According to several sources close to the company, solar tracker startup QBotix dismissed most of its staff and shuttered its operations last month. The company's website is offline, as is its phone service. CEO Mike Miskovsky confirmed that QBotix ceased operations as of August 2015.
QBotix had a novel solar-tracking solution that maximized output and could lower balance-of-system costs in ground-mounted PV installations. The startup invented a two-axis tracker system where the motors, instead of being installed two per tracker, were moved around by a rail-mounted robot that adjusted each tracker every 40 minutes, resulting in a reduction in the number of (failure-prone) motors.
But while QBotix was trying to gain traction, single-axis solar trackers were also evolving and driving down cost by reducing motors and lowering the labor requirements and costs of foundations. Earlier this month, Flextronics acquired tracker startup NEXTracker for up to $330 million.
QBotix's engineering issues might be confronted and costs could be driven down, but new, risky technologies just don't get used by solar project developers -- the most conservative players in a conservative utility power market. Market acceptance and adoption did not happen anywhere fast enough to allow this startup to scale.
In order to get to market, QBotix recently attempted to pivot to a licensing and software sales model "and away from low-margin tracker structure design/manufacture."
Miskovsky notes, "Throughout this strategic 'pivot' process -- which included layoffs, several months of negotiations with potential licensees and/or acquirers of the company, and a continuously diminishing cash balance -- management maintained an open dialogue with the QBotix staff. Each member of our now pared-down team knew exactly how much runway the company had remaining, the status of our strategic talks, and the acknowledged long odds we faced as a going concern. To their credit, they remained focused, productive and on-task until our final day -- a remarkable expression of dedication to the mission and to each other. Sadly, and in spite of the achievements, we simply ran out of time and cash to finish the job."
In 2012, QBotix raised $7.5 million from Firelake, NEA, DFJ JAIC, Siemens Ventures, and angel investors. In 2014, the company raised $12 million led by E.ON and Iberdrola.
When the company was unveiled in 2012, we asked:
- How does QBotix get this new product deployed in commercial solar fields at scale with conservative engineering, procurement and construction firms as customers -- and even more conservative banks backing the solar projects?
- How does a tiny VC-funded firm back up its product in a fashion that quells the doubts of its staid channel partners?
QBotix never answered those questions.