Category: IoT

Singapore IoT Fund
Asia PacificInterviewsIoT

Singapore IoT Fund: Accelerating the next billion in Sensing Cities

Singapore based venture capital firm and accelerator, TNB Ventures (TNB) has launched TNB Aura Fund 1, the only hardware / software focused fund in the region with a mandate to invest in IoT, Robotics, Machine Learning/AI and AR/VR. With a mission to become the next generation venture capital platform, TNB was founded in 2016 with the coming together of two very active accelerators and one Series A VC. In 2017 TNB will launch TNB Aura Fund 1, a SGD$50 million investment vehicle, that includes co-investment by SPRING Singapore, the Singapore government agency responsible for helping Singapore enterprises grow.

TNB provides early stage startups with funding support in 2 ways:

  1. TNB Accelerator: 6-9 month acceleration program with S$40,000 investment per startup;
  2. TNB Aura Fund 1: provides funding support from Seed to Series A/B stages
    1. Seed Stage: funds between S$250,000 – 500,000 per investment (looking to invest in ~20-30 companies); and
    2. Series A/B: funds between S$1-3 million per investment (looking to invest in ~15-20 companies).

Beyond investment, TNB is assembling a strong ecosystem of partners to provide startups in its portfolio with strong technical support, access to top tier corporate partners and mentorship.

Managing Partner, Vicknesh R Pillay, explains more:

How did TNB get together?

The 3 partners came together having managed our own proprietary investment vehicles. I came from an investment banking and real estate background, having set up a real estate fund with German capital managing about €350 million. After exiting the fund in 2014, which led me to start investing in other companies, I came across Michael Yap, former Deputy CEO of the Media Development Authority, who was hugely involved in the development of Block 71 and Singapore’s startup ecosystem, and Kelvin Ong, CEO of FocusTech Ventures and Executive Director of the Holding Company for leading HDD component maker, Seksun Group.

Thus, we had complementary skills and as we started to form our thinking about a new venture, SPRING Singapore announced the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Grant. We then created TNB, applied for the grant, and were one of only 7 VCs to be appointed as their specialised accelerator and receive funding.

So what is your investment approach?

We do not invest into e-commerce or marketplaces. Our thesis lies in the combination of hardware and software – the time is ripe for the intersection between the physical and digital. We invest into the hardware (sensors) and the software (where the IP and visualisation sits) knowing that by 2020 there will be >30 billion connected devices, and the size of the big data and AR/VR markets will be worth US$60 Billion and US$150 Billion respectively.

We felt there was a gap in Singapore to create a VC which supports its investments via a holistic approach, creating an ecosystem for success rather than just providing capital. We want to provide follow on capital, bring in corporate partners and even help with recruitment.

Another area of focus is that we provide access to corporates. If we find interesting startups we will introduce them to relevant corporate partners. For example, we would introduce a VR company to our travel partner Chan Brothers Group which has a lot of industry experience that can be leveraged to help the startup fine-tune its product.

We have also invested in this space by bringing on board PHDs in augmented reality and electronics engineering, and have our own talent management team which helps the startups with recruitment. It’s all about building the supporting infrastructure, so we are reinvesting management fees to create this ecosystem.

How do you access deal flow?

How do you access deal flow?

We are lucky to have Aura Group as our lead investor in the fund which helps to give deal flow from Australia. Plug and Play gives us access to the US, and Ruvento Ventures gives us access to Eastern Europe. Beyond that I would describe it as either natural or proactive deal flow:

  • Natural – being a co-investment partner of SPRING Singapore where we get a lot of deal flow. Secondly, we have deep roots with the research bodies in Singapore with A*Star, NTU and NUS. Finally, we have a good network of investors/VCs who refer deals to us as well.
  • Proactive deal flow – doing a global call such as this Sensing Cities Global Call & Accelerator Program 2016 to bring together a group of corporates with startups that are relevant to our investment thesis.

What is your strategy around corporates?

We want to provide corporates with a range of different options for their innovation objectives. Many of them spend millions of dollars to develop innovation strategies or they consider setting up internal investment funds. Our advice is to put a toe in the water via a platform like ours. For a sponsorship fee, they can get access to early-stage startups via the accelerator. Alternatively, they can invest in the fund (TNB Aura Fund1) and get access to everything we do. This doesn’t provide a full innovation strategy, but it complements it at a fraction of the price it costs to do it themselves.

As of now, our corporate partners include Chan Brothers Travel, Lignar Labs, A*Star, Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. We will soon be announcing partners in consulting and real estate.

