Tech start-up resuscitates wet phones, tablets

January 31, 2015

Detroit Free Press

TekDry, a Colorado company founded by three MBA students who patented a machine to revive waterlogged phones, is testing its retail strategy in a St. Clair Shores store — and hopes to lease its technology to electronics shops nationwide.

“It’s essentially a rescue service for wet electronics,” said Eric Jones, company vice president and cofounder.

The service, which is being offered at Play N Trade in St. Clair Shores, costs about $70. It saves devices and data that otherwise might have been ruined.

The company estimates 22 million Americans, or more than 1 in 4 households, end up soaking their smartphones (most of them, Jones said, seem to have slipped out of back pockets and ended up in the toilet) each year.

Jones and the other TekDry cofounders — Adam Cookson and Craig Beinecke — created machines that use negative pressure and low heat to remove all the water from soggy phones, tablets and laptops.

This method, Jones said, is successful up to 80% of the time, takes about 20 minutes and works better than the conventional hack of sticking the device in a bowl of dry rice.

If the company cannot repair a device, the customer is not charged for the service.

Customers also can go online for a shipping label and send their devices to the company in Denver to have it repaired.

But, TekDry aims to lease its machines to electronic retailers, like Play N Trade, as smartphones become ubiquitous and the demand for repair services — and number of retailers and franchises offering them — increases.

Research firm IBIS World estimates the cell phone repair industry to generate about $1 billion annually.

A Texas company, DryBox, also offers wet-phone rescue services, but does not have retail locations in Michigan.

Jones, 36, said he came up with the idea for the business in graduate school at the University of Denver.

A friend’s phone accidentally landed in a toilet, and Jones said he offered to try to fix it. They figured they had nothing to lose. He used some equipment to do the job — he declined to say exactly what — and the technique worked.

Within a day, he said, he realized that his solution might have the makings of a full-blown business.

He turned to business school classmates — Cookson and Beinecke, who also had undergraduate engineering degrees from Michigan universities — and they put their heads together, invented a machine to remove the water and created a business plan.

“We kind of stumbled into the idea,” Jones said. “My concern was just to help my friend.”