TVL International, the Matthews company developing the SmartCharge LED bulb that operates even during a power outage, has won a $75,000 loan award from the Innovation Fund North Carolina.
Founder and CEO Shailendra Suman says the money will be used pay for getting the latest iteration of the SmartCharge bulb certified by Underwriters Laboratories, as well as for tooling and bulb molding for production and for marketing expenses.
TVL must match the loan dollar for dollar as it produces the new line of the bulb. At the end of six years, if the company is successful, it will repay the $75,000 to the Innovation Fund, based at Catawba Community College, so the money can be used for other startups.
TVL is more advanced in its business than most companies the fund deals with. Suman has been selling the initial version of the bulb in small lots to select customers since August. To date, he says, about 7,000 bulbs have been shipped to customers.
His current plan is to ramp up from current production in lots of about 1,000 per month to around 20,000 bulbs per month in July. Two Chinese manufacturers will make the bulbs for TVL, although Suman says he is looking for a U.S. supplier for the future.
When production ramps up this summer, a large part of the new supply will go to a pilot program proposed by the World Bank to deploy the bulbs in Haiti.
Battery and chip
The LED bulb is manufactured with a battery and chip built in that allows a user to operate the bulb from a normal wall or lamp switch even during a power outage. When the bulb is getting normal power, it illuminates using the available current. But if the power is shut off, the bulb automatically switches to the battery.
The bulb can burn for up to four hours on the battery, which is recharged when the power returns. It works in standard fixtures and needs no additional wiring to install.
Suman’s company is one of the current class of entrepreneurs in the CLT Joules energy business incubator program based at Packard Place in Charlotte.
The bulb was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last year, getting notice from national news organizations, including USA Today and the Today Show.
In October, the company was voted “Favorite Startup” at the Future Energy Forum in New York.
It is also nominated for the OPower Energy Innovation of the Year Award to be presented by CLT Joules on Feb. 19. The public can vote on the awards by going to CLT Joules’ awards site and clicking on the “vote now” button.
The startup remains small. Suman says he has three full-time employees and four part-time workers in Matthews. The chip is designed and manufactured by Rohm Semiconductor in California. It is shipped to Matthews, where the software is installed, and then the parts are sent to China for the bulb fabrication.
Suman founded TVL in 2004. But he started work on the bulb just three years ago.
The Innovation Fund at Catawba has been operating for almost two years. It started as a partnership between the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the community college through the foundation’s Innovation Fund America program. But IFNC is now completely funded by donations from businesses, organizations, and individuals who support the fostering of high-growth startups in North Carolina.