Editor’s Note: Civil Geeks is our new tech and science column by well-known local tech geeks, Ryan Ozawa and Burt Lum. They are taking turns writing the weekly column; it launched Tuesday with this piece by Burt.
Ibis Networks, born out of military research and development and nurtured into a business by Hawaii’s growing innovation sector, is poised to serve a national market with its energy-saving smart sockets.
A sleeping computer, a phone charger without a phone, a coffee maker waiting to brew a steaming cup of java at a moment’s notice: The electricity wasted by idle equipment in an empty room is so small it inspires ethereal names like “phantom load” and “energy vampires.”
But just as a thousand tiny creeks become a raging torrent downstream, a thousand sleeping devices add up to a flood of wasted energy in an office building, and a tangible financial and environmental impact in a community.
This waste is hard to measure at the meter out front, and cutting the power to a skyscraper after-hours isn’t a solution. That’s where Ibis Networks comes in. Its IntelliSocket gives businesses data and control down to individual power sockets. Those sockets can be programmed to turn on and off and provide real-time data on energy consumption, all monitored and controlled from anywhere, including mobile devices like an iPad.
Deployed throughout a building or campus, the company estimates that commercial and government facilities could cut their energy consumption at the plug level by as much as 40 percent.
“Plug load is the next big step in commercial building energy management,” said Kevin Hause, Ibis’ chief operating officer.
To prove it, Ibis Networks had to find its way from a lab at Oceanit, a local research and development firm, to real customers. And with much of the global startup ecosystem focused on apps and software-as-a-service plays, the team was taking on an added challenge with its hardware component.
“There is a very big difference between making a device connected and making a device smart.” Kevin Hause, Ibis Networks chief operating officer
“While it can be challenging to grow a hardware business, the ‘Internet of Things’ does require things,” Hause said. “Hardware is hard, but providing real time actionable outcomes is really what the IoT revolution is about.”
In fact, IntelliSockets and the overarching IntelliNetwork do more than turn off computer monitors. The system can also detect unusually high loads, predict power failures, and prioritize outlets to ensure that critical equipment remains on.
“There is a very big difference between making a device connected and making a device smart,” Hause added. “We are building our business model around the intelligent software and systems that make those things smart.”
Spun out as a separate company, Ibis Networks was accepted into an early cohort of companies in the Energy Excelerator program in 2013. Ibis “graduated” the following year and entered the accelerator’s demonstration track, and soon launched an ambitious demonstration project with the University of Hawaii. Backed by the Energy Excelerator and Hawaii Energy, the company deployed more than 1,000 of its IntelliSockets in an energy management system across three campuses last year. The company expects to help the university save as much as $200,000 over five years.
In the meantime, like any startup, Ibis Networks needed to raise additional funding and reach a wider audience. Local impact investment firm Ulupono Initiative invested $350,000 in the company last March, and serial entrepreneur Henk Rogers put in another $50,000. In October, company CEO Michael Pfeffer was selected to be among 13 presenters at the 2015 VERGE Accelerate conference in San Jose (VERGE Hawaii is set for June).
A Big Drain
Commercial buildings consumed 17.9 quadrillion (or 17,900,000,000,000,000) BTUs of energy in 2009, nearly 19 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States. (Source: U.S. Department of Energy)
And Ibis Networks hit one of its more significant company milestones last week, when it announced a new partnership with Alerton, a national building automation firm that’s part of Honeywell. Based in Lynnwood, Washington, Alerton makes and sells systems that control lighting, heating, air conditioning, and other systems. And all those systems will work with Ibis’ offerings.
“For Ibis, this partnership gives us instant global reach and over 150 dealers that can sell into their existing client base as well as to new clients,” Hause said. “We believe that this partnership will be an inflection point in our growth, accelerating our sales and giving us the revenues we need to fuel our progress.”
“Of course the potential sales volume is meaningful, but perhaps even more important is the validation of Ibis as the leader in this emerging space,” he adds.
The Alerton deal is significant enough that it’s currently the main focus of the Ibis team. But it is also the first of what the company hopes will be several partnerships, and toward that end, the company’s next development priority will be integrating its analytics platform with more third-party control systems.
Now buoyed by a national partner, Hause acknowledges that the company got its start with a lot of local help.
“The startup ecosystem in Hawaii is still small, but is very dynamic and growing,” He said. “We benefited from many of the local resources that are here to help small companies.”
He continues: “I would encourage other entrepreneurs to do the same… not just (for) engineering, but incubators, funding groups, legal help, and more, all exist to help small companies get the footing they need.”
Disclosure: The Ulupono Initiative was founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.
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Ryan Ozawa is a life-long geek, avid media maker, and community builder focused on the Hawaii tech and innovation scene. He is the communications director for local tech firm Hawaii Information Service, a former newspaper editor, and proud husband and dad of three. He is a co-host of Bytemarks Cafe on Hawaii Public Radio. You can follow him on Twitter at @Hawaii .