NC RIoT IX in Raleigh

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On Tuesday March 22nd, NC RIoT held RIoT IX at the Raleigh Convention Center. 

For the uninitiated, NC RIoT stands for North Carolina Regional Internet of Things. While the acronym is a bit of a mouthful, the goal of the seminar is fairly simple. Many of our devices are connected to the Internet. Many of these devices collect data and metrics. How do we get these myriad devices to communicate, collaborate and make our lives easier or our endeavors more fruitful? Specifically, how to we create and cultivate the IoT industry in NC? 
The event was hosted by NXP, the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina, VisitRaleigh (who provided the much appreciated beer and wine), and many othersThe meetup, tacked onto the annual Data 4 Decisions conference, was attended by over 300 RIoT-ers, consisting of thought leaders, industry members and entrepreneurs. 

NC RIoT IX gathered 300 people in March at the Raleigh Convention Center to talk about investment opportunities in IoT. Credit: Reify Media
After a quick introduction to the who and what of NC RIoT by organizers Larry Steffann and Matthew Davis, Dhruv Patel of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) took the stage. CED is the “largest and longest running network for entrepreneurs in the country”, tracking over 1800 companies and the 250 or so investors with whom they have a relationship.

Patel spent most of his time on the stage providing an overview of funding and exits in the state over the past few years. We’ve documented the state’s whopping $1.1 billion in funding secured in 2015, as well as the growing median deal size, but check out the full presentation here. According to Patel, all signs point to rapid growth of business in the state, especially for finance and accounting companies who accounted for nearly half of the tech funding in 2015.

Next up was the RIoT IX keynote, “If I Had $10 Million to Invest in IoT, Where Would I Invest?”, given by an energetic and technologically-plagued Daniel Chui of Verizon Ventures. Unfortunately for Chui (and ironic given the topic of the seminar), the connection between the presenters’ laptop and the projector couldn’t be repaired after a technical snafu, forcing him to continue on without his slides. 
While a few attendees took the AV difficulties as an opportunity to freshen their drinks, Chui quickly decided to give up on the slides and went on with his keynote. The two main points were 1—what Verizon Ventures does and 2—what he and his team view as the next big investment opportunities within IoT. 

Verizon Ventures’ tagline is “Combining smart capital with access to Verizon’s vast ecosystem and strategic roadmap, we deliver entrepreneurs smart money and targeted resources.” The fund can do things like provide smaller startups with “access to market research, business support, or subsidize rent.” Ventures attempts to play the role of mentor, investor, facilitator and partner for smaller companies. Check out its whole mission statement here.

Now for the big question—where would you spend $10 million in the IoT sector? Chui lays out three main areas. 
Security: Smart devices like thermostats, security systems and lighting are becoming more common and more interconnected. Many of these devices send out packages of data at regular intervals. Say these data packages suddenly become larger in size or send data at seemingly strange or random intervals. Smart security could detect and alert users to this erratic activity. 
Analytics: When many of our devices work together and communicate, it can have wondrous results. Smart lighting may turn on 10 minutes before we arrive home from work. That’s great. But if you have an erratic schedule, the system can have trouble keeping up. An intelligent analytics system could draw from a myriad of sources to make automated decisions that adapt to complex patterns. For example, it could check in with your calendar to know your arrival time. 

Industry: Sensor technology in machines is old news. However, are these sensors smart? Adaptable? Machines may have maintenance sensors that go off after X number of cycles, but this does not take into account the material they’re working with, the heat of components or ambient temperature, or how many cycles may have been performed in one bout. All of these things could affect when or whether a piece of machinery needs maintenance, or if a critical failure is imminent. Smart and connected sensors could save untold sums in repair costs, lost productivity and increase the safety of workers or product quality.

Next up were the pitches for—you guessed it—the RIoT Championship wrestling belt. Five contenders gave seven-minute pitches for their local IoT business. The following are the contenders and a brief overview of their businesses. 

Vestal Industries 

First up was Jake Vestal of Vestal Industries. Just as a note, the author has never seen a man this excited about concrete and concrete processing. His pitch centered around a suite of sensors that track the quality of concrete from when it is first transferred into the truck to when it reaches the job site. Concrete transportation is a surprisingly nuanced business, and Vestal estimates his sensor technology could bring in half a billion dollars a year. He treats this type of industrial quality control. IoT sensor system as the first of a suite of products, going as far as to say that "I want it to be the Facebook of this kinda thing—the first pin that knocks down the rest."

