As Internet connectivity gets embedded into every aspect of our lives, investors, entrepreneurs and engineers are rushing to cash in. Here are 10 hot startups that are poised to shape the future of the Internet of Things (IoT).
By Jeff Vance
As Internet connectivity gets embedded into everything from baby monitors to industrial sensors, investors, entrepreneurs and engineers are rushing to cash in. According to Gartner, Internet of Things (IoT) vendors will earn more than $309 billion by 2020. However, most of those earnings will come from services.
Gartner also estimates that by 2020, the IoT will consist of 26 billion devices. All of those devices, Cisco believes will end up dominating the Internet by 2018. You read that right: In less time than it takes to earn a college degree (much less time these days), machines will communicate over the Internet a heck of a lot more than people do.
With the IoT space in full gold-rush mode, we evaluated more than 70 startups to find 10 that look poised to help shape the future of IoT.
Note: These 10 are listed in alphabetical order and are not ranked.
What they do: Provide a connected pill bottle that ensures patients take their medications.
Headquarters: New York, N.Y.
CEO: Josh Stein. He received his MBA from Wharton in 2012, and, before that, he worked for a number of successful startups in New York City, including Lot18, PlaceVine and FreshDirect.
Founded: October, 2011
Funding: $2.3M to date. Investors undisclosed.
Why they’re on this list: There are plenty of companies trying to cash in on IoT by tethering it to healthcare. Let’s call it the Internet of Health (IoH). What’s impressive about AdhereTech, though, is that it focuses on a discrete problem and knocks it out of the park with its solution. It’s simple and smart.
Prescription adherence — sticking to your prescribed medication regimen — is one of the biggest problems plaguing medicine. Current levels of adherence are as low as 40 percent for some medications. Poor adherence to appropriate medication therapy has been shown to result in complications, increased healthcare costs, and even death. Medication adherence for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma and depression, is an even more significant problem, often requiring intervention.
According to AdhereTech, of all medication-related hospital admissions in the United States, 33 to 69 percent are related to poor medication adherence. The resulting costs are approximately $100 billion annually, and as many as 125,000 deaths per year in the U.S. can be attributed to medication non-adherence.
AdhereTech’s pill bottle seeks to increase adherence and reduce the costs associated with missed or haphazard medication dosage. The bottle uses sensors to detect when one pill or one liquid milliliter of medication is removed from the bottle. If a patient hasn’t taken his/her medication, the service reminds them via phone call or text message, as well as with on-bottle lights and chimes. The company’s software also asks patients who skip doses why they got off schedule. In addition to helping people remember, AdhereTech aggregates data anonymously to give a clearer picture of patient adherence overall to pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners.
Customers: AdhereTech has trials running with Boehringer Ingelheim for a TBD medication, The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for type 2 diabetes medication and Weill Cornell Medical College for HIV medication.
Competitive Landscape: Vitality GlowCap is the most direct competitor for AdhereTech. Other less direct competitors include RXAnte, an analytics company that helps to identify patients most at risk for falling off their prescription regimen, and Proteus Digital Health, which puts tiny digestible sensors inside of pills to give doctors a clearer picture of patient compliance.
What they do: Combine facial recognition with advanced computer vision and machine learning techniques to turn faces into “universal keys.” Chui refers to its solution as “the world’s most intelligent doorbell.”
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
CEO: Shaun Moore. Prior to this role, he co-founded Housou Mobile with Nezare Chafni (who also co-founded Chui). Housou developed a solution that helped content publishers convert Web content to mobile.
Funding: A crowdfunding campaign has garnered more than $72,000.
Why they’re on this list: Home and business security systems are expensive, generate tons of false alarms and really can’t be called “intelligent.”
Chui’s facial recognition technology replaces keys, passwords or codes, allowing you to disarm a security system with facial recognition. Chui emphasizes that our faces are unique, universal and nontransferable. Your features cannot be hacked, nor can they be spied on.
