Mobiplug app offers remote control of devices
These annoyances and threats are well known to every homeowner and apartment renter. They also are some of the problems Mobiplug Networks Inc. hopes to solve on its way to becoming the next TechStars startup to make it big.
Mobiplug is a Boulder-based startup that is developing technology that lets users control hundreds of wireless devices from apps on their smartphones or tablets.
Mobiplug sees an opportunity to take advantage of a major technological trend: The migration of wireless technology from smartphones and computers to humble devices such as thermostats, light switches and appliances.
Mobiplug is building a wireless gateway that connects those devices to the Internet. The Mobiplug app and gateway will be connected through the cloud by Mobiplug software.
The app will allow users to automate their homes and control devices from all over the world. A smartphone’s GPS technology also will allow Mobiplug to recognize where a user is, which will allow it to turn on lights or other devices automatically as the user is coming home.
The ultimate goal is building the home monitoring and control systems homeowners have been imagining for decades at a price point the mass market can afford. That goal isn’t very far away, according to Mike Soucie, Mobiplug cofounder and vice president for sales and marketing.
“We’re at a point in time where technology has arrived for all of this to actually occur,” Soucie said. “Everybody is carrying a smartphone in their pocket, and everybody has a ubiquitous wi-fi connection.”
A number of companies, including Verizon, Comcast and home security company ADT, are developing home control and monitoring systems of their own. The problem with those companies, according to Mobiplug chief executive Tim Enwall, is they lock customers into their proprietary systems with a limited number of devices. They’re also pretty expensive.
What will separate Mobiplug is the freedom of choice and versatility it will allow consumers, its simplicity and an accessible price point, Enwall said.
Mobiplug’s gateway will be plug-and-play and able to discover the devices it needs to work with. It will understand a number of wireless protocols and will allow consumers to add devices from different manufacturers over time, Enwall said.
Mobiplug’s versatility will spare consumers the hassle of having separate systems for different needs or being locked into a provider’s product line. That model also spares Mobiplug the challenge of developing, building and marketing its own line of devices, Enwall said.
Mobiplug has plans for a retail launch in 12 to 18 months, Enwall said. Users will be able to buy Mobiplug’s gateway for a few hundred dollars, download the app and set up a home system.
In that time, Mobiplug’s competitors might have done the company a favor if it can deliver a superior product.
“They’re educating the market,” Enwall said, “and we ultimately believe they will become channels for (selling) these kinds of solutions.”
Mobiplug was founded by Soucie, Lee Taylor and Jeff Mathews, three serial entrepreneurs with years of experience with startups.
The TechStars startup accelerator was pivotal for Mobiplug. It was there its founders connected with Enwall, who served as TechStars’ entrepreneur in residence after leaving Tendril Networks Inc. Enwall founded Tendril and was its chief information officer until this year. He remains an advisor to the company.
At TechStars, Enwall got a close-up view of the Mobiplug team, did his due diligence and was impressed, especially after Mobiplug made a pivot.
“Halfway through TechStars they changed their concept in a direction that was interesting,” Enwall said, “and they recognized it was a fairly global, big opportunity and that they would enjoy some more seasoned leadership, in addition to themselves.”
Early in TechStars, Mobiplug’s founders were leaning toward becoming a company that developed its own devices. Sprinkler control systems were one possibility, said Taylor, who is the vice president of engineering. During the program, they rethought their idea and headed in a much more ambitious direction.
“There are tons of devices out there already, but they don’t really work well with each other. There are all these different silos in the marketplace,” Taylor said. “We said, ‘You know, we could talk to all of those and actually make them work with each other and break down those barriers and give the consumer choice in what they’re putting in their homes.’ ”
Mobiplug then had to build a prototype gateway in advance of Demo Day on Aug. 9. The event is the culmination of TechStars, during which founders pitch their companies to investors.
The team was able to finish the prototype — or at least the important parts — by Demo Day. Right now it’s a circuit board and antennas, with a case design forthcoming. On display around the prototype are a half-dozen or so remote-controlled devices, including a lock, thermostat and light. All of them can be controlled by a mobile app on a smartphone.
The vision and the prototype worked with investors. In late September, Mobiplug announced it raised $2.7 million in a Series A round led by Foundry Group, the Boulder-based venture capital investment firm.
Mobiplug plans to use the investment to scale up quickly. The company needs mobile-app developers, and user interface designers and engineers.
“We’re looking to scale to 15 people for our product launch, which is next spring,” said Mathews, MobiPlug’s chief technology officer.
The company also is looking for people who will help test Mobiplug in their homes, Enwall said. Information about jobs with Mobiplug can be found at its website, www.Mobiplug.co.
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