Ember’s journey from hot coffee to medication transport

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Ember’s first Indiegogo run drew sideways glances erstwhile it launched successful 2015. Would anyone really bargain a $129 heated java mug? Nearly a decade later, however, it’s clear that nan first transportation was simply nan extremity of nan startup’s heating/cooling iceberg.

TechCrunch precocious sat down pinch Clay Alexander, nan firm’s laminitis and chairman, to return a heavy dive into Ember’s history — and drawback a glimpse of wherever things are headed.

“We’re good complete 3 cardinal units [of nan smart mug] astatine this point,” nan executive tells TechCrunch. “We’re nearing a cardinal units a twelvemonth now. When I first created this technology, I had truthful galore group successful my life say, ‘oh Clay, you’ll ne'er waste a $100 physics java mug. You’ve mislaid your mind.’ As a founder, you conscionable person to person perseverance, and you person to person this gut small heart that overpowers logic.”


The first prototype of nan Ember mug was a Frankensteinian prototype involving a Zojirushi mug and a bunch of electronics. Image Credits: Ember

Beyond nan company’s better-known java receptacle, Ember has made a foray into nan aesculapian assemblage pinch nan Ember Cube, a shipping container for things that request to enactment temperature-controlled — chiefly medicines. It besides makes heated babe bottles now, too.

“I ever opportunity to group that cooling is overmuch harder than heating. Heating is reasonably straightforward successful that you tin create a heater by utilizing a resistive heating constituent aliases a resistive heating wire. I mean, heck, you tin conscionable put energy and immoderate wire. It’s gonna lukewarm up, right?,” Alexander notes. Cooling is simply a different beast, however. “People don’t recognize that you’re not pumping acold power into a fridge — you’re really pulling power energy retired of nan box.”


Ember’s inception tin beryllium traced backmost to a relatable infinitesimal of frustration: a lukewarm cup of coffee. Alexander, a self-proclaimed java aficionado, longed for a solution to support nan cleanable somesthesia of his favourite brew from nan first sip to nan last. The way to bringing Ember to life was challenging. As a hardware startup, Ember faced unsocial obstacles that often deter entrepreneurs from venturing into this space. From nan precocious merchandise improvement and manufacturing costs to nan analyzable web of IP protection and world description , Alexander navigated a maze of challenges that would trial his resoluteness and determination.

Despite obstacles, Alexander remained steadfast. He assembled a squad of engineers, designers and marketers who shared his passion for creating a merchandise that would heighten nan coffee-drinking acquisition and push nan boundaries of what was imaginable successful user technology. As Ember began to return shape, Alexander and his squad poured countless hours into investigation and development, testing various materials and technologies until they arrived astatine a solution that met their bar. The consequence was a sleek, intuitive mug that could support a precise somesthesia for hours, controlled done a elemental smartphone app. Indeed, 2,000 backers rallied to nan thought connected Indiegogo, giving nan institution a $360,000 rate injection and its first hint astatine marketplace validation. Not agelong after, nan institution raised a bid of equity rounds, including a $13 cardinal Series C and a $23 cardinal Series E.

Balancing shape and usability was an early situation acquainted to anyone successful nan hardware space. The mug needed to efficaciously support somesthesia while besides being visually appealing and comfortable to hold. After extended testing and refinement, Ember yet settled connected a sleek, minimalist creation that seamlessly integrated nan heating exertion into nan mug’s walls. The mug besides features wireless charging, customizable somesthesia settings and a smartphone app that allows users to power it remotely.

Then there’s nan situation of really bringing nan merchandise to market. Unlike package development, hardware improvement requires important upfront finance successful materials, tooling and manufacturing processes. As Alexander notes, these costs tin quickly balloon, putting immense unit connected startups to unafraid backing and make gross arsenic soon arsenic possible.

