By Som Pal Choudhury, IoT Advisor & Consultant, Bharat Innovations Venture Fund, IoTNext co-chair and Ex-MD Analog Devices India
Every industry vertical is looking to leverage Internet of Things (IoT) to improve efficiency and productivity, discover new business models and explore innovative revenue streams. Companies big and small are in the fray. Angel.co reports over 3,000 IoT startups globally. A whopping sum of $12.5B has been invested in IoT startups globally in the last 5 years according to CBInsights. VCs, corporate VCs, Chinese EMS majors, crowd-funding and especially traditional non-tech companies have joined the IoT investment bandwagon, not to be left behind.
This article provides a birds-eye view of the IoT technologies and solutions that 500+ global IoT startups who have been in the funding news recently, are pursuing. The article will be in two parts. The First Part (current version) is focused on the vertically integrated sensor-to-the-cloud applications across different markets these startups are developing. The second follow-on part will be focused on the horizontal IoT technologies these startups are building.
The startups selected to be explored were in the funding news in 2016-17 and have all received some amount of seed/angel/VC funding, initial or follow-on as recently in 2016 and 2017 YTD.
The first big takeaway from the 500 Startup map is the fact that IoT is a global phenomenon with no seeming concentration in any geography, unlike Silicon Valley being the first, in the past. While early investments in IoT did start from Silicon Valley focused on IoT platforms and wearables, and the push continues with analytics, AI, security and horizontal IoT infrastructure technologies, the plethora of investments is cast much wider now across continents, with the focus on IoT verticalized applications.
Note: You might be wondering, why so less startups from China…China is not represented well in this map as most startup funding websites aggregates relying more on english media.
Many of these startups are getting regional traction with customers and funding from regional investors. Many startups are Me-Toos if you compare and contrast the entire pool, but focused on specific geographies (too early to go global). As common in any early phase of technology and market evolution, most startups have used verticalized IoT stacks (do it all yourself) without relying on horizontal technologies and platforms, but that is changing fast as well.
One important observation is that significant number of the 70 odd exits of these startups in 2016 are coming primarily from the non-technology sector including utility companies, industrial houses, insurance companies and even old-age home chains. So the trend seems to be: Plethora of IoT application companies across verticals, regional focus (for the time being), large potential acquirers pool (including traditional non-tech sector) and likely smaller size exits for these startups. I have segmented the 500+ Global startups in different buckets. Part 1 highlights the vertical applications markets and related horizontal technologies for these specific verticals. The horizontal IoT infrastructure play still remains the traditional startup play with large tech acquirers and will be discussed in more detail in Part 2.
An overwhelming number (almost 20%) of 500 startups surveyed were in the Robotics and Drone space across multiple industry verticals. These startups have ventured into spaces where we expect robots and drones to be, but also in areas straight out from Sci-Fi movies.
The robotics applications space includes smart robot companions with perceived emotion for young and elderly (Woobo), robots for special needs children and a plethora of medical surgery robots for minimally invasive surgery with augmented/virtual reality for surgeons (MedRobotics, Vicarious Surgical). The typical robot usecases are in plenty: improved collaborative robots (Ready Robotics, Sarcos) in factories that learn from humans to work in unstructured environments, a tide of robotics toys and education kits, workhorse robots in logistics for warehouse automation (Bossa Nova, IFuture, Grey Orange), robots for unsafe and dangerous situations including industrial (Clearpath Robotics), atomic plants and battlefields.
Today “Jobless growth with automation” and “Robots/AI taking up our jobs” are most talked about concerns. Y Combinator is running an experiment to see what people would do when there are no jobs and a universal basic income of $2000 per month is doled out. We are well aware of floor cleaning robot, Roomba, but the sheer number of robotic startups developing pretty much anything and everything that a human does today, is both stimulating and of deep concern – delivery robot (Robby), bartending robot, cooking robot (Casabot), burger-flipping robot (guess what it would do to the McDonald workforce), retail aisle stacking and counting robot (Simbe Robotics), trash sorting robot, welcome robot, hotel room service robot, construction site robot, painting robot, machine shop robots, industrial cleanup robots (remember the movie, ‘Wally’), robot soldiers/police (straight from the movie, ‘Universal Robots’) are an astounding list of robotic developments actually happening across geographies. Robots for rehabilitation, strength assist for both workers and disabled persons, robots for commercial space applications, 3D printed robotic arm for amputees (Open Bionics) are at different stages of pilots or development.
