Traditionally, windows allow people to see out of buildings and allow light to come into buildings, both very important features and also very simple. Modern theories, however, have elevated the significance that views and natural light can have on building occupants, while modern technology has developed what a window is capable of doing. The result is an exciting new market within the building sector, one that is drawing great interest from investors.
Last week, California-based smart window start-up, View, announced a $1.1 billion investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund, raising their total funding to $2 billion and elevating them well into the ranks of “unicorn” - a startup with over $1 billion in funding. Softbank’s eccentric CEO, Masayoshi Son, has a reputation for bold investments such as his $20 million stake in Ali Baba (now worth $140 billion), $7.7 billion investment in Uber, and more recently, $4.4 billion in co-working space startup WeWork. More than $1 billion to a window manufacturer will been seen as another gutsy move, so what makes View so special?
Window real-estate is growing, of course, in fact modern buildings are increasingly using glass to construct their entire façade. The standard image of a skyscraper today is one of floor to ceiling windows giving occupants incredible views and allowing natural light to flood into offices. Research has found that natural light has a significant impact on health, wellbeing, and productivity, so it makes sense for buildings to maximize the size of their windows.
“It is perhaps unsurprising that abundant natural light had the biggest contrast in our survey, with more than six times as many respondents believing natural light aided concentration than those who didn’t,” states our report – The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the IoT Era – based on an extensive survey of office workers. “Conditioned by evolution to respond to the tones and rhythms of sunlight, natural light is the ideal form of light to benefit employee concentration and therefore productivity,” the report continues.
On the other side of the coin, sunlight heats offices, which in many cases means that those offices need to be cooled, a significant energy cost in this age of efficiency. So big windows can lead to increased operational costs and an environmentally unfriendly stature for buildings that may be trying to build a positive reputation among occupants and the public. That’s where View fits in, its window technology promises to find the balance between providing sunlight for occupants and energy efficiency for the building.
View, who use the slogan “your window to wellness,” promise to makes the entire skin of buildings intelligent for the first time. According to the company, this will improve human health and wellness by preserving unobstructed views, automatically letting in the optimum amount of natural light, and greatly reducing heat and glare. The firm also commits to energy efficiency, suggesting their windows cut building energy consumption by as much as 20% by automatically tinting windows in response to solar radiation and indoor temperature levels.
"We believe that View has created an entire new market category that makes buildings healthier and smarter,” said Tom Cheung, Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers alongside the investment announcement. “They are reinventing the way we create building spaces by putting the well-being of occupants first. We are very impressed with the care with which Rao and the team have built View and we are excited to partner with them.”
View has already installed its Dynamic Glass in 35 million square feet of buildings and continues to grow. There is compelling evidence that View helps improve the health and wellness of occupants. Harvard Business Review published a study identifying natural light as the #1 desired office perk. Another recent study by Cornell University Professor Alan Hedge found significant health benefits associated with View Dynamic Glass over regular windows, including greater than 50% reductions in eye strain, headaches, and drowsiness – all contributing to improved employee health and productivity.
Demand for intelligent windows, from View and its competitors, is expected to grow rapidly as
companies increasingly recognize the benefits of modernizing their work environments to improve the health and productivity of their employees. The massive from Softbank investment will help further expand production and deployment capabilities, and accelerate product innovations.
"We are excited to have this strong endorsement of our vision from Softbank,” said Dr. Rao Mulpuri, CEO of View, Inc. “This investment enables us to scale our business to meet rapidly growing demand, and further expand our mission: creating delightful human environments that are more intelligent, more connected and more personalized than ever before."
It is easy to see the benefits of these types of smart windows in an age where buildings are striving to find the balance between occupant wellbeing and energy efficiency. Investments made by Masayoshi Son are often so big in order to encourage firms to forget about fundraising and focus all their time on developing and marketing their products, which then forces the rest of the industry to step-up. So by creating this glass unicorn, Softbank may have lit the fuse to a new era of windows that could provide a significant boost to energy efficiency, wellness and productivity across the board.