At 28, Meredith Perry already has an impressive resume. The University of Pennsylvania graduate interned at NASA and served as a student ambassador.
In 2012 she founded uBeam. The Santa Monica-based company wirelessly charges electronic devices.
Crain’s Los Angeles spoke with Perry about her time at college, NASA and starting her own company.
For as long as my memory goes back, I’ve always been interested in science. I always participated in science fairs and creating new things. Understanding how things work has always excited me.
One of the experiments I conducted was taking cultures of a dog’s mouth versus a human’s mouth and comparing cultures of tap water and bottle water and seeing which had more bacteria in it. Surprisingly the bottle water had more bacteria then tap water.
I also did invention competitions. I made reading glasses with lights on them and a device that would bring in wood from the outside to your fire place so you didn’t have to go outside and get it in the winter.
Heading to college
I majored in what’s called paleobiology, which is the study of old life. I was not interested in paleobiology. I tried to make my own major, but when I presented my curriculum for the astrobiology major it was very similar to the paleobiology curriculum. But I did my thesis in astrobiology.
I have always been interested in the universe and space and life’s unknown, unanswered questions. Things that are not known are the things that intrigue me more than anything. I was debating between astrophysics and astrobiology and as I thought about my career as a theoretical physicist, while the questions you are answering with all the math you are doing are very interesting, it’s the philosophy of it all that was most interesting to me. Sitting behind a computer all day dong complex equations wasn’t the romantic idea of what I wanted for myself.
I took a class taught by an astrobiologist and I became fascinated by my time with him. He challenged my understanding of the definition of life itself. We only have one definition and it’s based on life as we know it. Anything we look for elsewhere would have to be different. If you look based on the definition that you have, you aren’t going to find anything. You have to expand your thought process and start looking for things like biomarkers as opposed to the biology itself.
Working at NASA
I started interning for NASA the summer after my sophomore year. I continued through school and did my senior thesis with them. I became a NASA student ambassador. I loved all of the research that I did with them.
I didn’t have any intentions to start my own company, but I participated in Penn’s invention competition. I created what has become uBeam and it took on a life of its own.
I was looking at my wireless laptop with a 15-foot-long wire attached to it and wondered how we could get rid of the cord and make power more like WiFi so we don’t need to be tethered to a wall. That’s what got me thinking about it. It was a process of deductive reasoning in terms of what type of energy you should use to beam through the air and why.
We’ve been in R&D for quite some time, really up until last year. We’re finally moving toward commercialization now that we have developed the components necessary for the commercialized system.
We grew the team from me to more than 30 people. We are about to move out of our office which is 5,000 square feet to something that is double the size because right now we are spilling into hallways. It’s fun to finally be out of the research and development stage and be focused on the product.