What are you excited about in the property space?

Two areas:

AR/VR: We believe the way we view properties is going to completely change. Property sites will move from transactional to experiential, and there will be a lot of change in this space.

Estate Agents: There will always be a place for agents, but this will be reduced and the role will change to a service-centric role. It will be just like bankers who are paid a salary to assist you, rather than a commission on transaction.

What’s a good example of a successful exit your team has made?

One of our partners was a seed investor in Catapult Sports, a smart wearables company used by leading sports brands around the world. It listed on the ASX for a investment multiple of 15 times.

Finally, an update on the status of applications?

We have received >250 applicants for the Sensing Cities call, hoping to get 1,000 by 31 December when entries close.

Site1001
InterviewsIoTUnited States

Building Management Platform: Site 1001

Cloud-based building management platforms are growing in number, attempting to replace proprietary iBMS systems to create open source, ‘smart’ buildings. Site1001 recently raised US$5m Series A funding and is notable as a rare PropTech start up that began life inside a construction company, only to successfully spin out on its own. We talked to CEO Cleve Adams:

What’s behind the name?

Site 1001 began as a ‘skunkworks’ project inside of JE Dunn Construction, a leading general contractor based in Kansas City, Missouri. The company’s address is 1001 Locust Street, so we adopted the ‘Ten O One’ moniker as the company and product name.

Can you tell us a bit about the business model?

We believe that building operations is just beginning to undergo the same sort of technological disruption that industries like retail, transportation, travel and hospitality underwent in the past decade. Cheap sensors and new technologies are going to turn just about every building component from a boiler to a light bulb into a connected ‘thing.’ But since boilers and light bulbs still need to be managed, maintained and replaced, facilities managers, ready or not, are going to be taking on a quasi-IT role as well.

We also believe that facilities managers already have enough to do and adding ‘smart’ technology and IT troubleshooting to the list isn’t going to make the job any easier. So rather than forcing FM professionals to become IT guys, our business model is built on eliminating the IT altogether and letting them focus on facilities management. As such, Site 1001 is based on a ‘software as a service’ model – cloud-based and mobile first, so there’s nothing required beyond a mobile app or a web browser to use it. Moreover, because cloud technology lets us continuously update the platform, customers always have the latest and greatest features wherever they go and without any downtime. The Site 1001 pricing model is equally simple. One flat monthly fee gets every product feature and an unlimited number of users.

Your website says ‘No systems to setup, no special hardware, no IT guys’ – does that mean all building services like AHU, lifts, lighting, security can connect to the system regardless of their manufacturer?

Yes. The system is completely cloud-based and runs via an app or web-browser. We have technology partnerships with major building systems, MEP, and equipment manufacturers, as well as a growing stable of IoT and sensor manufacturers that lets us integrate it all into a single platform accessible from anywhere you and your smartphone go.

How many buildings is Site 1001 deployed on?

We have a dozen sites currently on the platform and we’re on track to be somewhere near 50 in 2017.

Given the emergence of building management platforms how does a building owner know what makes a good product?

Building owners should be focusing on a few key areas when deciding whether a product is right for them. First, does this make my job easier or more difficult? If a product is too complicated, difficult for people to use, or forces you to change the way you do business, it’s not a good product. Second, what’s the real cost of the system? That’s not just the base software cost, but setup and implementation costs and time frame, additional functionality, user licenses etc. If the real price isn’t clear, it’s almost impossible to know if you’re getting a decent return on your investment. Finally, building owners should ask will this system help my business be more profitable.

Most simply think of a building management system as a way to reduce total cost of ownership. But a well-designed, forward-looking system will also provide information that will help you uncover new business insights and revenue opportunities whether that’s through efficiencies that can be replicated in other locations, higher tenant lease rates and lower churn, or even the ability to generate new revenue sources via the building data you collect.

How have you approached the user interface side of the platform? Is this a place you have made a lot of effort?

When we first began designing the Site 1001 platform we understood facilities managers are constantly out and about doing their work, not parked at a desk looking at a computer. As such, we designed the product to be mobile first and desktop second, which is exactly the opposite of most other systems. If you look at our mobile interface you’ll see that it’s simple, with large buttons and text that’s easy to read, which makes it far simpler to use when you’re in a maintenance closet trying to pull up and read an O&M manual.

