A Cambridge CleanTech startup is seeking seven-digit Series A funding for innovative technology that promises to revolutionise the intelligent building – smart home – market.Homaetrix is already shipping product that saves cost and energy in the space – and has changed the whole paradigm for delivering so-called ‘smart home’ technology.
Martyn Gilbert, chairman and CTO of the year-old UK company, reveals exclusively to Business Weekly that the company is in talks with investors and says feedback is so encouraging that potential backers are even talking about joining a Series B round. European and Asian investors are among those keen to take a stake in the business.
An exceptionally mature and experienced management team has put together a flexible technology and stripped massive cost out of installation by de-skilling the process.
Gilbert feels sure that being pragmatic and eschewing a ‘geeks and gadgets’ sales strategy is helping Homaetrix gain early traction in residential markets while strengthening its credentials in adjacent segments such as light commercial, educational environments and the care sector. However, never claiming to know the answers to all problems, Homaetrix welcomes genuine third party application developers with specialist domain knowledge who may wish to exploit the low-cost technology for their own purposes.
One of the company’s core technologies allows householders to control anything from the opening and closing of curtains and blinds to temperature control in their swimming pool remotely via a smartphone.
While this in itself is not new, previous products of the kind were custom-engineered for the purpose, and the resulting product could only do the original task for which it was created. Homaetrix’s technology – for which several patents are underway – will automatically build the software and automatically install it utilising hardware a fraction of the cost of prior solutions.
This is regarded as the critical step to carve out the bulk of the cost in an installation. Gilbert estimates that many installations using the Homaetrix technology might only be 15 per cent of their historical cost. For example, Homaetrix’s technology allows ordinary £1 light switches to participate in smart home installations, rather than depending on costly ‘intelligent’ light switches that frequently cost in the range of £30 to £300.
The company’s technology also permits remote door unlocking – by a responsible relative, or call centre – enabling carers, for example, to gain access to the home in an emergency without having to waste precious time hunting for keys.
Automatically locking doors and checking window status at night can help improve security for those who are developing dementia and therefore becoming forgetful. Here, the emphasis on automated installation and extremely low cost are critical.
Gilbert says the UK simply doesn’t have the money to provide such facilities to all of the vulnerable people who might benefit in this way. By reducing hardware cost and providing very simple installation the provision of these highly pragmatic services to the widest market, irrespective of ability or disability, will further drive down prices and foster availability.
Another feature which helps dementia suffers is the ability to raise an alarm, and/or automatically shut-off electrical appliances, or the gas or water supply in the event that the occupant has forgotten to turn off an appliance such as the cooker or a bath tap. In an ageing society, the telehealth capabilities of the Homaetrix solution are obvious.
But Homaetrix isn’t focusing its marketing on ‘all things to all men’ pitch – at least not with early adopters. It is seeking engagement first and expansion of capability later.
And that’s the really clever thing about the St John’s Innovation Centre company’s solution – it keeps things simple. Homaetrix designs and markets hardware and software to enable the installation of smart technology that turns homes and commercial premises into intelligent buildings that reflect the health, mood and budget of the occupants.
But there are no smoke and mirrors. The technology is designed so that any electrician can handle the installation cost-effectively. And Homaetrix has no intention of swamping customers with the science.
Its technology can do so many things that some occupiers would only be baffled if they were hit with the full array of possibilities at one go. So Homaetrix has decided to promote basic functionality; once installed the system will then open customers’ eyes to wider possibilities.
Gilbert believes end-users have become frustrated because current suppliers of intelligent systems to the home environment are obsessed by gadgetry – fad rather than functionality – which can often be expensive and fails to address basic issues such as comfort and care.
Homaetrix is overcoming these barriers to sale and installation. It has created innovative hardware components for the home, supported by advanced ‘design-install-use’ software, which automates the system definition and delivery process and de-skills the installation procedure.
It has created modular components, using an open standards approach, which allows interoperation of multiple devices from multiple vendors. And it provides controls solutions for all types of small buildings where the cost of currently available building management systems is simply not justified.
The company’s iCentro system, for example, delivers solutions that embrace lighting, heating & cooling, security, and multimedia – all managed by one seamlessly integrated solution at a very attractive price point.
iCentro integrates all the requirements of a home including lighting controls with mood lighting, air conditioning, renewable energy sources, curtains and blinds, energy management, security integration, intercom and access control, multi room audio distribution, swimming pool controls, irrigation controls and water leak detection – all internet connected, monitored and controlled from anywhere via your smartphone.
Gilbert, who founded Amino Communications, and his team are well aware that the technology could be spun out into numerous commercial, retail and public sector buildings – and also into international markets – but Homaetrix is initially retaining a sharp focus on a largely untapped UK residential sector.
Gilbert said: “It was a question we asked ourselves at the outset because we realised the technology had vast potential across different markets and territories. We decided to focus on a huge area of unmet need in the UK and to use our novel solution to conquer a disillusioned marketplace – primarily in the residential sector, including affordable housing.
“We have been extremely fortunate in the timing of our proposition. The management team is enormously experienced, very mature, and all committed passionately to the vision. Some gave up jobs they had no intention of quitting until they realised the opportunity we had engineered.
“Previous attempts to do what we have achieved failed partly because the market was misunderstood. The term smart home, which I personally don’t like, is misleading; it is redolent of lifestyle; of gadgets and geekery.
“Most home owners don’t think that way. They are environmentally aware and energy conscious. They want cost-effective, functional solutions that improve the way they live without being over the top.
“Which is why we talk about the intelligent built environment rather than smart homes. If automotive manufacturers 20 years ago hadn’t realised the need to amalgamate electronic and mechanical capability we wouldn’t have the quality of cars we see today.
“We have integrated the electronic and mechanical elements inherent in our solution to deliver the ultimate intelligent built environment. Five years of engineering has been squeezed into the last 12 months developing our product line. We have invested in the home environment of the future.
“In doing so we were aware that we had to counter market scepticism. Just as people were sceptical about the likely success of the Apple iPad. If you’d asked people before the iPad launch whether they wanted the product they would probably have said: ‘No – what on earth for?’ Ten million sales later ...
“We are not selling widgets; we are selling value. Our confidence was buoyed at a major expo recently where response to our technology was sensational – from home owners, schools, local authorities, care homes – even from electricians. Our connectivity is so simple. It was our first public engagement and it went superbly well, generating an encouraging number of leads.
“We have started selling product and begun shipping. We’re building early production units in Malaysia, with some manufacture in the UK and hope to retain that model.
“Obviously there is vast future potential in export markets – in Europe and in the United States where there are an awful lot of homes. But to sell overseas you have to be steeped in the culture of the target market.
“We hear the same language in America but selling technology there means dealing with a completely different culture; that is the case around the world. For now, while remaining astutely aware of future potential internationally, we are happy to partner with overseas collaborators who are steeped in their local culture.
“Unlike a lot of startups who decline to partner either through greed or fear, we see only benefits in letting someone pay us to let them market our technology in their country while we’re feeling our way. Our revenues increase; our reach grows and we share the goodies. Perhaps it’s just a question of maturity.”
Homaetrix has been funded by the directors to date but that’s all set to change with the upcoming Series A round.
Gilbert said the business had a lean growth model so would not require massive headcount. He estimated it could grow effectively on a third of the labour force traditional in the segment.
Nor does the company feel the need to be opening offices all round the world. Gilbert said: “I don’t see any reason to leave Cambridge. We are not building the products ourselves; all the manufacturing is sub-contracted – and we are setting up distribution routes for the hardware. As long as we retain the IP here that’s what counts.”