We’ve seen a lot of startups attempting to take on Google’s Nest, Apple, Amazon, Samsung and other giants in the always-soon-to-arrive, but never-quite-there market of the “smart home." While the path for these startups is long, rocky and strewn with failures, that doesn’t mean they can’t turn a profit for investors.
Such appears to be the case for Flex (aka Flextronics), which last week revealed that it has sold Wink, the home automation startup it bought out of bankruptcy, to I.am+, the lifestyle technology company of rapper and musician of Black Eyed Peas fame, will.i.am.
According to Flex’s latest quarterly report, Wink was sold to an “unrelated third party” for $38.7 million on the sale, as well as a $20 million commitment toward future manufacturing. That’s more than twice the $15 million that Flextronics spent to acquire Wink from bankrupt New York City incubator Quirky in 2015. I.am+ and Flex both confirmed the sale with Techcrunch, but didn’t disclose more details.
Wink released a statement last week saying that it would continue to operate as usual, and planned to announce new features and partners in the coming months. Flex still has that $20 million commitment to keep making Wink’s hubs and touchscreen monitors, which have received generally favorable reviews in comparison with Alexa, Nest and other smart home devices.
It may be for the better for the company’s fortunes that, at least as of this writing, the I.am+ website had no mention of Wink. The only product currently for sale is a $200 set of button headphones, putting will.i.am in competition with every other rapper and musician. Its list of failures include a £199 ($262) camera to attach to your smartphone that already has a camera, and an out-of-stock offer on the £399.99 ($527.90) Dial “smartcuff,” a much-panned attempt to compete with LG, Samsung, Apple, Huawei and other giants in the smart wearables market.
Wink’s acquisition overshadowed another home automation investment with a more sensible storyline. On Thursday, Australian utility AGL announced it is investing $10 million in San Francisco-based startup August Homes, as part of a $25 million Series C round including previous investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Comcast Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures, and new investors Liberty Mutual and European private equity fund SPDG.
August Homes has so far concentrated on home security, with smartphone-connected smart door locks, keypads and doorbell cams. Its new round will help fund an expanded product line and integration with smart home ecosystems such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Nest.
Perhaps more importantly, it also brings in AGL as a channel partner. “Our investment provides us with an opportunity to participate in, learn and help shape the emergence of this new, exciting technology and bring it to Australian consumers,” Elisabeth Brinton, AGL’s executive general manager of new energy, said in a Thursday blog post.
The utility has been an active investor in grid edge companies -- Advanced Microgrid Solutions most recently -- and has transformed an initial investment in solar-battery provider Sunverge into the world’s biggest virtual power plant project. Smartphone-connected door locks aren’t an energy technology, of course. But they do give AGL another technology to lure in residential customers in Australia’s competitive energy market, as well as a springboard to other connected devices in the home.
Moving from smart homes to smart buildings, “whole-building” energy analytics startup Ecorithm raised $3.3 million, according to this SEC filing. While the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based startup has been relatively quiet about its fundraising, SEC filings show it raised $13.8 million in VC in June 2016, and has raised a total of about $5.7 million in debt financing since 2013.
The startup’s cloud-based energy analytics software platform, developed from research at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was being used to optimize about 5.5 million square feet of commercial building space, the company told the Santa Barbara Independent in 2015. Most of that was in New York City, home of company chairman and real estate tycoon Daniel Tishman, with other notable deployments at Citrix Systems facilities in North Carolina.
Also in 2015, Ecorithm announced an agreement with NextGen Ventures, the VC capital fund backed by India-based Reliance Industries, to put its software to use in buildings in that country.