Horizontal and core technologies that are the pillars of the plethora of these robotic startups include – AI with vision (Cognitive Operational Systems) and speech, haptic and force feedback (BluHaptics), AR/VR and MMI based control, opensource robot platforms (OpenROV), modularized robot, Electro-adhesion technology (GrabIt) and trainable robot (Carbon Robotics).
These applications and technologies are out of the research labs and universities with full fledged private funding in startups and getting ready to be commercialized. An interesting observation is that many of the companies are a generation old, have toyed with the robotics field for years with small revenue base or simply research, and suddenly getting funding and coming off age with the new found focus on automation. there are probably close to 1000 robotics startups globally today, most formed after 2010. The opensource revolution has caught on to Robotics in a huge way which has accelerated development for many Robotics startups.
Drones & UAVs
The drone market size estimate is about 2.5-3M units a year, a big chunk being taken by DJI. I did not see any new physical drone company getting funded in 2016-17 except for a wave/solar powered drone (Liquid Robotics), ocean data collection by a fleet of unmanned and autonomous sailing drones and Ideaforge, an Indian high end drone company getting great traction in the defense and homeland security space.
The phenomenal amount of activity was around the drone ecosystem primarily with software: drone OS & applications development platform (Navstik Labs), multi-drone deployment platform (Airware), vision based collision avoidance, self managed drone fleet, drone image/video analytics, auto pilot systems, collision tolerant robots (Iris Automation), opensource drone platform, creating a aerial map of drones based on their position/location etc. Few innovative startups are creating a network of super-charging stations for commercial drones (Buzzware), wireless charging for drones, a league for drone racing (Drone Racing League) and robot fighting (Megabot duel) competitions that are fairly interesting and compelling. Safeguarding against the proliferation of drones has also got the startups active with anti-drone systems and shields (DeDrone, ApolloShield), controlling rogue drones, drone blasters etc.
Agriculture and Food
Around 6% of the 500 startups surveyed were in the Agriculture and Food space. IoT in agriculture followed predictable patterns in terms of precision agriculture with a variety of sensors including soil moisture (AquaSpy), imaging (Farmshots, TerrAvion) and spectral Imaging (Slant Range) based farm analysis, remote sensing (Raptor Maps) along with SaaS/PaaS platform for precision farming (Smart Yields). Farm management platform (Farmer Edge), automated livestock feed production and tracking (AgriWebb, IronGoat), predictive maintenance of agricultural machinery, diary & animal health, food quality sensing (Knem, Consumer Physics), polyhouse/greenhouse monitoring (Agrilyst), vision based soil nutrients, seed planting via drones (DroneSeed), farm water management with irrigation pump control and indication of water table (Hydropoint), IoT enabled grain bins (Amber Agriculture) and large scale automated farming (Harvest CROO) are the examples of startups active in fund raising in the Agriculture and Food space.
A surprising fact was the relatively smaller number of startups in the industrial sector that received funding (just 5.4% excluding industrial robotics) in the funded startup pool of 2016-17, much less than what I had expected looking at the sheer opportunity size in Industrial IoT.
Besides robotics in industrial setting, worker safety in factories, smart gloves (ProGlove) to track progress and enhance productivity, robot assist to create superhuman force, dexterous human like motion, general safety in oil & gas, mines and construction industry, AR/VR based solutions for maintenance, training and safety (Scope AR) were notable solutions upcoming for industries.
Increasing productivity and efficiency focused on Oil & Gas down-hole monitoring (Welldog), accelerated testing, vision based vehicles for warehousing and automation (Seegrid), AI & Analytics (Sight Machine, Eigen Innovation, DeepSense, Maana, Prophecy Sensorlytics) for predictive maintenance/manufacturing analytics, general purpose factory dash-boarding (ThingTrax) and rule based analytics engines for factories seemed to be favor of the moment. A number of solutions were focused on asset tracking platform (TrackX), different flavor of RFID tags (Tego), directional drilling optimization (Motive Drilling), multi-protocol support of Industrial gateways (MachFu), Metal 3D high quality printing, metal additive manufacturing (Desktop Metal), thermal imaging camera (Seek Thermal), advanced intrusion detection systems with a combination of sensor fusion and analytics for homeland security (Cron Systems, an Indian company securing the borders) and Industrial (Pixcontroller, solar power with edge analytics) are sample of innovations by the startups in Industrial sector.