For businesses, or even homes with service people stopping by regularly, Chui also keeps track of who is coming and going, documenting visitors and time-stamping their visits.
Even better, the system also learns as it goes. If a person’s facial appearance changes over time, the system will learn this. It is also able to distinguish between identical twins, and it is able to recognize attempts to fool the system with pictures or videos.
The first application of this system is an “intelligent doorbell.”
You can use it to open your door to invited guests, such as a cleaning service or dog walker, right from your smartphone. You no longer need to hand out keys to service providers. Chui ensures you have complete control over who is entering your home through real-time notifications and the ability to engage in live conversations with visitors.
Customers: In less than four months, Chui says that it has acquired 311 customers. A company spokesperson notes that they have more than doubled their crowdfunding goal ($300,000), selling the devices at $199 per unit.
Competitive Landscape: Chui’s three major competitors are Goji, Skybell (formerly idoorcam) and Doorbot. However, none of the other smart doorbells utilize facial recognition, offering only video connections.
CEO: Tushar Dave, who was previously the co-founder/managing director of Newpath Ventures, as well as the vice president of business development at Broadcom.
Funding: Enlighted’s most recent funding, a $20 million Series C round, closed in 2013. RockPort Capital Partners led the investment round and was joined by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Intel Capital. This brings total funding to date to approximately $36 million.
Why they’re on this list: Lighting is an immense cost to building operators, as well as a large factor for employee comfort.
“Lighting consumes 25-40 percent of commercial office building electricity and is a major factor in worker comfort and productivity, yet more than ninety percent of existing buildings have little more than a wall switch,” said CEO Tushar Dave. “When asked, facility managers tend to identify cost and complexity as the key reasons why they have allowed such waste in their facilities.”
Enlighted has created “people-smart sensors” that gather real-time environmental data and analytics at each light fixture within a building, while networking those sensors in a way that delivers even more value to building owners/operators.
Enlighted takes a slightly different tack to the smart lighting challenge than many of its competitors. The key differentiator of Enlighted’s product suite is the fact that it centers a lot of its control intelligence in the “Enlighted Sensor” devices, which attach to new or existing LED, fluorescent, CFL, or HID light fixtures.
Unlike a typical wireless lighting network node, which tends to connect directly to lighting drivers (for LEDs) or ballasts (for fluorescent or HID lights), Enlighted’s sensors not only control lights, but also monitor light levels, temperature, occupancy and power consumption for the 100 square feet of floor space directly beneath each of them.
That means that each sensor both knows not only what its individual light is doing, but also what it should be doing. In other words, instead of relying on the vagaries of wireless networking architecture to carry data back to a central control platform, come up with preferred control options, and then send those commands back to light fixtures, Enlighted’s nodes can handle most tasks on their own.
In addition to creating innovative lighting sensors, Enlighted is also creating new IoT products within their Enlighted Labs, a testing ground for product ideas. One such product is the Occupancy Sensing App, currently being used at the Enlighted headquarters for potential larger-scale launch. The app detects heat and movement within conference rooms, so that employees can easily look on an app to see which conference rooms are occupied. This cuts down time employees constantly spend circling an office building looking for a space to hold a meeting.
Enlighted is also working on using its sensor data for other things, like integrating their data with building HVAC systems to fine-tune heating and cooling, or to respond to utility demand response calls to shed power use when the grid is under stress.
Customers: LinkedIn, the City of San Jose, Interface Global, Menlo Business Park and Agilent Technology.
Competitive Landscape: Enlighted will compete with Lutron, Watt Stopper, Redwood Systems, Daintree, Adura and Digital Lumens, among others.
CEO: Davide Vigano. He joined Microsoft as an intern in 1987 to work on the first versions of MacWorks and MacOffice. Before leaving the company, he was GM for the Healthvault and Amalga healthcare product lines (now part of a joint venture between Microsoft and GE).
