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Updated: November 13, 2023

SoPo electronics manufacturer hired by Boston startup to make wireless chargers smarter

person in blue shop coat with lots of machinery Courtesy / Saunders Electronics Saunders Electronics in South Portland was contracted as the U.S. manufacturer for Boston AI startup DeepCharge. Here, Saunders employees operate equipment including automated feeders and pick-and-place machines.

A tech startup that wants to turn tables and everyday surfaces into wireless chargers has contracted with a South Portland manufacturer to help make that happen.

The new company, Boston-based DeepCharge Inc., has developed a proprietary platform for high-volume, intelligent wireless charging solutions. Saunders Electronics will serve as the U.S. manufacturing base for DeepCharge, which has also opened an office in Biddeford.

“DeepCharge’s venture into Maine highlights our state’s expanding role in tech manufacturing,” said Paul Meserve, general manager of Saunders Electronics. “This is a great opportunity for us and for Maine.”

industrial space with high ceilings and lots of machines
Courtesy / Saunders Electronics
Saunders Electronics, providing electronic manufacturing services in its 35,000-square-foot building, caters to mostly large industrial and medical companies and also startups.

Yousof Naderi, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said the goal of the platform is to simplify the charging experience for electronic devices by redefining how energy is transferred and managed.

The decision to hire Saunders Electronics was made with support and manufacturing investment from the Maine Technology Institute.

“We are excited to see DeepCharge growing and investing in Maine,” said Maine Technology Institute President Brian Whitney. “Their growth aligns well with our goal to position Maine as a hub of tech manufacturing and innovation.”

Additional Maine-based partners include Connectivity Point, a telecommunications service provider in Auburn; the Roux Institute in Portland; and Maine & Co., a Portland nonprofit that provides consulting services to businesses looking to relocate to or expand within Maine.

“The depth and potential of our partnerships with DeepCharge demonstrate the caliber of enterprises and the skilled workforce Maine boasts,” said Maine & Co. Senior Vice President of Operations Ashley Pringle.

Charging startup

The idea behind DeepCharge began in 2017 when Naderi and co-founder Kaushik Chowdhury — both of them academic researchers and engineers at Northeastern University — were frustrated with manual charging solutions on the market. 

person in tan blazer and blue shirt
Courtesy / DeepCharge
Yousof Naderi.

The engineers envisioned AI-enabled technology where ordinary surfaces could essentially become charging surfaces for any type of device and could replenish multiple devices at one time.

With grant funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation for research and development, the group created a programmable, AI-enabled wireless charging platform and founded DeepCharge in 2018.

So far, products include high-performance charging racks and workstations to charge devices at scale without having to plug them in, as well as wireless charging modules and software that allow ordinary surfaces, such as tables, desks and countertops, to charge devices by simply laying them on the surface.

The technology also includes a suite of enterprise monitoring and management software and customization capability based on customer specifications.

‘Perfect fit’

DeepCharge is in the process of expanding its customer base to the next-level, Naderi told Mainebiz. The contract with Saunders Electronics allows DeepCharge to move forward with production for a large enterprise customer this month. 

Naderi identified Saunders as its manufacturing base after exploring a number of options elsewhere in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

counters, electronic devices in big hall
Courtesy / DeepCharge
Wireless charge racks and hubs would eliminate the need for wired charging.

Naderi connected with Meserve upon the recommendation of Martin Grohman, the recently retired executive director of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine who is now one of DeepCharge’s key advisers. 

It was “a perfect fit,” Naderi said, because the manufacturer had the agility, both in scale and scheduling of project, that DeepCharge needed.

“We felt really welcome and they were also positive with the story we have,” he said.

Working with startups

Saunders Electronics was founded in 1979, in Watertown, Mass., to design circuit boards. The president, David Saunders, moved the company to Saco in 1985. When Meserve joined the company in 1989, it became a contract manufacturing operation to provide electronic manufacturing services. 

When it outgrew the Saco location, the company moved to a 35,000-square-foot building at 192 Gannett Drive in South Portland.

The core business caters to mostly large industrial and medical companies, but is willing to help startups get off the ground, Meserve told Mainebiz.

“We try to only have a couple startups going at a time,” he said. "Had a similar situation where a Massachusetts company, Prapela” — an infant health startup that has pioneered a technology-enabled bassinet pad — “moved to Biddeford to be near us in order to be close to their manufacturing source.”

Saunders Electronics is contracted to provide DeepCharge with circuit board assemblies, cable harnesses and box builds. “These board assemblies are right in our wheelhouse,” said Meserve.

Setting up for the contract, “We need to understand the process and work on any manufacturing questions,” he said. “Since you are trying to procure hundreds of different electronic components, there are some usual issues related to managing the supply chain and working together with DeepCharge on recommendations for alternate components when availability is a problem.”

conference table, chairs, laptops, brick wall
Courtesy / DeepCharge
DeepCharge proposes to install wireless-charging hubs beneath surfaces, such as this conference table.

Saunders Electronics has invested about $800,000 this year to purchase high-end production equipment in order to handle intricate assemblies, such as those for DeepCharge. The investment was a combination of self-funding and a grant received last year from Maine Technology Institute’s Pandemic Recovery for an Innovative Maine Economy Fund.

Saunders operates one straight shift and a small split shift, which is enough to handle DeepCharge’s initial orders. The first release for DeepCharge was the enterprise customer's racks, which started shipping this month.

The contract could result in adding a second shift and five to 10 more employees as DeepCharge scales up, said Meserve.

Naderi said he expects commercial production to expand from several thousand units, of various types, to perhaps 100,000 over the coming year. Primary customers are in the industrial sector, although the company's marketing also targets sectors such as corporate and higher education. 

“By establishing our manufacturing base in Maine, we're tapping into both the state's deep-rooted industrial heritage and its emerging tech expertise," said Naderi.

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