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Maker of Solio gadget chargers secures $5 million

Better Energy Systems, which creates portable, flower-shaped solar chargers for mobile devices, secured its first round of funding.

Better Energy Systems, maker of the sun-powered Solio gadget charger, snagged $5 million from TBL Capital on Monday.

The Berkeley, Calif., company produces the petal-shaped, fold-up Solio for powering iPhones, digital cameras, MP3 players, GPS, and other mobile devices. Its unique design often turns heads at trade shows.

The Solio Classic models fold up for portability.
The Solio Classic models fold up for portability. Better Energy Systems

"Almost half the world's population has limited access to consistent electricity; Solio not only offers an advanced solution to that inequity, but does so in an entirely sustainable manner," Joe Marshall, principal at TBL Capital, said in a statement.

The Solio's lithium ion battery is meant to take up to 10 bright daylight hours to charge fully. An hour of battery juice would enable 40 minutes of listening time for an MP3 player and 15 minutes of talking on a cell phone. The Solio also can be plugged into a wall outlet.

Better Energy doesn't sell chargers powerful enough for laptops, but has expressed the aim to do so.

Solio models at between $80 and $200 are pricier than some competing solar chargers for personal electronics (photos).

As electronics makers turn to "greener," more energy-efficient gadgets and funders eye opportunities in the developing world, off-grid power options are growing in popularity.

With $50 million under management, TBL Capital of Sausalito, Calif., launched last fall specializing in social entrepreneurs. Its portfolio includes Numi organic tea, LaLoo's goat's milk ice cream, and Mission Research software.