Funding: The company is backed by $1 million in angel funding, as well as $115,000 it raised in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
Why they’re on this list: Wearables are certainly a booming subsector of the IoT market. However, if you spend a couple hours researching the space or walking around the wearables section at CES this winter, you’ll find that most of the products seem to be hunting for problems to solve, rather than the reverse case.
Conversely, Heapsylon’s pinpoints an existing problem for which there is, presumably, pent-up demand for a solution: preventing injuries for runners.
Heapsylon’s Sensoria socks are infused with textile pressure sensors and paired with proprietary electronics. Not only do the sensors accurately track steps, speed, calories, altitude gain, environmental temperature and distance, but they go well beyond that to track cadence, foot landing technique, center of balance and weight distribution on the foot as you walk and run.
For runners, this could be a big deal.
There are 25 million runners in America alone, up to 85 percent of whom will suffer some type of injury this year. According to Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, when running, landing on your heel is no different than somebody hitting you on the heel with a sledgehammer (300-400 pounds of force about 1,000 times each mile). That may seem like an exaggeration, but repetitive low-impact forces build up over time, a problem the NFL and NHL are both coming to grips with now.
Heapsylon intends to help runners identify injury-prone running styles, such as heavy heel striking, so they can avoid injury.
Heapsylon also offers a Sensoria T-Shirt and Sport Bra, each of which comes with built-in textile electrodes that allow you to simply snap your favorite heart rate monitor (Polar or Garmin) and get rid of uncomfortable plastic straps.
All Heapsylon garments leverage the Sensoria mobile app to coach the runner in real-time via audio cues. The Sensoria dashboard can also help achieve goals, improve performance and reduce risk of gravitating back to bad tendencies.
Customers: All of Heapsylon’s IndieGoGo backers and the company recently inked a nonexclusive worldwide distribution agreement with British shoe manufacturer VIVOBAREFOOT.
Competitive Landscape: Wearable technology is blowing up. Heapsylon’s main competitors include Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Intel (in process developing a smart shirt), Omsignal and a wide range of other startups entering the wearables market.
What they do: Create technologies to wirelessly power IoT by using radio frequencies, thus eliminating the need for wires.
Headquarters: Kfar Saba, Israel
CEO: Omri Lachman. Prior to Humavox, Omri launched several startups, including EXACTME! and Boominga.
Funding: The company is backed by $5 million in seed funding.
Why they’re on this list: Wireless power is a necessity for the Internet of Things, but the current wireless charging solutions already on the market haven’t really moved the needle. Mobile devices are increasingly adopting wireless charging technology, but consumers quickly get frustrated by the competing standards and regulations prohibiting their mobile devices from being charged effectively.
This has halted innovation in wireless charging, which Humavox argues is an essential element in IoT adoption.
Humavox’s solution is intended to eliminate the need for wires and batteries. The startup claims its platform is able to match the power of a traditional USB cord. In order to convince users to replace the simple, straightforward experience of plugging a USB cord into a device, the alternative must work perfectly and ultimately match the performance of that cord.
To convince users to switch, Humavox allows you to take the guesswork out of powering devices with a solution that can simultaneously charge all powered electronics at once. When a device is placed into the charging space, Humavox’s technology initiates a “handshake” that begins the energy transfer. Through the handshake, the smart charging solution is able to identify the devices in the charging station, their specific needs, battery material and charging curve. It provides each device with the most effective charge for its particular needs, and stops automatically once the devices are charged.
Humavox’s platform allows manufacturers to implement wireless power in a way that is conducive to the overall user experience of their devices. Manufacturers may choose to create a charging station as simple as a bowl to store and charge several devices, or they could integrate charging into a car cup holder, the case of a wearable device, a hotel safe, or even a toy box.
Because there is no limit to the size of the wireless charging technology or the devices it charges, it can even be used for military purposes such as charging an entire platoon’s AR goggles or communication devices in one secure area.