Further, we built the system around the concept of being location-based and combining visual elements like panoramic photos with hotspots and text-based elements like workorders and manuals to minimise the need to search for information. When a Site 1001 user walks into a room, the app on his phone knows where he is and brings up the asset information for that room. If he’s there to fix a drinking fountain, then he gets the information for that specific drinking fountain, not every drinking fountain in the building.

There’s literally hundreds of elements built into Site 1001 designed to leverage the sensors and systems built into smartphones and tablets – cameras, accelerometers, WiFi locationing, bluetooth proximity, and so on – to make it super simple to get the information a facilities manager needs when and where he needs it. That’s not something that FM systems originally designed for a computer and later ported to mobile can do.

Does the product allow for predictive building maintenance?

Site 1001 has features built in for predictive, preventative and corrective maintenance. That includes things like reminders for standard warranties and preventative maintenance, as well as alerting and real time notifications for unusual patterns or anomalous activity from building systems. So if, for example, you’ve got a chiller that’s operating normally but having unusual power cycling, you’ll get an alert regarding the cycling, a severity level and information on likely causes and proper corrective maintenance procedures. Some of the more interesting things we’re working on now leverage building sensors and IoT devices to perform some really cool smart building functions like autonomous activity such as a light bulb or air filter issuing its own replacement work order before it stops functioning.

When did you know you were ready to spin the business out of JE Dunn?

We began development back in 2011, but it wasn’t until our fourth or fifth customer a couple of years later that we realised Site 1001 was going to be much more than a system for managing the hand off from construction to building owner. As a general contractor, JE Dunn is involved with a building for the first couple of years of its life, but Site 1001 is going to be involved for the next 5, 10, or 20 years. Moreover, we were getting involved with other building and business systems like WiFi networks, ERP and real time asset locationing that was outside the JE Dunn wheelhouse. At that point we said “we need to spin out on our own.”

What was the capital raising process like? How was it dealing with funds compared to JE Dunn’s investment?

I’ve raised capital from Silicon Valley to Israel for half a dozen companies over the past 20 years and Site 1001’s was by far the best both in terms of investor interest and enthusiasm. JE Dunn actually led our Series A investment and we were able to bring in three other investment groups, all of whom are from the Kansas City area. As you may know, Kansas City, Missouri was the first city Google chose for its Google Fiber high speed internet project, and the city has a developed a vibrant investment and development community focused on technologies and innovations in smart cities, transportation, telecommunications and healthcare, as well as many others. There’s a lot of exciting startups coming out of KCMO.

What are your plans for growth?

Currently we’re focused on expanding our installed base here in North America. We just opened an office in Southern California and we are working on projects from Atlanta, Georgia to Portland, Oregon. We also just hired a new head of sales who came to us from IBM. Before landing with Site 1001, he headed Big Blue’s smarter cities and Watson IoT divisions for all of Europe, so once we’ve established our North American presence, we may be pursuing new opportunities over there.

Comfy
CommercialInterviewsIoTUnited States

Comfy App: Leading the Way in Workplace Comfort and Productivity

Comfy allows office workers to control their immediate room temperature via their phone, and is leading the workplace technology wave, as employers increasingly focus on the connection between environmental quality and worker productivity. In June, Comfy raised US$12m in Series B funding from leading investors including CBRE, a global real estate brokerage. President Lindsay Baker gave us a snapshot of the market leader in office thermal comfort:

How did Comfy come about and how did you get involved?

Comfy started a handful of years ago when Andrew and Steve, our CEO and CTO, were PhD students in Computer Science at UC Berkeley. They were involved in a research project around software and buildings, and created the prototype of Comfy after tinkering with systems at a building on campus. It worked pretty well, so they started navigating the idea of starting a business. That’s when I met them, we got the company off the ground around 3 years ago, and we’ve been growing ever since!

Emergence, Microsoft and CBRE are an amazing set of investors / partners – what was the capital raise process like?

We are very fortunate with our newest investors. They all share the vision for the impact we can have on people’s lives, and share in the excitement that we have at being in the right place at the right time for the market. Emergence is well known for investing in successful SaaS companies like Salesforce, Box and Yammer, and have been really helpful so far as we learn some key lessons for our upcoming growth stages. Microsoft is obviously a legend when it comes to positively impacting productivity for us in our work lives, and so they’ve been great as new partners. And finally the investment from CBRE has lent a great credibility to us, given their status in global real estate. They look at a lot of real estate technologies, so we are very happy to earn their attention. The capital raise process is a lot like building a new account or partner – it’s all about finding shared value, so it’s exciting to find it with such great organisations.

I’ve read about the investment being for further product development / expansion, could you elaborate?

