CEO Tom Bishop is making rechargeable batteries user-friendly with an eye on closed-loop manufacturing.
A subsequent job with Owlet Baby Care gave him “the confidence” to start Pale Blue Earth. “I wouldn’t say I’m a reluctant entrepreneur — I’m actually really enjoying it — but I never thought I would take it on,” he says.
Bishop teamed with co-founders Steven Warren and David Kizer to start Pale Blue Earth. “We were moving on from single-use straws and we were moving on from single-use and disposable anything, but batteries were still a problem, but seemingly not recognized as a problem because they’re so ubiquitous and overwhelmingly necessary,” says Bishop. “No one was willing to look at the problem when there’s not a solution. Only when there’s really nice metal straws everywhere do you recognize the problem with plastic straws.”
For Pale Blue Earth, the solution came in the form of innovation in lithium-ion batteries. Bishop says the increasing “affordability and availability” of lithium-ion technology paved the way for Pale Blue Earth. “We needed to hit a certain MSRP and a certain capacity threshold,” says Bishop, noting that breakthroughs in vaporizers and power banks led to the right size and price — and the ability to charge a small battery with a USB cable. “We could draft off of that decade and a half of R&D and investment, and take that technology and reapply to it to our concept.”
He explains, “Having that piece of technology available meant that we could put that technology into standard household form-factor batteries, even down to a triple A and still meet a certain threshold of capacity without eating up half of the battery for electronics and the charging port.”
Bishop says that means a $100 investment in Pale Blue Earth batteries will save a heavy single-use battery user thousands of dollars in the long term. “We get 1,000 charges as a cycle life, which means you still have 80 percent capacity of the battery,” says Bishop.
Pale Blue Earth launched with a $430,000 raise on crowdfunding platforms in 2019 and shipped its first orders in early 2020. “There’s a great crowdfunding story to be told here,” says Bishop. “We did the majority of that in the first 10 days, then the algorithm on Kickstarter didn’t prefer us for some reason. . . . We were on track to do $1 million to $1.5 million probably, and then it just shut down and they couldn’t tell us why.”
The company works with contract manufacturers in China, but Bishop lays out a road map that ultimately includes a pivot as lithium-ion recycling gains traction.
“The next logical move for us is probably to do more in-market manufacturing, meaning we would set up contract manufacturers in the Americas and in Europe,” says Bishop. “As the recycling of lithium-ion and electronics components gets more and more efficient, it gives us the ability to bring more materials back into a closed-loop manufacturing circuit. Then we can reapply those materials and put them back into use. At the end of it, we’re not disposing of any materials hopefully in the future.”
Leveraging a third-party logistics provider and “about a dozen contractors,” the company currently sells batteries direct-to-consumer as well as through Amazon and other online retailers in the U.S. and seven other countries.
“The market has welcomed our concept and brand,” says Bishop, forecasting 700 percent revenue growth in 2021. “We’ll call that a win.”
Challenges: “The biggest challenge is finding a way to communicate a really deep story to customers in a way that is efficient,” says Bishop. Is it about performance, price, sustainability, convenience, or all of the above? “How do we tell four impactful stories?”
“It is an expensive battery unless you measure it out over time,” he adds. “If you just have to charge it five or six times, then you’re saving a dollar every time you charge it, that’s a really good deal.”
Opportunities: Bishops sees the potential to build the aforementioned closed-loop manufacturing ecosystem for lithium-ion batteries, with consumers’ recycled electronics feeding the supply chain for Pale Blue Earth. The company has plans to launch a few new batteries for “niche applications.”
Europe, Asia, Canada, and Australia are notably fertile markets: “These regions and countries are pushing faster into sustainable products and materials than the U.S.,” says Bishop. “Call it the green wave. The cultural movement around sustainability is getting so much traction. That’s driving a lot of interest at the distributor level.”
Needs: Talent and money. “Capital allows you to grow,” says Bishop, noting that current financing to date has been through angel investors.