Competitive Landscape: There are three standards for wireless charging today: Qi by the Wireless Power Consortium, The Power Mat Alliance and Rezence by The Alliance for Wireless Power. These competing standards all provide the same type of enablement using the same technological form — magnetic induction. These standards are supported by the biggest names in tech, many of which have invested billions in wireless power solutions. Yet, despite the lack of widespread consumer adoption, the big players seem locked into dead-end solutions and have been slow to consider alternatives.
If Humavox is able to deliver on all of its claims, it could immediately tap into pent-up demand.
What they do: Neura’s goal is to become the “glue connecting the Internet of Things” by developing an open platform that bridges objects, locations, people and the Web.
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, Calif.
CEO: Gilad Meiri. Meiri previously co-founded and served as CEO of Spicebox.
Funding: In April 2014, Neura secured $2 million in funding, led by Greenhouse Capital Partners, alongside SingTel Innov8 Ventures, Pitango Venture Capital, TriplePoint Ventures and prominent angel investors, including Ben Narasin and Isaac Applbaum.
Why they’re on this list: Finding good programmers and developers is a struggle for many businesses. Neura argues that for IoT to gain mass relevance, we’ll need either a heck of a lot more programmers or some sort of shortcut to sidestep this bottleneck.
Neura believes that devices and device ecosystems need to “understand the human.” Smart devices will need to learn when to suggest and respond to prompts, as well as figuring out how to allow the user to opt into certain actions, rather than having prompts and triggers set in stone (well, code).
Neura does two things to help devices “understand the human.” First, Neura’s platform offers a way for an individual’s devices to communicate with one another. More importantly, Neura helps a person’s devices understand context (where, when, with whom), semantic (what does this mean) and pattern behavior.
By combining these streams of data, devices could eventually have predictive features and will be able to respond to an individual’s daily activity. For example, after a user spends time in the kitchen and then leaves home, Neura will make sure the oven is shut down. Neura can prompt a vacuum cleaner to work harder after multiple people have visited your home. Or if a user comes back from a run in the park, Neura can allow the user’s connected glucometer to have access to their activity, sleep and blood pressure information.
Neura says that it can also help smart devices understand how contextual elements, such as jet-lag and weather, impact human factors, such as blood glucose.
Competitive Landscape: Google is Neura’s most direct competitors. There are plenty of other company’s dealing with AI, machine learning and M2M communications. Neura argues that most solutions deal only with connectivity. At Neura, the focus is on data applications. “Creating device-oriented cognition in consumer-facing scenarios is a relatively new problem that the market is trying to tackle,” a spokesperson said.
What they do: Provide a global real-time network that “solves the problems of large-scale IoT connectivity in the wild, enabling IoT providers to focus on their core businesses.”
Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.
CEO: Todd Greene. Prior to founding PubNub, he was the founder and CEO of Loyalize, a company that provided real-time audience participation software, synchronizing TV viewers with collaborative voting and chatting apps on their phones and tablets. After closing deals with Yahoo and Viacom, Loyalize was acquired in 2011 by Robert FX Sillerman, the owner of American Idol.
Founded: August 2010
Funding: PubNub has raised $15.5 million in two rounds of financing. PubNub was initially bootstrapped by its two founders, Todd Greene and Stephen Blum, until achieving a 7/24 average of over 100 transactions per second across 40 customers. A Series A of $4.5 million was completed in early 2012 with funds coming from Relay Ventures and TiE Angels. A Series B of $11 million was closed in the summer of 2013, led by Scale Ventures and including follow-on investments from the Series A investors.
Why they’re on this list: PubNub argues that the IoT space is held back by two major obstacles: a lack of reliable communications and security issues.
First, while reliable bi-directional signaling for IoT devices is easy in the lab, trying to achieve this in the wild becomes a huge problem, putting at risk the overall success of the deployment. It is very difficult to guarantee device connectivity through corporate and home networks, cell towers, firewalls and variable-speed wireless networks.
Second, security is a huge concern. Hackers have successfully attacked numerous highly protected corporate networks. How does an individual connected device stand a chance?
