Late one night in summer 2012, Jordan Greene, BS 14, was awoken by his friend Harshil Goel, BA 14 (Math), who called to tell him he was on to something incredible.
Goel had re-derived a set of fluid equations used in aeronautics for the past century and thought he’d come up with a better way to build a wing.
Greene immediately rang his friend, Zachary Hargreaves, BS 14 (EECS), to relay the message.
The trio believed they could turn Goel’s epiphany into a product and went on to co-found startup VIRES Aeronautics, which last week announced a first venture-funding round of $1 million, led by investors including the influential Tim Draper.
VIRES Aeronautics is now testing new airplane wing technology that promises to make planes take off and land faster, carry more weight, fly longer, and use less fuel.
Calling it “the first true innovation in aviation since the jet engine,” Draper Associates contributed $250,000 to the round, which also included Lemnos Labs, Promus Ventures, Lance White, Don Hutchison and Toivo Annus.
Greene, who grew up in Marin County among a family of entrepreneurs, met Goel in the Berkeley dorms in 2010 during their freshman year, and the two immediately connected: Goel, the inventor with mechanical engineering and math expertise, and Greene, the business major with entrepreneurial spirit.
Greene met Hargreaves in a Berkeley engineering class. Having worked on the cyborg beetle project at Berkeley (remotely controlled beetles implanted with nerve and muscle stimulators) and at NASA, Hargreaves brought “an unparalleled knowledge of control systems to the group,” Greene says.
Goel, now VIRES Aeronautics’ CEO, says his passion for inventing started as a high school student in San Ramon with “rockets and other wild technologies,” including a futuristic transmission he built with a classmate.
Greene, Goel, Hargreaves, and four others went on to start their first venture, VIRES Corp. The startup, which focused on a plastic recycling machine and a wind turbine, among other projects, was named to Inc. magazine’s 2013 list of America’s Coolest College Startups.
Earlier this year, Goel, Hargreaves, and Greene reincorporated as VIRES Aeronautics Inc. and shifted their focus to aerospace.
Since VIRES Aeronautics’ inception, Greene says the team has had the support of Berkeley mechanical engineering professor Philip Marcus and department chair David Dornfeld, one of Goel’s mentors. Greene credits Haas Lecturer Kurt Beyer’s entrepreneurship class with cultivating his knowledge of the startup world.
The team started working on a retrofit kit to use on legacy planes and developed a rip-stop nylon belt that wraps around the entire plane wing. That belt, when activated, smooths the airflow over the wing, improving flight performance.
Goel tested the kit and belt initially using a Hangar 9 Toledo, a six-pound plane with a 70 inch wingspan. The team moved on to trial the technology on a military unmanned vehicle (drone) with a 15-foot wingspan, and expects to continue testing with the military and several universities.
“We ended up receiving an unfathomable increase in lift and decrease in drag,” Greene says.
VIRES Aeronautics is now in the accelerator program at Lemnos Labs, which focuses on early-stage hardware companies. VIRES plans to sell the technology to large aeronautics firm, but the team believes it could be applied to anything from automobiles to turbines.