Now might be a good time to come clean if you don’t totally understand what the Internet of Things (IoT) means.
Turns out it’s nearly impossible to define. That’s what two experts said at this week’s Philly IoT Meetup, which brought around 75 people to product firm Bresslergroup’s offices at 12th and Arch. But Rick Bullotta, former CTO of ThingWorx, gave it a shot anyway.
Bulotta, who started his own startup and venture capital consultancy after ThingWorx got acquired for $112 million in 2014, described IoT as a very broad thing with many segments including consumer products, smart city or smart infrastructure, industrial, public data, public safety, security and defense.
“But there’s a whole lot of IoT you don’t see,” he said. “If you knew how many sensors are in the Lincoln Tunnel, it would blow your mind, and what they’re sensing is really fascinating.”
Jenny Fielding, managing director at Techstars’ IoT accelerator who was in town to recruit local startups, agreed that IoT is difficult to classify. It’s a wide range of distinct segments full of companies providing solutions. As an ever-evolving field, “it’s kind of how you define it at the moment.” She added “frontier tech” — augmented reality and virtual reality — to the bucket of what Techstars considers IoT.
Their conversation about opportunities for IoT startups, moderated by Meetup co-organizers Lenny Kravets of InterDigital and Michael Marks of Zonoff, measured hype against opportunity for startups.
As in any popular sector, there’s a good deal of the former. Bullota mentioned he’s seeing a lot of “poser companies” who focus too much on the “minimum” in “minimum viable product.” There is also a fair amount of “IoT-washing,” with entrepreneurs tacking shallow applications of IoT onto their products.
On the flip side, quickly growing awareness of IoT among Chief Experience Officers provides opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“These companies are saying, ‘We have to get ourselves some of that IoT stuff. How do we do that?'” said Bullotta.
They’ll need to look to external sources to make up for a lack of internal R&D, technical maturity and digital transformation mindset. (Bulotta knows this from experience. His company, ThingWorx, got acquired by PTC, a Boston-area company that badly wanted to get into the IoT space and was willing to pay for $112 million for it. Bulotta and his team weren’t looking to sell but the price was right, he said on a panel in October 2014.)
Both panelists noted a pivot in the startup and investing communities from consumer products to B2B. Bullotta sees opportunities for startups in security and agricultural tech, or agtech.
He also sees opportunity in the user experience aspect of IoT — the implementation of new modalities such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and voice recognition to improve interaction with systems and the physical world.
“Those areas are ripe for innovation,” he said. “There’s a 10x improvement that can happen there.”
When asked what the IoT landscape might look like ten years from now, Fielding hit on a sort of undefinition of IoT.
“It’s a category that’s going away,” she said. “In 2006, I started a mobile company when that wasn’t yet a category. Today no one would say, ‘I invest in mobile.’ Right now IoT is about software and hardware converging, and data and insights, and it won’t be that in a few years. I think that’s why it’s an exciting place to be.”-30-