Smartwatch start-up Matrix lands $17.3 million to go after Apple with a device powered by body heat

Key Points
  • Matrix was originally called Silicium Energy and was backed early by Vinod Khosla
  • The company's devices are set to hit the market in September and October.
  • It's been a rough year for smartwatch makers like Fitbit. 
Matrix PowerWatch
Matrix website

In the brutally competitive market for smartwatches, battery life is a consistent problem.

A pair of chemists from the California Institute of Technology might have the answer. They've just secured new funding to start getting their products into the market.

Matrix Industries, a Silicon Valley start-up co-founded by Akram Boukai and Douglas Tham, who both have PhDs in chemistry from Caltech, raised $12.3 million, according to a filing with the SEC on Wednesday. The company is still aiming to raise another $5 million, the filing says.

Matrix, formerly known as Silicium Energy, has developed a family of smartwatches that are "powered by your body heat" and never have to be charged, its website says. The Matrix PowerWatch has three models that will start shipping in September and October, ranging in price from $139 to $179.

"As you exercise and your skin gets warmer, the PowerWatch generates more power," Boukai says, in a promotional video for an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign the company ran in January that brought in $1.5 million.

The PowerWatch also tracks sleep, steps taken and calories burned.

Matrix is backed by Khosla Ventures, whose founder Vinod Khosla was originally on the board. Vijit Sabnis, a venture partner at Khosla, is now listed as a director on Matrix's filing. Sonny Vu, the founder of smartwatch maker Misfit, which was acquired by Fossil, is also a board member.

Fitbit Alta getting good reviews
Fitbit Alta getting good reviews

It's a tough industry. Apple overtook Fitbit as the leader in wearables in the first quarter, according to Strategy Analytics. Fitbit's shipments sank 35 percent from the prior year, and its stock price is down 56 percent over the past 12 months.

Pebble, which had two of the three most-funded campaigns on Kickstarter for its smartwatches, was acquired by Fitbit last year for less than $25 million after struggling to stay competitive in the market.

But Apple has yet to face a rival with a charger-free offering, leaving Matrix with a lot to prove.

Boukai and Tham started developing the thermoelectric technology for Matrix while at Caltech. On his LinkedIn page, Tham says he's "building an energy harvesting company."

The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

WATCH: A first look at Apple's HomePod, an Amazon Echo competitor

A first look at Apple's HomePod, an Amazon Echo competitor
A first look at Apple's HomePod, an Amazon Echo competitor