Ember’s first Indiegogo The campaign raised eyebrows when it was launched in 2015. Will anyone really buy a $129 heated coffee mug? Nearly a decade later, however, it’s clear that initial publicity was just the tip of the startup’s heating/cooling iceberg.

TechCrunch recently sat down with the company’s founder and chairman Clay Alexander to delve into Ember’s history and see where things are headed.

“We have sold well over 3 million units [of the smart mug] At this point,” the executive told TechCrunch. “We’re now selling close to a million units a year. When I first created this technology, a lot of people in my life said, ‘Oh, Clay, you’re never going to sell a $100 electronic coffee cup. You have lost your mind. As a founder, you have to have perseverance and you have to have this intuition that transcends logic. “

The first prototype of the Ember mug was a Frankenstein-esque prototype that included a Zojirushi mug and a bunch of electronics. Image source: Ember

The first prototype of the Ember mug was a Frankenstein-esque prototype, consisting of a Zojirushi mug and a bunch of electronics. Image Source: ember

In addition to the company’s better-known coffee containers, Ember is also venturing into the medical space with the launch of the Ember Cube, a shipping case for items that need to be kept under temperature control, primarily pharmaceuticals. Now it also makes heated baby bottles.

“I always tell people that cooling is much harder than heating. Heating is pretty simple, you can use resistive heating elements or resistive heating wire to create a heater. I mean, heck, you can just discharge and any wire. Weather It’s going to get warmer, right?” Alexander pointed out. Cooling, however, is another story. “People don’t realize that you’re not putting cold energy into the refrigerator, you’re taking hot energy out of the refrigerator.”


The birth of Ember can be traced back to a related moment of frustration: a lukewarm cup of coffee. Alexander, a self-professed coffee lover, longed for a solution that would keep his favorite coffee at the perfect temperature from the first sip to the last. The road to bringing Ember to life was challenging. As a hardware startup, Ember faces unique obstacles that often prevent entrepreneurs from venturing into the space. From high product development and manufacturing costs to complex intellectual property protection and international expansion networks, Alexander navigated a series of challenges that tested his resolve and resolve.

Despite the obstacles, Alexander remained steadfast. He assembled a team of engineers, designers and marketers who shared his passion for creating a product that would enhance the coffee drinking experience and push the limits of what’s possible with consumer technology. As Ember began to take shape, Alexander and his team invested countless hours in research and development, testing various materials and technologies until they found a solution that fit the requirements. The end result is a stylish, intuitive cup that can be controlled for hours to maintain a precise temperature via a simple smartphone app. In fact, 2,000 backers backed the idea on Indiegogo, injecting $360,000 in cash into the company and hinting at market validation for the first time. Soon after, the company raised a series of equity financings, including a $13 million Series C and a $23 million Series E.

Balancing form and function is an early challenge familiar to anyone in the hardware world. Cups need to be effective at maintaining temperature while also being visually appealing and comfortable to hold. After extensive testing and refinement, Ember settled on a sleek, minimalist design that seamlessly integrates heating technology into the wall of the mug. The cup also features wireless charging, customizable temperature settings and a smartphone app that allows users to control it remotely.

Then there’s the challenge of actually getting the product to market. Unlike software development, hardware development requires significant upfront investment in materials, tools, and manufacturing processes. As Alexander points out, these costs can balloon quickly, putting enormous pressure on startups to secure funding and generate revenue as quickly as possible.

Across the sea

Once a product is developed, hardware startups must navigate the complex world of intellectual property protection. In a competitive market, protecting innovation is critical to long-term success, but protecting patents and trademarks can be time-consuming and expensive. For startups with limited resources, this can be a daunting prospect that requires careful strategizing and prioritization.

At one point, Ember discovered an incredible opportunity that turned out to be a huge challenge. So far, the cups have been sold at Starbucks and other well-known retail stores. But then one of the world’s largest and most powerful retailers came knocking.

“Our expansion wasn’t just in the U.S. It took us about two years to get into Apple stores — the amount of testing they do on your product is huge — and the amount of times I flew to Cupertino… but It was worth it,” Alexander recalled. “But Apple doesn’t like to do local releases. If they like your product and you’ve passed all their tests, they’ll basically come to you and say, okay, we want to do this globally.”

At the time, Ember only shipped to North America, but when Apple came knocking and said it wanted to start selling its products in 27 countries, they didn’t ask if they wanted to jump, but how high.

A portable medication cooler prototype created in 2018 in partnership with the Mayo Clinic. Image Source: ember

“I remember saying to my operations team, ‘Guys, Apple is giving us a huge return that will make us a global brand overnight. Are we going to do this? This was a whiteboard for a few weeks. And blind panic,” Alexander said with a laugh. “Ultimately, we just said, ‘You know what, you only live once, let’s do this,’ and it was the most painful year of our lives. We traveled to 27 countries from North America with Apple.”

