On July 2, Dfly Systems, a startup founded by three Stanford students, was acquired by SunPower, a solar technology company with Stanford origins. The acquisition was announced later in the summer.
Andrew Ponec ’15, Darren Hau ’15 and Daniel Maren ’16 founded Dfly Systems in the spring of 2013. The company builds circuit boards that fit in the junction box on the back of every solar cell. The technology aims to increase the efficiency of power plants while also reducing hardware costs.
Since having founded the company, all three students have gone on leave from Stanford, and the trio also made Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list under the “Energy and Industry” subcategory.
The idea for Dfly Systems hatched from an introductory course in green electronics taught by Bill Dally, professor of computer science and electrical engineering. Ponec and Hau worked together on a research project that extended beyond the class.
“We really had no idea what we were doing at the time,” Ponec said. “We got a little ways into the project when the quarter ended, and we asked Professor Dally again if he would consider allowing us to continue the project, as a kind of independent research project with him.”
Over the course of many breakfasts, Dally taught Ponec and Hau how to analyze circuits and use electrical engineering tools to assist the project. Ponec explained that Dally not only reviewed the project’s progress but also used the project to teach them how to problem-solve like engineers.
“He taught us to make everything as simple as possible and how to cut through irrelevant information to get to the core of a problem,” Ponec said.
After a year of development, they felt what they had was interesting enough to start a company.
According to Ponec, a research grant that Dfly received from the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy was critical to the company’s business development and also allowed them to develop the solar technology.
“Our goal from the outset was to create electronics that would lower the cost of solar electricity,” Ponec said.
Rather than residential rooftops, Dfly Systems has targeted big power plants with its circuit boards.
“I think that [SunPower] saw that there was a very good match between the solar panels that they were making and the device that we would be pairing with each solar panel,” Ponec said. “And beyond just the panel, what they saw was the potential to do system-wide cost savings from this device.”
Ponec explained that SunPower has acquired Dfly Systems’ intellectual property, its patents and the entire Dfly team, who are now working on ensuring the success of their product inside SunPower.
“We’re a team,” Ponec said. “We are really, really passionate about solar energy – about the need for new energy sources. And we really believe anything we can do to drive down the price of solar energy will be helpful to the world.”