Consumer IoT started with smart bands and smart watches a few years back, but the market flattened quickly far short of even the most pessimistic projections. Since then, a variety of IoT driven consumer applications exploded, they were both innovative and diverse. The applications being developed by recently funded startups include see through wearable display (Lumus), wearable platforms, emergency alert/safety, wide range of infant monitors (Owlet, Ray ICare), medication reminders (MedMinder), algorithms and sensor fusion for better insights from wearabales (ImagiMob, Algorithmic Intuition), retrofitting any camera to a smart camera, biometric graphene sensors (Graphwear), eyeball and muscle movement tracking and control (Thalmic Labs), fitness tracker with active ecosystem engagement (Fitmo, Goqii), innovations in haptics, speech and vision (Senic, Nanit), enhanced versions of GoPro camera to record your life (Narrative), augmented audio wearable, new range of smartwatches from Japan (Veldt), wide range of women health applications, IoT enabled drinking cup for personal hydration (Mark One), IoT enabled kitchen (Brava), next generations of gesture & tracking applications with bracelet/ring and jewelry (Habitaware), IoT enabled diaper, number of video doorbells (Ring) and smart doorlocks, Lost & Found tracking, child safety, wearable air purifier, bad behavior analysis, pet trackers (Petcube), smart walkie-talkie (Nucleus, Orion Labs), enhancing reading efficiency, making your smartphone photo to 3D, 3D Touch Sensors (Impressivo), smartwall (Electric Objects), Smart Mailbox (Mailhaven), air pollution (Airborne) and smart travel case (BlueSmart); the list is endless.
A class of devices is emerging in the performance sports and training to get feedback on form, movement and performance including Moov, SeeHow, Str8bat, Mio Global, Moov, Atlas Wearables etc.
Startups in the healthcare space were focused broadly on consumer wellness outside of clinics/hospitals with a focus on monitoring and early diagnosis with a call to action, robotics surgical instruments in hospitals and as well as software platforms and AI platforms. Applications in consumer health/wellness include advanced AI and Analytics for wellness that claim to give more accuracy and insights on health from wearables (EarlySense), non-contact infant respiration monitoring (Ray ICare from India), geriatric care, mental wellness and neuro-simulation (Thync), mental health diagnostics and management (Neural Analytics), knee care, respiration health (Propeller), movement disorders, brain training post stroke/dementia (Tyromotion, Motus Innovation), addiction avoidance using wearables (Chrono Therapeutics raised a whopping $48M for smoking cessation), improving cognitive functions, cloud connected asthma inhaler and stress monitoring and control.
In hospitals and clinics, robot based surgery was the most active sector including robot needle steering (XACT), MRI-guided neurosurgical surgery (Monteris Medical), keyhole surgery (Cambridge Medical), bone surgery (Advanced Osteometry), Biosensor for detecting disease/cancer/pathogens (Sensor-Kinesis), MRI therapy, patient monitoring systems for cerebral blood flow (Ornim Medical), clinical grade EKG using wearables (AliveCor), implant monitoring & performance, ingestible sensing (Proteus Digital Health), portable brain sensing for assessment of strokes, image analytics for hair transplantation (Restoration Robotics) and bionics based prosthetic.
HIPPA compliant care giving platforms for healthcare management and analytics (Third Eye), geriatric care platforms (few got acquired by GreatCall, leader in active aging and independent living solutions), efficiency improvement using augmented/virtual reality for doctors (Augmedix, Pristine), consolidation of all patient owned healthcare data from wearables and clinic/doctors at a single place owned by the patient (Orb Health), pharmacy restocking, connected get well thermometer and advisor (Kinsa), AI driven health detection, cloud connected asthma inhaler with advise and to-dos were the some of the startups that were funded.
Retail and Hospitality
Startups that saw funding and traction in the retail and hospitality sector are razor sharp focused on analytics to increase eyeballs and footfalls for revenue generation and reduction in cost via efficiency improvements, automation and loss reduction. Retail sector startups are focused on using image analytics with CCTV to gather footfalls (Hoxton Analytics), profile customers and detect theft, WiFi and Bluetooth beacons (Kontact.io, ConnectQuest, Minodes) for proximity marketing for customer engagement (BlueBite), robots for warehouse/retail counting and stocking, stocking and automation (Bossa Nova, Simbe), service and welcome robots in hotels (Savioke), robotic bartender (Monsieur), asset tracking (QueueHop), retail applications software platforms, auto-checkout platforms (DotDashPay), contactless retail payments via wearables (DigiSEq), solution to make any device a payment gateway and cooking robot (Casabot).
Shopping cart theft prevention startup, Gatekeeper raised $32M funding focusing on one of the top hits to the retailer’s bottom line – tracking and loss prevention of shopping carts. On the consumer side, easy re-ordering/replenishment of standard items with press to order like Amazon Dash and an easy creation of shopping list (Hiku) were some interesting startups. Energy Management for retail and hospitality sector was big as well which is covered under Smart Buildings category.