To hurdle over the first obstacle (poor M2M communications), PubNub has built and deployed a global real-time network running in 14 data centers globally. Customers connect their devices to PubNub with a single line of code, and then they can send and receive data with 0.25-second guaranteed delivery latency. PubNub also solves the issue of device status by providing real-time updates about every device’s status (online/offline, etc.) across millions of devices.
PubNub says that it connects over 100 million devices monthly and processes an average of 50,000 transactions per second — peaking at over 3 million transactions per second — through its global network. Because PubNub replicates all data across all data centers, PubNub can provide 99.999% SLA uptime guarantees (i.e. less than 6 seconds of downtime per month).
To tackle the security issue, PubNub boosts device security in three ways: 1) access control for data streams, 2) closing open ports and limiting the ability to communicate to devices without any network ports being open on the Internet (a common attack vector for hackers) and 3) securing all communications with multiple data encryption standards like AES and SSL.
Customers: Insteon, Revolv, Lyft, Sidecar and Zoomy.
Competitive Landscape: Frozen Mountain and Kaazing offer install-it-yourself commercial offerings, while myriad open-source solutions like node.js, Faye and Mosquito offer similar software. PubNub argues that these solutions (both commercial and open source) put the onus of handling operations, scalability, reliability and security on their customers.
Most companies in this space also tend to focus on the challenges of building a connectivity layer, but not the challenges of deploying and maintaining the network to support it. Typically, addressing the initial development of a connectivity solution is about 25 percent of the pain and cost, PubNub contends, whereas 75 percent of the pain and cost is related to the redundant and reliable operation of a global network.
What they do: Unifies control of your smart home via a smartphone or tablet app.
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
CEO: Tim Enwall, who formerly founded and served as CEO of Tendril, a provider of integrated consumer engagement for energy providers. Prior to Tendril, he founded Solista, a global technology management firm, which was acquired by The Gartner Group in 2000.
Funding: Revolv has raised $6.7 million in funding led by the Foundry Group.
Why they’re on this list: If your coffee table is like many, it has a half a dozen remote controls sitting on it. Some of these controllers never get used and of the ones that do get used it’s pretty much only three or four buttons tops. And that’s just for home entertainment.
Seems like it’s time to consolidate and simplify, doesn’t it?
The best bet for consolidation is the smartphone, which has already become the de facto command-and-control center of our connected lives. As more and more connected home products hit the market, managing them all means either remote control sprawl will worsen until it’s akin to kudzu along a southern highway, or we’ll consolidate management via smartphones.
There’s one problem with this, though: The kudzu-like sprawl may well shift from physical remote controls to apps, since everyone under the sun wants to tie their connected product to a product-specific app.
Consumers, however, are already showing signs of app fatigue and long for simplicity. They are confused by the onslaught of connected products, each with different (often incompatible) wireless technologies and control interfaces.
Revolv intends to solve this issue by unifying consumers’ connected devices through one simple app that helps smart home products work together. Revolv was purpose-built to take the complexity out of connecting, controlling and automating a smart home. It also has the capability to automate devices used in daily routines through time, place and sensor triggers. For instance, with its GeoSense technology, Revolv can automatically activate (or shut down) connected devices when the user reaches a certain geo-radius to and from their home.
Revolv incorporates 7 radios in its hub and speaks 10 different wireless languages, giving it the ability to support the most popular brand-name smart devices available today.
Competitive Landscape: The smart home hub is something being tackled by both brand names, such as Staples Connect, and startups, including SmartThings, which was just acquired by Samsung for approximately $200 million.
What they do: Provide a cloud-based sensor data analytics backend for IoT and M2M.
Headquarters: Chicago, Ill.
CEO: Andrew Cronk, who previously served as director of product development at Indie Energy, a geothermal technology company, and as CEO of Cameesa, an ecommerce apparel company (now part of Zazzle).
Funding: The startup has secured a $4.1 million Series A round from Hyde Park Angels, John Ives, Hyde Park Venture Partners, Divergent Ventures and Chicago Ventures. Prior to that, seed funding was raised from TechStars, Data Collective, John Ives, Jason Seats, Lew Moorman and John Engates.