Across nan sea

Once a merchandise is developed, hardware startups must navigate nan analyzable world of intelligence spot protection. In a fiercely competitory market, safeguarding one’s innovations is captious to semipermanent success, but securing patents and trademarks tin beryllium time-consuming and expensive. This tin beryllium a daunting imaginable for startups pinch constricted resources, requiring observant strategizing and prioritization.

At 1 point, Ember recovered an unthinkable opportunity, which turned retired to beryllium a sizeable challenge. Until this point, nan mugs were already connected waste successful Starbucks and successful different high-profile unit stores. But then, 1 of nan biggest and astir influential retailers successful nan world came knocking.

“We were expanding not conscionable successful nan U.S. It took america astir 2 years to get into nan Apple shop — nan magnitude of testing they put your merchandise done is chaotic — and nan number of times I flew up to Cupertino… but it was worthy it,” Alexander remembers. “But Apple does not for illustration to do localized launches. If they for illustration your product, and you’ve passed each their tests, they fundamentally travel to you and say, Okay, we want to do this connected a world scale.”

At nan time, Ember was only shipping to North America, but erstwhile Apple came knocking and said it wanted to commencement trading its merchandise successful 27 countries, they didn’t inquire whether to jump, but alternatively really precocious to hop.

A Portable Medicine Cooler Prototype created successful collaboration pinch nan Mayo Clinic successful 2018. Image Credits: Ember

“I retrieve going to my ops squad and saying, ‘Guys, Apple’s coming to america pinch a metallic platter, which would move america into an world marque overnight. Are we going to do this?’ And it was a mates of weeks of whiteboarding and unsighted panic,” Alexander laughs. “And ultimately, we conscionable said, ‘You cognize what, you only unrecorded once, let’s do this,’ and it was nan astir excruciating twelvemonth of our lives. We went from North America to 27 countries pinch Apple.”

As Ember began to grow internationally, Alexander and his squad encountered challenges astir navigating nan regulatory landscapes of different countries, securing reliable manufacturing partners and adapting to section marketplace conditions. Each situation required a heavy knowing of nan world hardware ecosystem. Alexander credits Ember’s occurrence successful this area to nan spot of his squad and their willingness to study and accommodate connected nan fly.

Going from basking to cold

While Ember’s smart mug has been a resounding occurrence successful nan user market, nan company’s ambitions widen acold beyond basking beverages.

A prototype of a cylindrical medicine cooler was developed successful collaboration pinch nan Mayo Clinic. This conception was from 2019. Image Credits: Ember

I emotion trading java cups, don’t get maine wrong, but being capable to prevention lives has been thing that each of america tin rally behind. Clay Alexander

“I retrieve thinking, ‘What tin we do pinch our temperature-control exertion to thief prevention lives?’ I could spot that we were becoming very successful successful consumer,” Alexander explains. “I had Wyatt Decker, nan CEO of nan Mayo Clinic successful Arizona, connected my committee of directors. It was really cool to person a big-time healthcare executive connected our board. And he would induce america retired to nan Mayo Clinic. And we would beryllium location successful these convention rooms pinch doctors and scientists. Our thought was to unearth really our temperature-control exertion could thief lick symptom points successful healthcare, whether it’s medicine aliases moving organs astir aliases what-have-you.”

Alexander and his squad retreated backmost to nan laboratory to commencement tackling nan challenges it had discovered, putting its dozens and dozens of patents to bully use. The institution says it has much than 200 granted patents today, almost each of them successful somesthesia control, whether it’s semiconductor refrigeration technologies, heating technologies aliases nan power systems to negociate it all.

The activity gave emergence to Ember Cube, a instrumentality that promises to lick 1 of nan astir pressing challenges successful nan aesculapian field. Many medications, peculiarly those utilized successful crab curen and vaccine distribution, require precise somesthesia power to support efficacy. Even flimsy deviations from nan optimal somesthesia scope tin render these medications useless aliases harmful. The Ember Cube addresses this rumor by providing a portable, highly accurate, temperature-controlled situation for storing and transporting delicate medications. Leveraging nan aforesaid ethos utilized successful its intelligent mugs, nan Ember Cube maintains a precise somesthesia range, ensuring that nan medicines wrong stay viable and effective.

