Microsoft Backs Home Automation Startups

The company's startup accelerator and venture capital arm selects 10 firms to help spur the market for smart home technologies.

Microsoft backs home automation startups

Microsoft and American Family Insurance have announced which firms they are backing as part of a home automation startup accelerator program launched two months ago.

During Microsoft's Global Startup Day event in San Francisco on June 17, the companies unveiled a new Microsoft Ventures Accelerator at the software giant's Redmond, Wash., campus. One aim of the initiative is to help commercialize safety-enhancing smart home innovations.

Dan Reed, managing director of American Family Ventures, said in a statement that the program would help "early-stage companies bring new products and services to market that can make our policyholders' homes and lives safer." For Microsoft, it's a chance to establish a foothold in the burgeoning market for Internet of things (IoT) solutions.

"The Internet of things, and home automation in particular, is rapidly emerging," said Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of developer experience and evangelism for Microsoft, in an Aug. 13 announcement. "With consumer demand growing for solutions that are intuitive, connected and affordable, there are tremendous opportunities for new players in the space."

The field is also attracting its share of tech investors. Home automation companies are raking in an estimated 21 percent of all funding being poured into IoT, according to private equity and venture capital research firm PitchBook.

After a two-month selection process and a pouring over of 400 applications, Microsoft narrowed down the hopefuls to a "diverse group" of 10 startups. According to Microsoft Ventures, the list of companies and technologies includes the following:

1. Chai Energy: Delivers real-time energy understanding—from the whole house to individual appliances.

2. Heatwork: The first fully electronic, connected, water heater that conserves water and energy in any application.

3. Neura: A platform that provides intelligent experiences between users and their connected environments with devices that gain contextual awareness and adaptive learning.

4. Novi Security: Portable smart-security system to seamlessly track activities across the home.

5. Reemo: A wrist-worn, gesture control wearable, interoperable interface for both conventional appliances and more recent connected homes.

6. Plum: WiFi enabled light-pads, smart plugs and outlets that let the users control lights and electronics from a wall switch or from anywhere in the world using a smartphone.

7. Red Balloon Security: Host-based defense for embedded devices.

8. Scanalytics: A platform for understanding consumer behavior in the offline world.

9. Sentri: An HD camera with built-in sensors that track a home's vital stats and trends, allowing users to track temperature, humidity, air quality, weather and more.

10. Wallflowr: Connected home technology that helps consumers prevent and significantly reduce risks related to accidental fires caused by ranges, stoves and ovens.

Notably, Reemo, from Minneapolis-based Playtabase, blends aspects of two of today's biggest trends in tech: wearables and IoT. The gesture-based Reemo band allows users to control PCs and simple electronics with wrist movements, which are transmitted to a host Windows or Mac PC.

"We share the belief that over time the home automation trend will fundamentally change how we interact with and manage our homes—making them more efficient, communicative and ultimately safer," said Guggenheimer. The companies are gearing up to show off their wares during a Demo Day event in December, he added.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...