Smart Home and Buildings
Post the high profile NEST acquisition of Google in 2014, the promise of smart automated homes has been muted in the last few years. A big push came with the inception of voice recognition assistants (Alexa and NVidia DOT with Google Assistant) that made the smarthome–human interaction several notches more practical compared to phone/web clicks to do every task. Beyond smart thermostats (Ecobee, now just behind NEST in sales), applications that received the most traction from investors are still point solutions like video doorbells (Ring), smart locks (Nexkey) and DIY security (Scout Security). Few other examples include: water management and leakage (Flo Technologies), Internet wall art (Electric Objects), home awareness with sensor fusion and AI (Linkbee, Notion, Rokid), Air/scent quality in homes, smart lighting, energy aware home sensing electrical signatures of each home appliances (Sense Labs, EcoisMe), LED lights with embedded sensors and automated gardening (Edyn). Vivint raised $100M with a verticalized smart home platform and security service while Viva Labs created a complete ready solution for any operator/utility to start Smart Home services to its customers under own brand
On the commercial building space, energy management (Small Box Energy, Powerhouse Dynamics, Verdigris) garnered the most attention from investors. Vision analytics for occupancy insights (Pointgrab), water and waste-water analytics (Banyan Water), LED light bulb with speaker, smart heaters/radiators, LED lights with sensors, DC grid in buildings for LED lighting eliminating AC-DC conversion at each light (Lumencache) and vertically integrated applications platforms and solutions for smart buildings (Enlighted) were the other applications and technologies that were funded.
Automotive and Transportation
Connected logistics and fleet management platforms saw the most action (Zinka Logistics, Adveez, Automile, TrackNTell) along with automotive platforms for personal cars (Vinli), digital keys for cars, blind spot detection for driver assist, truck platooning and truck safety with V2V/V2X technology (Peloton Technology), pay-per-mile insurance (MetroMile – a classic case of business model innovation), IoT security for connected cars, voice recognition, connected car platform, remote lock (Glock) and personalized robot transportation (China based Ninebot who acquired Segway).
While driverless car solutions is now a big boys play, a few startups are challenging them – a 26 yr old hacker who created a complete AI based platform for driverless cars (Comma.ai), Deepscla.ai focused on visual image analytics for perception of autonomous vehicles and a vision analytics professor from Princeton started AutoX using cheaper standardized cameras (instead of laser, radar etc.) with the focus entirely on AI driven image analytics. Small success and showcasing technology by these startups would make this an easy but hefty acquisition by the big boys spending billions to out beat competition in the driverless car space.
Examples of startups getting funded in this category are in smart city applications platform space providing a secure real-time safety and security monitoring solution for the public safety and security sectors (Eagle Eye Intelligence), a number of water management platform and for real-time data analysis to improve water supply network efficiency (Sense4Green, WaterSmart), holistic waste management logistics with state of fill-up, scheduling and routing (Enevo, Compology), monitoring air pollution with bunch of pollution sensors and IoT cloud platform getting data from diverse sources for co-relation (Drayson Technologies), structural monitoring (Sysdev) and traffic detection, counting and optimization (Sensys Technologies).
While several point solutions exist, and hundreds of pilots have happened in the last 10 years with large systems integrators like IBM and Cisco, full deployments are still further out. A re-thinking of the strategy by City CIOs on open platforms and innovation, startup inclusion, use of opensource instead of getting locked into the large systems integrators for decades and off-course “Who Pays” is putting full deployments on the back-burner beyond the pilots. India too has started its much acclaimed 100 smart city project pilots, and tenders have/are being handed out. The openness and which platform to be used is still being debated.
Energy and Utility
The startups explored in the energy and utilities space include a number of platforms to monitor, manage electrical supply side and demand side including new age microgrids and electrical vehicles.
Examples include consumer engagement platform, a go-between energy service providers and customers (Tendril Networks), a Smart Grid platform that creates a network of large users of electricity for a supply-demand balance along with distributed generation for grid management (Embala Power Networks), B2C sales and operations of electric vehicle charging stations (OpConnect), microgrids (Blue Pillar), platform to manage customer engagement and delivery (EnrgySavvy, Autogrid), enabling residential electric thermal storage heaters, electric cars, and other loads to respond dynamically to grid conditions and improve overall grid efficiency (VCharge).
[Originally posted on LinkedIn first]