The Ember Cube dashboard enables shippers to spot nan medicines successful transit successful near-real-time, complete pinch somesthesia readouts. Image Credits: Ember

If decently executed, nan exertion could beryllium a crippled changer. By enabling nan safe and businesslike distribution of temperature-sensitive medications, nan Ember Cube could thief to amended entree to life-saving treatments successful distant aliases underserved areas. It could besides trim nan costs and complexity of vaccine distribution, a captious information successful nan look of world wellness crises for illustration nan COVID-19 pandemic. Once you person nan technology, tons of opportunities commencement to surface. For example, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revealed that it uses Ember’s exertion up of nan 2024 Olympic squad trials.

Alexander notes that he sees nan improvement of nan Ember Cube arsenic a earthy improvement of Ember’s ngo to usage exertion to lick real-world problems. By applying its expertise successful somesthesia power to nan aesculapian field, Ember is poised to make a meaningful quality successful nan lives of patients worldwide.

Spinning out

The determination to divided Ember into 2 chopped divisions — user and life sciences — was a strategical move designed to let each limb of nan institution to attraction connected its halfway competencies and target markets. By creating a dedicated life sciences division, Ember tin transmission its resources and talent toward processing caller applications for its exertion successful nan aesculapian field, from improving nan retention and proscription of vaccines to enabling much precise somesthesia power successful laboratory settings.

The divided enables nan institution to service different customer populations — some successful nan merchandise consciousness and successful nan investor consciousness — and nan institution hired a erstwhile Dyson exec (Jim Rowan) arsenic nan CEO of its user division.

“About a twelvemonth and a half ago, we really spun retired Ember Life Sciences arsenic a standalone entity,” Alexander says. The institution initially kept nan aforesaid headdress array for some companies but allowed nan 2 entities to diverge from there. “It allowed america to raise superior from nan healthcare industry, and we’re rather proud of immoderate of our equity partners. Carrier — nan world’s largest commercialized refrigeration shaper — is our investor. We besides person immoderate different investors arsenic good successful nan healthcare space. By spinning it out, we could pull life sciences and healthcare type of equity investments and committee members, etc., arsenic opposed to erstwhile we had them each combined.”

From cool to very acold indeed

“We’re really trying to move into nan compartment and cistron therapy abstraction pinch cryogenic shipping,” Alexander teases, showing maine a photograph of nan prototype device. He past swears maine to secrecy, saying I can’t stock nan image I’ve seen.

As Alexander looks to nan future, he is filled pinch excitement and possibility.

The Ember Cube tin support products astatine 5degC (41F) for 72 hours. The company’s adjacent foray is cryogenic shipping, successful which nan somesthesia must enactment astatine -150C (-238F) for extended periods.

“Negative 150C is nary joke. It’s a hellhole of a thing. We usage liquid nitrogen, and nan shipping container has a sponge-like material, truthful nan nitrogen gets absorbed into nan walls. If it gets tipped over, thing comes out, it’s a barren shipper,” Alexander says. “It’s a awesome engineering challenge. You person to do it successful a vacuum, and it’s each very analyzable engineering.”

Alexander says nan cryogenic shipper is astir 18 months from being disposable arsenic a commercialized product, but nan Ember squad is psyched astir nan advancement it has made truthful far.

“We’ve tally thermal enclosure testing and person been capable to support nan payload beneath antagonistic 150 Celsius for 10 days,” Alexander explains. “The target assemblage for this is compartment and cistron therapy — ace high-tech medicine that is virtually curing crab and redeeming lives. Talk astir a feel-good point arsenic a brand, right? I emotion trading java cups, don’t get maine wrong, but being capable to prevention lives has been thing that each of america tin rally behind.”