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It has been a busy couple of weeks for funding in the smart technology space with the launch of a major new venture capital fund and multiple investments reinforcing the continually increasing smart technology start-up trend.
The first week of June saw the launch of Microsoft Ventures. The tech giant unveiled its official VC arm over Memorial Day weekend in the US, setting out a plan to make early-stage investments in businesses developing technology that could augment Microsoft’s core products.
“In Microsoft’s history of engaging with and supporting start-ups, we’ve done a lot of investing, but not a lot of early stage. Because we would often invest alongside commercial deals, we were not a part of the early industry conversations on disruptive technology trends. With a formalised venture fund, Microsoft now has a seat at the table”, said Nagraj Kashyap, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Ventures.
Kashyap arrived at Microsoft from semiconductor firm Qualcomm, where he led Qualcomm’s VC arm. The establishment of Microsoft Ventures fits within the growing trend of corporations launching venture capital arms. Corporate venture investment hit a 15-year high last year, according to the National Venture Capital Association. The trade organisation reported corporate VCs participated in one fifth of all US deals last year, funnelling more than $7.5 billion to start-ups.
Within the technology space Microsoft’s VC arm has arrived relatively late. Intel Capital has been investing in tech start-ups for more than two decades, and Google recently amplified its start-up focus with the launch of an in-house incubator called Area 120. However, Microsoft are not wasting anymore time.
In the context of Smart Buildings, Microsoft participated in a $12 million funding round in Comfy by Building Robotics, an Oakland, California based company that offers a smartphone app for building tenants to regulate air conditioning and other aspects of their work environment. The round was led by Emergence Capital, with other investors CBRE Group and existing investors Claremont Creek Ventures and Westly Group.
Also last week, Aquicore, a leader in real-time data collection and analytics for commercial real-estate, secured $5 million in Series A funding led by Kiddar Capital, a forerunner in smart city venture capital, with Navitas Capital, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm focused on real estate and intelligent building solutions.
Founded by Logan Soya, Aquicore offers owners and operators of commercial portfolios a powerful and flexible platform to deploy, collect and analyze real-time electricity, water and gas data with unprecedented ease. “With this new round of funding we will bring even more ambitious innovations to market, strengthening our vision to connect the physical and global environments to our digital one more seamlessly than ever before imagined”.
Microsoft Ventures also participated along with Canvas Ventures and Trinity Ventures in a $10 million investment round in CrowdFlower, a San Francisco based artificial intelligence start-up whose platform combines training data, machine learning and human input.
Meanwhile, GE Ventures joins sonnen’s mission to form the utility of the future. The venture arm of GE became an investor of sonnen Group, Europe’s largest manufacturer of residential lithium storage systems and operator of Europe’s first online energy sharing platform.
In other building energy management funding news, Blue Pillar has raised $3 million from investors. The Indianapolis based start-up raised about $14 million in 2015, and had previously raised about $10 million from investors including Claremont Creek Ventures, Arsenal Venture Partners http://arsenalvp.com/, Allos Ventures and OnPoint Technologies, the US Army’s venture capital fund.
Our latest report, The Market for Building Performance Software shows that “a plethora of venture-backed startup companies have targeted building applications with technology offerings aimed not just at reducing energy costs for building operators, but also improving facility management efficiency and real estate operations as well as targeting occupants to improve their comfort levels, productivity and engagement in the workplace”.
Time after time during this new industrial revolution of cyber-physical systems we have seen the true innovation coming from start-ups. The venture capital market continues to support new technology firms be they in smart buildings, smart cities, or the internet of things. Now Microsoft joins the growing list of tech giants trying to stay ahead of the game through funding the most promising new companies in this exciting era of start-ups.