Charging a phone is such a simple, ubiquitous thing, but doing it on the go is still hard and people will go to great lengths to make it happen. They'll beg phone-store employees for a quick charge; they'll stake out the perimeters of coffee shops for hidden outlets; or they'll surreptitiously swap their iPhones onto the docks of Apple Store demo units to get out of the red.
Laura Miller, then a graduate working at an international governance NGO and on the phone around the clock, was talking to her father about the problem when her cell died. The moment offered some levity, and a spark: her father, Harvey Miller, is an entrepreneur himself.
"We got to thinking, 'maybe there's actually a business here,'" Ms. Miller says.
Today, the pair are co-founders of DanTeb, a startup that's inking deals to put its first charging stations in major Toronto malls, including the underground PATH system. The stations are supported by advertising, and Ms. Miller says she's finding no shortage of interest from host locations. The challenge now, she adds, is proving the advertising model.
Charging stations are already common sights in airports, where they tend to take the form of glorified power bars – branded racks of plugs where travellers can plug in their adapters. DanTeb takes a full-service approach: No adapters are required, and each station comes with 12 cables that can plug straight into phones. (This, of course, raises the issue of which cables to use. After tracking the data from her first field trials, Ms. Miller settled on a mix of six micro-USB cables for Android and Blackberry phones, three old-style iPhone cables and three iPhone5 cables.)
"It's really meant to give people a quick 10- to 15-minute charge so they get on with their day."
This, in turn, is her advertising pitch: While they charge, viewers will literally be tethered to the station, which is wrapped in display advertising and features prominent video advertising at eye height. The stations offer wi-fi hotspots as an additional incentive, while near-field communications (NFC) enabled phones will be able to receive coupon offers from nearby merchants, once the technology becomes fully mainstream.
Ms. Miller is wagering that the metrics the firm can offer – what kinds of devices are connected, how long users stay for, what NFC content they interact with – will tell advertisers about the audience they're reaching.
The firm is working through Ryerson University's DMZ incubator program. So far, it's paired with big-label brands such as Metro, Telus and Rogers. Ms. Miller says she expects to have 20 stations in the field by the end of this quarter.