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Innovation Economy

Starbucks tests wireless way to charge phones

Walt Siegl’s custom motorcycles.

Walt Siegl

Walt Siegl’s custom motorcycles.

Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog.

Bostonians are getting a chance to be the first to try something new while sipping coffee at Starbucks: juicing up their phones with a wireless charging system made by Duracell Powermat.

The caffeine purveyor has chosen 17 Boston-area locations for a “limited time in-store trial for wireless charging,” in the words of chief digital officer Adam Brotman. “We’re building the Powermat technology into some of the tabletops, just to get a sense for how our customers will react, compared to having to plug their mobile devices into the wall.”

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If you do not own an accessory for your ­iPhone or Samsung Galaxy that allows it to soak up electricity via inductive charging — the technology that may already be keeping your electric toothbrush powered up — Starbucks may have freebie and loaner connectors.

“A few weeks into the test, we’ll do some in-store giveaways, and we will have some behind the counter available to loan out,” Brotman said.

The first three stores where the technology is being installed are in the Financial District: One Financial Center, 125 Summer St., and 101 Federal St. Most locations will have eight or nine Powermat pads.

Starbucks rolled out free Wi-Fi two years ago. While the chain has not made the decision to do the same for wireless charging, Brotman said “customers are coming into our stores every day with mobile devices, and putting them down on the table. If they could be charging their device at the same time, then we’ve connected with that customer and met their need — maybe even before they realized they had a need for wireless charging.”

Will wireless charging and free Wi-Fi encourage customers to hang around longer? Brotman’s response: “We want people to feel welcome and stay as long as they want to.”

As for Boston, it is “a hotbed for early adoption and tech-savvy customers,” he said. Starbucks plans to test the technology through the holidays. Then, “early in the year, we’ll talk to our customers and our store partners” — Starbucks lingo for employees — “and regroup with Powermat to figure out the next steps.”

Motorcycles in a mill

One of the things I enjoy most is discovering new businesses growing inside old mill buildings. So when I heard a guy named Walt Siegl is building custom motorcycles in Harrisville, N.H., I made it a point to stop by.

A former Austrian cultural attaché (and longtime motorcycle racer), he arrived in Harrisville from New York five years ago.

“It’s always a jump in the cold water when you start your own business, especially after my career in the foreign service, where there are safety nets built into the job,” he said.

Siegl had already been building bikes as a sideline, but in New Hampshire, he committed to doing it full time.

“I felt confident that since I was doing something that I was good at and loved to do, everything would work out,” he said.

He makes about four bikes a year, designing the bodies himself and typically relying on upgraded Ducati and Harley engines. Prices are $50,000 and up, though Siegl is doing a limited-edition run of about eight bikes, “The Walt Siegl Superlight,” priced at $30,000.

His workshop, on the ground level of an 1860s-era textile mill, used to be a machine shop, and it is filled with welding gear, drill presses, milling machines, and work tables.

In September, Siegl was finishing up a bike that had been commissioned by Puma for display in its stores. He is also working on a line of shoes, due in 2013, for Puma, and a leather racing jacket in collaboration with Puma and Fall River-based Vanson Leathers.

Visit www.boston.com/innovation for the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily.
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