Why they’re on this list: Pretty much every industry has the potential to be revolutionized by sensor analytics — from real-time monitoring of manufacturing equipment to prevent costly failures to operational analysis of solar arrays to optimize electricity yield to exploratory analysis of medical device data to discover correlations and improve patient outcomes.
The opportunities to reduce cost or increase revenues by leveraging IoT are well-understood, but the challenges in making sense of the data generated by sensors are unlike any big data challenges yet encountered. TempoDB argues that without purpose-built, integrated sensor analytics solutions, businesses will struggle to realize the tremendous promise of a connected and measured world.
TempoDB notes that legacy approaches and generic big data solutions — from general-purpose open source databases to complicated, expensive on-premise enterprise analytics solutions — were never designed to provide sensor analytics at scale or in a cloud-native architecture. TempoDB intends to help solve this problem through a sensor analytics backend delivered as a private cloud service. The services makes it simple for users to add sensor analytics to their products or services.
TempoDB provides proprietary real-time sensor data monitoring and analytics engines, which are integrated into its custom data store, to ensure performance and security as users scale up to (potentially) millions of devices and sensors.
Customers: Wattvision, sMeasure, Government of Australia, Cloudability, NinjaBlocks and Signal.
Competitive Landscape: The most direct competition comes from Savi and SensorCloud. TempoDB will also compete with providers of IoT-enablement platforms, such as ThingWorx and Xively, as well as with certain big data providers building out IoT use cases, such as Vertica.
What they do: Provide small Wi-Fi based wearable devices intended for indoor communications within the enterprise.
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas
CEO: Chris Todd. Prior to Theatro, Todd was CEO of AppTrigger, a telecom software startup, which was acquired by Metaswitch. Before that, he headed up Global Sales and Support at Extreme Networks and served as Group Vice President of Service Providers at Cisco.
Funding: Theatro just closed (Aug. 26, 2014) a $5 million investment from Khosla Ventures in a Series A round. Added to early angel funding, this brings the total raised to date to $8.8 million.
Why they’re on this list: There are roughly 32 million+ hourly workers in the U.S. alone, including such workers as retail store associates, hotel employees, manufacturing/distribution center/warehouse employees, etc. Today, these workers must rely on antiquated communications technologies, such as overhead speakers and walkie-talkies, to communicate with other workers on the job. These employees tend also to be disconnected from the enterprise IT infrastructure, which means they have no access to email or the Web to access key information. This acts as a significant obstacle to higher worker productivity.
As the IoT market gains momentum, a key aspect that has been overlooked is connecting employees who can take an action to address the Thing’s communications or status. For example, if a light bulb communicates that it has burned out, to whom does it send the message? The hourly employee who would change the light bulb does not have a tablet or an e-mail address and is probably disconnected from the IT infrastructure.
To address this problem, Theatro has developed a small (1½ ounce) Wi-Fi based enterprise wearable used for in-door communications for hourly workers, connecting every employee to one another and to enterprise information systems.
By leveraging the Wi-Fi infrastructure, Theatro provides a simple voice-activated solution that can be used for communications, indoor location and access to the broader IT infrastructure.
Workers access applications and capabilities through a variety of simple to use voice commands enabling them to be “Heads-Up and Hands Free” while serving the customer. For example, if a retail employee needs to check an inventory of a product, he or she would say “check inventory SKU 235678,” and the Theatro system would connect them to the inventory system to provide the lookup and the status of the inventory of the SKU.
Customers: The Container Store is an early named customer.
Competitive Landscape: The entrenched incumbents are Motorola Solutions and Zebra Technologies, which both provide a variety of radio products that leverage legacy broadcast walkie-talkie technologies. The second type of competitor Theatro says that it encounters tends to be standalone application vendors that leverage a computer platform (smartphone or tablet) to offer discreet application communications capabilities.