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July 6, 2015

Relying on Crowds to Fund the Internet of Everything

By Bizking2u (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A favorite source of financing for many Internet of Everything (IoE) startups is crowdfunding—specifically Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  It’s proved to be an effective way both to raise seed money and get a feel for potential market enthusiasm, as well as suggestions from helpful funders.

Here’s a look at three startups that recently ran successful campaigns.

Potted Plants and Lawn Sprinkler Systems

Friends and fellow San Diego residents James Canyon and Robert Ganton often complained to one another about the inadequacy of their lawn’s sprinkler controllers. About a year and a half ago, that led to the launch of a company, Digital Spring, and the development of a low-cost soil moisture sensor device called Daisy, along with a Kickstarter campaign that raised about $30,000 in March.

It all started over a few beers, when the two pals came up with the idea of using a sensor-based system for lawns that wouldn’t waste water. They soon got to work on a product that they called ECCO. It had a controller device sitting on a sprinkler valve and sensors placed in the grass. Once a day, the soil-moisture sensors would automatically tell the sprinkler how much to water.

In the process of their work, however, Canyon and Ganton decided to put ECCO on hold, and focus on something simpler—a product for potted plants. With the same basic technology employed in the sprinkler system, it would measure the amount of water in the soil, the frequency and spectrum of light hitting the plant, and the temperature of the air. Sensors would send that information wirelessly to a phone where an app could tell users whether a plant was receiving the optimal amount of water and light. And it would be integrated with a library of crowdsourced data on plants.

At that point, the partners realized they needed money to do a limited manufacturing run. Kickstarter seemed like a good place to start.  Both engineers were in the cellular phone industry.

“We understood how to manufacture things very inexpensively and in a very high volume,” says Canyon.

Late last year, they ran a campaign on the site—and it flopped.  So, they made some changes; for example, lowering the goal from $50,000 to $5,000 and making sure they had at least 100 backers on day one.

The second campaign was a success, raising a good deal more than $5,000, from 420 people. Now, they’re planning to ramp up production in August and start shipping early next year.

Teaching Bad Drivers Good Habits

A major factor affecting gas consumption in cars isn’t the engine—it’s the behavior of the driver. That was the inspiration for a company called Drust, and a product named AKOLYT.

Based in Paris, automotive engineers Michael Fernandez, Pascal Galacteros and Florent Pignal developed an IoE system and app to help motorists improve their driving habits. The system also connects drivers to such auto-related parties, like their insurance company and mechanic.

The basis of the system, which the co-founders started developing in 2014, depends on onboard diagnosis (OBD), in US cars since 1996 and European vehicles starting in 2001. AKOLYT transmits OBD data through Bluetooth to a smart phone, synthesizing it and making recommendations—say, taking your foot off the accelerator when you’re coming to a red light. You can place your phone by the dashboard and get the information in real-time or at the end of your trip.

For added motivation, there’s also a game element.

”Changing driving habits is quite a challenge,” says Fernandez. “If you try to do it in a boring way, people won’t respond.”

With that in mind, they gamified the experience so that drivers can focus on changing one particular habit. As they succeed, they win points, passing different levels of achievement the better they perform.

In March, the founders raised 62,000 euros on Indiegogo, almost double the goal. They’re using the money to further develop the product. And with the success of the campaign under their belt, they’re now trying to raise money from venture capital firms and angels to fund production and a commercial launch.

An Open-Source Robot

For a long time, Kevin King, an avid tinkerer, photographer and entrepreneur in Vancouver, WA, had a thing for robots. In the fall of 2014, he set out to design a system that would supply the necessary hardware allowing customers to create their own little gizmos, called Ringo, with a handful of examples of what they could program the device to do. For example; poke the robot in one direction and it will turn, attack your finger, and its eyes will turn yellow and red. The device would include about 10 sensors, included accelerometers to detect motion, a gyroscope to pick up on rotation in different directions, and light sensors for such functions as getting a 360-degree view.

To build a prototype, King ran a Kickstarter campaign earlier in the year. He raised $85,000 from 720 backers, a good deal more than the $12,000 he was asking for. King hopes to start shipping by end of June, and there will be an online store at


Anne Field is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering entrepreneurship and small business. A freelancer for many years, she has contributed to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Business Insider, Crain's New York Business, Inc., and the New York Times, in addition to many other publications. She lives in Pelham, NY, with her husband, two children, and dog. Used with the permission of

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