BOSTON — After being named Automation Product of the Year at CES 2015 and bringing in more than $1 million in pre-orders, Ecovent, maker of an intelligent home zoning system, recently announced it closed a $6.9 million Series A funding round led by Emerson Climate Technologies Inc., a business segment of Emerson. The round also included participation from Tamarisc and Blue Fog Capital.
The intelligent home zoning system delivers room-by-room climate control through self-configuring sensors and vents. The sensors plug into standard wall outlets in each room; detect the space’s temperature, pressure, and humidity; and send the information to a smart hub, which acts as a brain to control the HVAC system through a compatible thermostat and opens and closes the vents to get all of the rooms to their desired temperatures. End users can set the temperature for each room with a mobile app.
“Ecovent is a system that is essentially completely wireless — for power and communication — that allows any homeowner to have first-rate heating and cooling with room-by-room temperature control,” said Dipul Patel, cofounder and CEO of Ecovent. “It’s insane — I know that every other part of my life is quantified and optimized, even being in the car is comfortable, but then I get into my house or my place of business, and what you have is basically Stone Age technology. The problem is the air conditioners, heaters, sources, and thermostats have seen innovation, but where it actually adapts to the home has seen almost no innovation in the last 50 years, and that’s the part that really needs help.”
Bob Sharp, executive vice president, Emerson, and business leader, Emerson Climate Technologies, addressed the company’s participation in the funding round in a news release. “With Ecovent, we see the potential to fix an issue that has gone unsolved in the residential HVAC industry for decades. Ecovent’s ability to function seamlessly in tandem with Emerson’s solutions for home comfort and energy efficiency makes them a natural fit as an investment and strategic partner.”
“We’re ecstatic about the preorders,” Patel said. “It helped us get the attention of Emerson, and, honestly, I couldn’t be happier with their involvement.
“When we first started, we met some amazing contractors who joined our advisory board and gave us some great advice, but we had no brand recognition and no trust,” he continued. “Unfortunately, so much technology for the home has been poorly thought out, and contractors have been burned over and over. I realized we had to have some trust. And a lot of investors wanted to know the demand was there and there was a market for this thing. So, we started off on the Internet, not selling to our uncles and aunts, but to complete strangers. We wanted to understand what people were thinking about this problem and have them understand there was a solution out there. Now, manufacturing has started and we have systems that work. Contractors are actually willing to listen to me. Now, we have to earn their trust enough that they trust our system.”
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
Patel came up with the idea for Ecovent back in 2008 while trying to find ways to save money for his upcoming wedding. He walked around his house shutting vents in several empty, unused rooms. At the time, he didn’t realize the damage he could do to his HVAC system, and, luckily, he didn’t shut so many vents that it became a problem. Things were fine until Patel’s mother came for a visit and spent an uncomfortable night in one of those rooms. That, along with his work on radar systems at Lockheed Martin with Nick Lancaster, helped birth the idea for Ecovent. However, the technology wasn’t quite there, and Patel waited until it caught up. He founded Ecovent Corp. in 2013, with Lancaster joining the company as cofounder and chief technology officer (CTO) shortly thereafter.
“Eventually, cellphones, the birth of cheap radios, microprocessors, better batteries, and incredible sensory technology allowed us to integrate all of this stuff and make a fantastic system,” Patel said. “It’s always been about making a system that fully automates. I never want my mom to be cold again. I never want my grandma, who visits, to be cold, and I never want my niece to feel too hot or too cold.”
Ecovent is already working throughout the country in various types of homes and climates. The system has been very effective in balancing temperature differences while also cutting run times, according to Patel. The amount of energy savings depends on where you live and the type of home you have, but early customers have saved up to 40 percent on their HVAC use, Patel noted.
“In the meantime, we’ll sell it online and learn how this system adapts to a bungalow in Hawaii versus a lodge in Alaska. We have it in our office here in Boston, so we’re learning how it operates in commercial applications. All of these fun things will start to emerge, and the contractors will watch us and see that we’re serious. We’ll earn their trust, and then we’ll start to see the sales happen that way.”
Patel said Ecovent is employing a staged manufacturing process and plans to ship completed systems in the fourth quarter of this year.
“The marketing team and the product team are focused on getting this initial product out the door and continuing sales,” he said. “On the flip side, you’ve got guys like me who are really focusing on developing the training materials and thinking about how we package this to contractors and distributors, things like that. My job is going to be figuring out what contractors want to see, what the demand will be, and which markets we should target first. And, I’m going to work on getting those relationships going.
“This is the culmination of two and a half years of insane amounts of work, sweat, raising money, growing the team, and conducting multiple beta trials. All of this is coming to an end now, so it’s exciting. The team is fired up. We have such confidence that this product is going to be reliable. Any homeowner or contractor will be able to plug it in, and the system will be able to adapt itself to any home out there. To solve that problem is just really exciting.”
Publication date: 9/28/2015