As Ember began to expand internationally, Alexander and his team encountered challenges in navigating different countries’ regulatory environments, finding reliable manufacturing partners, and adapting to local market conditions. Each challenge requires a deep understanding of the global hardware ecosystem. Alexander attributes Ember’s success in this area to the strength of his team and their willingness to learn and adapt at any time.

from hot to cold

While Ember’s smart mugs have been a huge success in the consumer market, the company’s ambitions extend far beyond hot drinks.

A prototype of a cylindrical medication cooler was developed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. This concept was proposed in 2019. Image Source: ember

I love selling coffee mugs, don’t get me wrong, but being able to save lives is something we can all rally around. Clay Alexander

“I remember thinking, ‘What can we do with temperature control technology to help save lives?’ I could see us becoming very successful in the consumer space,” Alexander explains. “My board includes Wyatt Decker, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. It’s cool to have a top-notch health care executive on our board. He’s going to invite us to Mayo Clinic. Clinic. We’ll sit in these conference rooms with doctors and scientists. The idea is to explore how our temperature control technology can help solve pain points in health care, whether it’s medicine or moving organs and so on.”

Alexander and his team returned to the lab and began solving the challenges they identified, leveraging their dozens of patents. The company said it has obtained more than 200 authorized patents, almost all of which involve temperature control, whether it is semiconductor refrigeration technology, heating technology or the control system that manages it all.

This work led to the Ember Cube, a device that promises to solve one of the most pressing challenges in healthcare. Many drugs, especially those used in cancer treatments and vaccine distribution, require precise temperature control to maintain efficacy. Even slight deviations from the optimal temperature range can render these medications useless or harmful. The Ember Cube solves this problem by providing a portable, high-precision, temperature-controlled environment to store and transport sensitive medications. Utilizing the same concept as smart mugs, the Ember Cube maintains a precise temperature range, ensuring the medicine inside remains viable and effective.

The Ember Cube dashboard gives shippers a near real-time view of pharmaceuticals in transit, complete with temperature readings. Image Source: ember

If executed correctly, this technology could be a game-changer. By safely and efficiently distributing temperature-sensitive medications, the Ember Cube can help improve access to life-saving treatments in remote or underserved areas. It could also reduce the cost and complexity of vaccine distribution, a key consideration in the face of global health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Once you master the technology, a wealth of opportunities start to appear. For example, the United States Anti-Doping Agency revealed that it is using Ember’s technology ahead of the 2024 Olympic team trials.

Alexander noted that he sees the development of the Ember Cube as a natural evolution of Ember’s mission to use technology to solve real-world problems. By applying its expertise in temperature control to the medical field, Ember has the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients around the world.

spin out

The decision to separate Ember into two distinct divisions, Consumer and Life Sciences, is a strategic move designed to allow each of the company’s divisions to focus on its core competencies and target markets. By creating a dedicated life sciences division, Ember can direct its resources and talent to develop new applications of its technology in the medical field, from improving the storage and transportation of vaccines to enabling more precise temperature control in laboratory settings.

The split allows the company to serve a different set of customers – both in a product sense and an investor sense – and it has hired a former Dyson executive (Jim Rohn) as its consumer Chief Executive Officer of the department.

“About a year and a half ago, we actually spun off Ember Life Sciences as an independent entity,” Alexander said. The company initially kept the same ownership structure table for both companies but allowed the two entities to diverge. “It allows us to raise capital from the healthcare industry and we are very proud of some of our equity partners. Carrier – the world’s largest commercial refrigeration manufacturer – is an investor in us. We also have a strong presence in the healthcare sector There are some other investors. By spinning it out, we can attract life sciences and healthcare type equity investments and board members and so on, rather than having them all combined.”

Cool to very cold indeed

“We’re actually trying to get into cell and gene therapy with cryogenic transport,” Alexander joked, showing me a photo of a prototype device. He then swore me to secrecy and said I couldn’t share the photos I saw.

When Alexander looks to the future, he’s filled with excitement and possibility.

The Ember Cube can store products at 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) for 72 hours. The company’s next endeavor is cryogenic shipping, where temperatures must remain at -150C (-238F) for long periods of time.

“Minus 150 degrees Celsius is no joke. It’s a bad thing. We use liquid nitrogen and the shipping box is spongy, so the nitrogen gets absorbed into the walls. If it tips over, nothing will come out, It’s a dry shipper,” Alexander said. “It’s a major engineering challenge. You have to do it all in a vacuum, and it’s all very complex engineering.”

Alexander said it will take about 18 months for the cryogenic transporter to become a commercial product, but the Ember team is excited about the progress it has made so far.

“We have performed hot cell testing and were able to keep the payload below minus 150 degrees Celsius for 10 days,” Alexander explains. “The target audience is cell and gene therapies—super high-tech medicines that actually cure cancer and save lives. As a brand, talking about a feel-good thing, right? I love selling coffee mugs, don’t get me wrong. , but being able to save lives is something we can all rally around.”

#Embers #journey #hot #coffee #drug #delivery

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