Alex SmithCo-Founder & Chief Product Officer, AMPY
"Out of any class I've taken, NUvention: Energy has changed my life the most."
Alex Smith was two years into his studies as a PhD student in materials science at Northwestern when he decided to take the Winter 2013 NUvention: Energy course.
"Entrepreneurship caught my eye because of the independence that it can give you but also the creativity of it," Smith says.
Smith had switched from PhD studies in astronomy and astrophysics two years prior. He was looking for a career outside of academia that could allow him to go into industry and get his hands dirty. He's also an improvisational performer.
NUvention: Energy met and exceeded his expectations of a creative, hands-on experience. In the course, his team hatched the idea for a smartphone charger powered by human motion.
"I didn't think in my wildest dream that I'd still be working on this project two and a half years later," Smith says.
Today, AMPY is a wearable device that captures and turns energy from human motion into power to charge any USB-powered device. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, which raised $309,323 from 2,573 supporters, supporters began receiving their AMPY devices at the end of summer 2015.
"Out of any class I've taken, NUvention: Energy has changed my life the most," Smith says. And he's thankful for the role that the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation played in the life-changing experience: "The Farley Center was supportive of us every step of the way and really paved the way for companies like us to happen. We're really fortunate to have come out of such a fantastic program."
How did your team come up with the idea for AMPY?
Our smartphones would die before the end of the day. We heard countless stories of other people having this problem and thought this must be a big problem. We were all active people. We thought, "Why can't I take some of this energy from running, walking, and cycling and turn it into power for my phone?"
What has been your biggest lesson in entrepreneurship?
Keep going. There were times when we felt we were losing momentum. We realized that if we just sort of kept going and really doubled down on our efforts, we could make something that was going to have a big impact.
Where do you see AMPY in five years?
As an agile startup company, you know that you are small enough to change as the currents change. With AMPY we believe in the power of human motion, and that is the central tenet that drives us forward. In five years, we hope to still exist as a company producing electronic products that are powered completely by human motion or to have been bought by another company who shares that same values and share our same vision.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.