PointGrab nails $5M for ‘smart’ building automation technology

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The craze over the Internet of Things (IoT) has obscured its infusion of life into once-considered-boring industries like cleantech, making more manageable the dormant promises of energy efficiency made by companies going back to before the cleantech market bust in 2012. Consider that with this recent funding announcement.

IoT and smart building company PointGrab announced a $5 million funding round led by ABB Technology Ventures (ATV), EcoMachines Ventures, and Flex Lab IX. Their chairman of the board and co-founder Saar Wilf is also returning for the new round.

PointGrab counts over 27 million installations on devices manufactured by Samsung, Fujitsu, Acer, and Lenovo, among others. They specialize in residential building automation that helps manage energy, lighting, access control, video analytics, and HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning).

The company purports to be developing advanced optical sensors that integrate into building light fixtures which then can cover “every square inch of the building” in which they’re installed. Its sensors use deep learning algorithms to provide information on the location and number of people in a given space or service the building’s various utilities: not a unique feature but something that’s attracted big investments and acquisitions over the last several years. Enlighted, a Sunnyvale startup that’s raised over $55 million through Series D, also links sensors to light fixtures for intelligent lighting networks, as does Commscope’s Redwood Systems and Acuity’s Adura Technologies, which also feature this technology.

“The company provides a leading example of successful and scalable hardware/software integration in the growing IoT market, with a hugely scalable business model,” said EcoMachines CEO Dr. Ilian Iliev in a statement. Flex’s Jeannine Sargent, their president of innovation, referred to PointGrab’s object-tracking IP as a main attraction for her company in deciding to invest while ATV VP Dr. Kurt Kaltenegger said PointGrab would help their “next level strategy for the Internet of Things, Services, and People (IoTSP).”

Smart building boom reboots the cleantech market

The Council House in Perth, Australia lit by LEDs in the evening. LEDs are part of the smart and clean lighting networks companies like PointGrab are offering (CC BY 2.0 Lachlan Hardy via Wikimedia Commons)
The Council House in Perth, Australia lit by LEDs in the evening. LEDs are part of the smart and clean lighting networks companies like PointGrab are offering (CC BY 2.0 Lachlan Hardy via Wikimedia Commons)

The market for smart building or “building automation” will be worth anywhere between $30 billion and $55.48 billion by 2020, according to James McHale’s smart building research firm Memoori and Markets and MarketsMercom Capital Group reported about $325 million in venture capital deals in Q1 2015 alone for smart building companies, with $185 million devoted solely to smart grids.

It’s reinvigorating a gone-bust cleantech market, something actually having a massive impression on Chris Buddin, the global head of the Clean Technology and Renewables Group and IoT investments for Goldman Sachs. “One of the most exciting trends in IoT for me is the fusion of tech and energy, or what we call clean tech,” he said recently, pointing to easy fixes like the deployment of LEDs ahead of major initiatives that would totally disrupt the energy market. “By deploying sensors with those LEDs, you can add a lot of value-added services, as well.”

Smart grids seem to be the most popular vertical according to Mercom’s data, with EnerTech Capital the most prolific investor: MIT spin-off Ecovent announced in July it had raised $6.9 million in Series A led by Emerson Climate Technologies; Oakland-based Lucid scored over $14.2 million in Series B from the likes of Autodesk, Zetta Venture Partners and GE Ventures; Quebec-based Distech Controls actually exited for $252 million in an acquisition by Acuity back in March, joining Acuity’s portfolio companies Sensor Switch, Adura Technologies (which also embeds sensors in lights), and Lighting Control and Design; and Blue Pillar and Enbala Power Networks (in Series C and D) each raised $14 million, including from EnerTech.

It’s a small investment, but PointGrab is playing with (and managing) fire with its technology. Its investors and founders see a major opportunity in the re-emerging cleantech market, thanks to the cross-sector penetration of IoT.

ABB Group’s corporate venture arm invests in early-stage companies and to date has invested about $150 million since 2010. Their favorites are in the realm of cybersecurity, smart grids, big data, and renewable power. The have locations in Zurich, Silicon Valley and Connecticut. London-based EcoMachines focuses its portfolio on B2B hardware companies with particular attention on smart cities, transportation, and the circular economy. Flex Lab IX is based in Milpitas, California.

PointGrab was co-founded by Chairman Saar Wilf, CEO Haim Perski, and VP Technology Amir Kaplan. The rest of the executive team includes CFO Efrat Ben Meir, CTO Yonatan Hyatt, CBO Itamar Roth, VP of R&D Eyal Frishman, and VP Operations Shmulik Shemesh.

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