companies are taking much longer to make capital investment decisions. It used to be 8-9 months pre-GFC, that’s now blown out to 2-3 years but there’s nothing you can do about that. One customer we used to deal with has seen their revenues fall 90% so things are definitely tight.”
Globally, wireless power is estimated to be a US$11 billion dollar industry by 2020, so even securing just 10% of the market would potentially make it bigger than this country’s wine industry.
Fady Mishriki says that’s very do-able.
“Currently we have the greatest number of Fortune 100 companies on our books within the wireless power sector globally . We really can be a world leader in this space and completely revolutionize the way customers get power to their devices.”
Perhaps cutting that extension cord at the eight wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
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