Jake Vestal at NC RIoT IX
Jake Vestal pitches Vestal Industries at NC RIoT IX in Raleigh March 22, 2016. Credit: Reify Media


Next was Sanjay Patel of TiO home automation. Interestingly enough, it was the only company focusing on the consumer/home automation sector of IoT. Installing smart home technology can be outlandishly costly (Patel recalled an installation quote for $375,000) or outlandishly ineffective (think throwaway products from Best Buy). As of now, Patel says, there is little middle ground. In his words, TiO is “focusing on the mainstream market instead of the ‘one percenter’s house.” 
He also has a secondary goal. By getting into the homes of mainstream America, he has an interesting look into the metrics of middle class life. This data could be incredibly valuable to the right buyer. 


Mark Self is CEO of Entigral, an RFID-based asset tracking solutions company. Its RFID and barcode centered system of inventory and information management has wide applications, but recently the company has focused on automobile maintenance and inventory management. It’s the same technology some hotels have utilized in order to curb towel theft.

The vision is this, according to Self: “Say you drive into a dealership for maintenance. The person knows your name, your car, your problem. Simple and personal.”


Of all the companies on this list, none hits the “Industrial IoT” nail on the head like ProAxion. Actually, it also tackles the issue of predictive vs. descriptive analytics, as detailed by Chu in his keynote. Justin Rothwell, CEO and founder of ProAxion, has developed a suite of sensors that function as a “check engine light for manufacturing facilities”. Vibration sensors on machine housings feed data to the cloud, where algorithms predict equipment failures and maintenance times. Being able to avoid critical machinery failures and keep equipment in top shape can save time, along with labor and parts costs. 
The company is targeting mid-size factories, which Rothwell sees as an unexploited niche, given his estimate that only one percent of these production facilities utilize predictive modeling. The company prides itself on efficiency and utility. Rothwell and his partners went “from the whiteboard to the first install in six weeks”. While Rothwell is a soft spoken and understated presenter, his company's strategy is aggressive and calculated. 


While wearable tech is one of the most visible examples of IoT devices, FokusLabs’ RE-Vibe was the only wearable company to present at RIoT IX. Created by school psychologist turned entrepreneur Rich Brancaccio, RE-vibe is a wrist-mounted wearable which uses subtle vibrations to remind children and adults alike to stay on task. The company utilizes proprietary algorithms to detect when someone may be off task and sends a vibration to the device as a reminder of what they should be doing. In a clinical study, subjects using the devices saw significant increases in productivity. RE-vibe is already in hundreds of schools through direct sales, and its successes have spurred on expansion and confidence in the product. This team is planning to move into branded devices (i.e. Yoda-themed devices for children) and sell in bricks and mortar stores. FokusLabs also hopes to adapt its software for iOS-based devices and other wearables. 
And the winner is… 
Matthew Davis wrestling belt
Matthew Davis presents the NC RIoT wrestling belt for the winner of the pitch contest. Credit: Reify Media


As stated previously, the company had strong footing in both the analytic and industrial sectors of IoT. Judges Brian Handly of Reveal Mobile, Daniel Chu of Verizon Ventures, Eva Doss and Robert Creeden, former head of Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, took just about five minutes to reach their decision. Your writer barely had time to grab his last beer of the event before walking back in to hear the decision. The company vision was clear, its niche untapped and the device and solutions suite simple and useful. 
Despite donning a weightlifting belt worn backwards and adorned with some bedazzling and cardboard, Rothwell looked elated. And why not? Four industry leaders in IoT chose him out of five incredible competitors. The company already has deliverable products, and this most recent win is yet another vote of confidence in his vision. The industry is young and evolving constantly alongside the capabilities of sensor technologies and analytics, and his product is in an incredible and profitable place. 
The event was “low-key” but large. As much as I hate that phrase, the room was hot and and the beer was free. If you’ve been to a few late afternoon seminars, you understand the mood. The difference between those seminars and this one was the quality of the ideas presented. 
I’m writing this in a bar with wifi while checking my MyFitnessPal dashboard on my laptop. I’m adding drink-based calories into MFP that are offset by exercise-based calorie negations calculated by the accelerometer in my phone through the iHealth platform. Whether you notice or not, IoT and connected devices are creeping into our everyday lives, and the businesses injecting themselves in the industry into this early adoption phase are the ones that are going to survive. 
The Internet of Things is here to stay, and so it seems, is NC RIoT.