Cleantech industry is attracting a great investment stream involving a wide range of segments. Big news this year involved smart grid energy storage startups like Primus Power, or ultracapacitor manufacturer like Ioxus receiving World Bank funding to implement its product in China’s hybrid bus market.
How can we use energy more efficiently? That’s the central question behind many cleantech industry players and that’s why the Department of Energy launched the American Energy Data Challenge. We interviewed Curtis Tongue co-founder of Ohmconnect that won the award after winning the SFunCube hackathon thanks to its revolutionary idea. Ohmconnect can finally bridge the smart home to the smart grid [check out their video on Vimeo].
How was your idea born? How did you set up your startup and put together an effective team?
I was working on a project that monitored a user’s scope 1 / scope 2 carbon footprint and coached them on how to reduce. While Matt, my co-founder, was had been trading energy for 7 years and recently was at DataRaker, an energy analytics firm. We started working together at a solar hackathon called SFunCube, where we built an app that time-shifted when appliances would run to maximize their use of solar energy.
We won that hackathon, so we decided to continue to collaborate and Ohmconnect.
How are you managing your funding needs and what’s your attitude towards the global startup environment?
After we won the SFunCube hackathon, we decided to see how much we could leverage other tech programs. We applied to and won the U.S. Department of Energy’s “American Energy Data Challenge.” We were also accepted into 500 Startups, Dave McClure’s accelerator in San Francisco, which gives us some seed funding, coaching, and connections into the valley to help catalyze our growth [check out this post on Ohmconnect published on GigaOM].
Ohm connect is a very smart solution to turn everyone’s home in a virtual power plant integrated in a smart grid. What’s the added value of your product?
We’re going around the utilities and selling directly into energy markets, which is about as disruptive as you can get in the industry. We’re essentially building a power plant that has no infrastructure or maintenance costs, other than the servers running our application.
With smart devices starting to permeate our user’s homes, such as Nest, electric vehicles, EcoBee, Belkin, and other smart devices, there’s an enormous opportunity to bridge the smart home to the smart grid.
What trends are going to reshape the cleantech industry? Who’s carrying on the most innovative and cutting edge projects, in your opinion?
Cleantech has traditionally been a very capital-intensive industry, in which billions of dollars are required to roll out new infrastructure and hardware.
While there are many innovative solutions in the hardware space, the “cleanweb” space truly has an asymmetrical cost / benefit relationship. Small investments in innovative software, which takes advantage of pre-existing hardware already in the field, will return the biggest bang-for-your-buck. That’s where we expect the industry to heat up.
Google recently acquired Nest, and other big companies are investing in the home automation industry. What’s your point of view on this? What’s the future of the home automation market?
Home automation is at the forefront of our minds and Nest’s success has validated the space very well.
What has been missing with home automation is that it’s automation for the sake of automation. Sure, there’s some value in returning to your home from a trip and having it heated just the right amount, but the real value lies in how these services are connected to the grid. That’s the bridge that Ohmconnect is building.
Tell us about the best results you achieved, the hardest troubles you faced and…the funniest experiences you’ve been through since the foundation of OHM connect.
We’ve been seeing phenomenal response here, with 20% week over week growth…and many of our users have been connecting with their home automation devices already.
The funniest thing that happened to us was probably in late December. We had been working for a month on the product, but nobody was using it. Matt and I sat down and asked ourselves if anybody really cared about what we were doing. We had discussed a major pivot or potentially even scrapping the idea…that night we got an email the U.S. Department of Energy telling us that we won and the following morning we were accepted into 500 Startups.
The moral of the story? The startup roller coaster is not for the faint of heart.