Wars, homeland security needs build market for SkyBuilt's transportation power stations

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, September 6, 2010; 9

Defense Department procurement brings to mind Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and other big companies delivering major weapon systems.

But David J. Muchow, who's been selling his products to the Pentagon for about five years, isn't your typical contractor.

The attorney is happy to refer to himself as a basement inventor, the kind of guy who watched his father tinker with new ideas at home and who loved to do the same.

Now -- after a career that includes time in the Office of Management and Budget, on Capitol Hill and at a natural gas industry association -- Muchow said he's finally getting to do what he wants: developing transportable power stations that are in high demand in the military and homeland security world.

Muchow teamed with two partners, Scott Sklar, a veteran of the energy world, and William G. Buck, president of an Arlington realty firm, to found SkyBuilt Power in 2002. The idea was that, instead of focusing on improving specific renewable energy technologies, they could instead build a better package that would integrate various existing energy applications, Sklar said.

"People really don't buy cars for car engines," he said. "You buy the complete car."

The Arlington company didn't fully get off the ground for several years. In fall 2005, it received a much-needed boost in the form of an investment from In-Q-Tel, an investment firm established by the CIA to identify innovative technology that might be useful to the intelligence community.

That year, Muchow and his co-founders built a demonstration model of a SkyStation -- a solar, wind and battery-operated power station that could fit in a freight container. They put together the system in a vacant space in Arlington owned by Buck.

Buck let Muchow and Sklar handle the technical aspects of the project while he focused on the business strategy.

"I was the person who kind of picked the idea apart," he said. I "would say, 'Well, is that really going to work?' "

The finished system attracted attention not just for the renewable energy technologies it used, but for the easily movable package, which could be set up in a matter of hours, not days, said Sklar. SkyBuilt's stations are durable enough to stand up to tough weather conditions with little maintenance.

A year later, the company came up with the SkyTrailer, a hybrid power station built on a military trailer, at the request of an Army agency tasked with quickly buying equipment needed for war.

Since then, SkyBuilt has also added the SkySkid, which can be moved by a pickup truck or a forklift, and the SkyCase, which can be carried by an individual.

The company primarily works with the military, homeland security and intelligence communities, as well as the telecommunications industry, according to Muchow.

Buck said the company has benefited tremendously from its timing. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the growing need to power the world's proliferating cellphone towers have boosted demand for SkyBuilt's products, he said. For instance, the company recently announced it has received an Army contract to provide power stations and services for Afghanistan.

Looking forward, Muchow said he expects more work in disaster relief, such as providing power stations in Haiti.

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