We as a company are in a great place in the market. We’ve shown our unique ability to get high engagement from occupants with a CRE app that also does some pretty tricky work with systems integration, controls etc. So now we are looking to some great opportunities to use our platform and skills to eliminate other pain points that occupants have with their physical environments at work. There’s a lot to be done, but the good news is that the real estate industry is looking for ways to improve worker productivity and we have a unique ability to help do that. Stay tuned for the details 😉

Is the investment from CBRE any different given they are one of the world’s largest building managers?

As has been reported, we are currently piloting Comfy with CBRE in a set of locations. We’ve all seen press releases about startups and big companies in our space promising big future partnerships, but we’d rather make headlines once we’ve made it happen, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Comfy looks like a tenant focused product. Is there a way to work with developers / landlords?

Comfy is a product focused on anyone who cares about how it feels to go to work every day. Typically that’s been employers who have control over their buildings, because they see the impact of employees who aren’t as productive as they can be. But all of us in real estate bear some of this responsibility, it’s just a question of monetizing that. So yes, we do now have some awesome clients who are landlords who see Comfy as a differentiator – a way to attract and retain tenants. But I’ve been in the real estate industry long enough to know that this type of thing wouldn’t have initially gotten traction with landlords because they needed to see the pull from tenants. So we went first to owner/occupiers, and now that we’ve proven our value, we are excited to be getting the attention of landlords.

Are you guys working on the Delos Well Rating in any way or seeing it influence what you do?

I’ve known the folks at Delos since they got started, and some of the work that I was doing before Comfy (along with many others) was influential to them in starting the system. The connection between health and buildings has been a long-standing pursuit, and Delos is doing great work driving this message into the marketplace and supporting some awesome research to prove this connection. I’ve not had time to work directly on the standard recently, but we are definitely supporters in their work.

In terms of integration with other platforms (Redwood Systems, Intel, Lutron, and View) – are there any more planned?

There are indeed other integrations planned, but none announced yet!

Can you tell me more about the AI and how it works?

To clarify, Comfy delivers streams of warm or cool air to building occupants at the press of a button in the app. Over time, those requests are run through machine learning algorithms to help predict and optimize the temperature for a particular zone (or area where people sit). Basically we use an equation that runs over and over again, for every HVAC zone that we support, and the output of that equation determines the maximum and minimum temperatures in that moment for that zone. So it’s dynamic over time, in other words.

User data accumulates over time, and that equation keeps running, and thus the computer can gradually migrate to settings that it ‘learns’ over time. That equation is also called an algorithm. Our algorithm takes into account a few numbers: the time of the week, the indoor temperature, and whether someone wants it to be warmer or cooler. Then it crunches all of the data points for those numbers, and cranks out its guess for what the perfect temperature is, for that room, at that time. The great part is also that if the algorithm doesn’t nail it, people have an easy way to get an immediate change as well.

As I am sitting in Singapore, what are the plans for international expansion?

We are excited to be getting interest in Comfy from across the globe. We are happy to support clients in 4 different countries today and we are considering international markets to potentially establish more of a presence proactively, but either way, the great part of what we do is that it’s very feasible to deploy and support remotely, so we’ll keep doing that for now!

What’s the vision of Comfy in 10 years?

Today, there is a big disconnect between what our bodies and minds need to be productive and what our office buildings provide. We believe that people can reconnect with buildings so that our workplaces become truly thoughtful and responsive to us. There are many facets of that re-connection, lots of work to do.

My favourite image is that someone walks into their office, maybe a location they don’t usually visit, and the building knows this person’s preferences, maybe it’s a quiet, naturally lit, cool spot, and they get a little notification that tells them that a perfect spot is available for them to sit that day, and asks if they would like to book it for the day. Then it helps them navigate there, gets their documents pulled up on the workstation, and they can settle in comfortably and seamlessly. When they need a little less light, they can easily dim the windows without hassle. When they need a nearby room for a meeting, it’s easy to book, find and set up. All of these interactions should be as easy and as masterful as making a sandwich in your kitchen, but today they are filled with frustration. Maybe not the craziest vision, but it would help a lot of people have better lives at work.

Finally, Is your office air conditioning utopia?

Ha, well, our current office is a lovely space in beautiful downtown Oakland. We do have Comfy in our space. If it’s a utopia, I’d say that’s more because we have an awesome team of people who I’m proud to work with. And of course we also keep ice cream and sweaters on hand, just in case 😉

See Comfy in action on youtube.