Startups from Bushwick, Columbia University and Boston were among those on display last week, all vying for cash and a seat at a Microsoft-backed accelerator focused on home automation. Two if the nine appeared to be leaving stealth mode at the event held in Cobble Hill.
The first Microsoft Ventures City Meetup took place Thursday night at Invisible Dog. The event occurred in collaboration with American Family Ventures, a project of American Family Insurance out of Madison Wisconsin. Microsoft has set up several accelerators around the world and its newest one is in the company’s hometown, in Redmond, Washington, Cliff Reeves, General Manager for Emerging Business explained.
Microsoft is not taking any equity in the companies accepted into the accelerator, though it does have a seed fund. American Family is offering an optional note of $25,000, which Kyle Nakatsuji said should basically cover the cost of moving a team out to Washington for four months. Nakatsuji said the fund has existed for 18 months. It has $50 million and is near closing its 18th deal in its 14th company. It makes investments anywhere from $100,000 to $2 million. Meanwhile, Microsoft isn’t even pushing companies to use Microsoft products while taking part. It’s a little perplexing, as it’s hard to see precisely what the Seattle software giant is getting out of it at a moment when it has announced cutting 18,000 jobs — outside general access and influence in the new market of the Internet of things.
That said, Reeves said its previous accelerators have had a high success rate. He said that 250+ companies have gone through its accelerators, 80+ have left them with funding and there have been 11 acquisitions so far. He cited a 6X return on investment for those acquisitions by companies that invested in them — a common rule puts a 10x return as the barrier for big exits, making 6x a strong, if not a “home run” profit.
This Redmond accelerator will also be the first themed accelerator, with a focus on home automation. Patrick Klas, an analyst at American Family Ventures, who will be visiting the accelerator regularly, explained why technology in the home is of interest to the company. He described a model it has been exploring called “proactive protection,” whereby using technology to reduce risk factors both saves the company on payouts and protects the lives, health and property of its customers. “We think digital signals within the home represent risk,” Klas said, “rather than retroactively reimbursing people, we’d rather protect them.”
Applications are still open though July 25th for the first class and there was no judges panel evident at Thursday’s gathering.
Nine companies presented. Here are three that stood out for us:
Built by a Bushwick designer and her team, Madalena Mak described a new map app that’s laser focused on user experience. By giving it access to your Facebook events, Meetup events, your calendar and etc, the map always knows where you need to be and you don’t need to toggle and load between apps to get the location you need to reach loaded on your map when you’re looking for it. It’s ready for you in advance. Mak called it a killer app for wearables, acknowledging that that made it a bit of a stretch for home automation but not at all a stretch for the Internet of Things.
We may be the very first to report what this Boston company actually does. Its website describe it as follows, “Wallflowr Inc. is a consumer electronics company founded in 2013 and is based in Cambridge, MA.” What consumer problem is it solving? Stoves accidentally left on. Nearly half of all home fires are the result of accidents with cooking equipment, he said.
While its founder, Victor Jablokov (formerly President of speech recognition startup, Yap, before it was acquired by Amazon in 2011), did not actually show the device, he explained it. It consists of a sensor that keeps an eye on your stove to see if it’s on or not and a second device that can either shut off power or gas to the stove via a mobile app. Other than pulling the stove out from the wall and putting it back, Jablokov said the installation was easily a do-it-yourself task, though they would officially be recommending consumers get a professional to do it.
Wallflowr is launching the product as an add-on consumer device, but he said they are already in talks with appliance manufacturers to install it.
Columbia University PhD candidate Ang Cui presented on behalf the startup he cofounded with Columbia professor, Salvatore Stolfo. It’s a security application for firmware. Cui asked, “What happens when other people can control your home?” Half of all new devices are IP enabled, Cui said, but none of them are coming out so far with host based defenses. That said, Red Balloon has been providing firmware services already to branches of the US Armed Services, particularly the Air Force, and it is moving now to offer its product, Symbiote, on a license basis to manufacturers of internet enabled devices.
Telephones, routers, servers and printers are all capable of being hacked, he said, but it’s also possible to protect them without impact on performance.-30-