The Internet of Things (IoT) has allowed humans to be closely connected to technology they use every day, from cars to household appliances to healthcare devices. And as technology advances, more items join the list.

How many? Try 24 billion connected devices by 2020, or approximately four devices per person, according to BI Intelligence. The research group projects $6 trillion worth of investments will be made within the IoT sector during that time.

A fast-growing organization called NC RIoT has been working for the last two years to make the Triangle a hub for innovators in the space. And last week marked its annual Startup Pitch Night, where five local IoT startups pitched investors in hopes of earning the coveted RIoT Championship Belt and building momentum for a near-term fund-raise.

The pitch night happened in coordination with the inaugural Triangle Smart Cities Summit, a full day event planned by the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster and NC State University to discuss and share ideas around cleantech and IoT that will make the world a better and more connected place to live.

NC RIoT, which stands for Regional Internet of Things, was founded in Raleigh in 2015 by entrepreneurs Matthew Davis and Larry Steffann. It is a network of technologists, engineers, business leaders, academics, policy makers and entrepreneurs, who gather to have conversations and pursue opportunities in the IoT sector. Under the leadership of executive director Tom Snyder, it has expanded to three cities along the east coast in the last year, but the Triangle is home.

“We want to be anchored in this community,” Snyder says, explaining that he believes the Triangle region can easily become an IoT business hot spot. “We can accelerate the region to become a smart community through creative partnerships between government, universities, investors, nonprofits and entrepreneurs.”

The night kicked off with a double panel discussion that provided insight on fundraising and investment opportunities within the IoT and cleantech sectors. The first panel explored the motivations and interest of corporate venture divisions, and the second featured investors from traditional venture capital funds.

Once the panel discussions ended, the crowd reconvened to the James B. Hunt Library’s Duke Energy Hall to hear from five IoT startups sharing ideas that can impact the world.

The audience waits in the Hunt Library’s Duke Energy Hall to hear from the five startups chosen to pitch in the NC RIoT Pitch Night competition. | Credit: Kirsten Barber/ExitEvent

Though the only guaranteed prizes of the night were bragging rights and the RIoT Championship Belt—awarded by last year’s winner, ProAxion CEO Justin Rothwell—pitching teams were eager to impress the lineup of investor judges, which included Musaddeq Khan of Itron, Michael Mahan of Stanley, Black & Decker, Varun Sadana of The Launch Place and more. They also hoped to follow in the footsteps of last year’s competitors, four out of five of which went on to raise capital. ProAxion, which is also a 2016 NC IDEA winner, has since earned a $75,000 pre-seed investment from The Launch Place.

This year’s teams got five minutes to explain their company, idea, business plan, target audience, investment needs and anything else they wanted the judges to know before the floor opened for questions.

This year’s teams pitched ideas that ranged across the IoT sector, from smart home systems to airborne wind energy devices.

At the conclusion of the event, the judges named BruVue the new champion. BruVue is an inventory management system for kegs with the goal of preventing beer waste and theft.

According to BruVue owner and CEO, Chris Lorkowski, the only method used to measure the amount of beer left in a keg is to physically shake the keg and guess. BruVue attaches to a tap and records the amount of beer poured every time the handle is activated and sends the data to an accompanying app. This takes the guesswork out of measuring the amount of beer left in a keg. The data recorded on the BruVue app can also be used to keep a record of which brews are doing well in a specific bar or area, which is a helpful resource for distributors.

Lorkowski believes the data BruVue retrieves can be used throughout the 350,000 beer-serving locations in the nation, as well as by distributors and breweries. Moving forward, he hopes to raise $750,000 to test the prototype, hire a team and bring the product to market.

BruVue also won a $50,000 NC IDEA grant this spring, bringing total funds raised to around $130,000 .

BruVue owner and CEO, Chris Lorkowski, wins the NC RIoT Pitch Night Championship Belt. | Credit: Caitlin Penna/NC RIoT

Below are details of the four other competitors:

About $1.1 billion of property damage each year is caused by stoves and other cooking equipment, making them a prime candidate for innovation. Yet, stoves are one of the few home devices that have been left behind in the smart home revolution, says the Inirv team.

To solve this problem, they’ve designed the Inirv React™ system, which includes four easy-to-install stove knobs and a bluetooth-connected sensor unit that controls the system from a ceiling mounted position. If a threat is detected by the sensor unit, it automatically shuts off the active burners. The system is also connected to an app that allows the user to monitor and control the stove remotely.

The team has already raised $181,248 through a February Indiegogo campaign, which funded an alpha prototype build. Inirv also scored some big name integration partners like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. Moving forward, Inirv seeks capital for testing and launching the product, as well as establishing connections with additional integration partners.

VieMetrics Inc. is creator of the respiratory monitoring system VitalFlo, which brought home $20,000 from the Lulu eGames in April. Those funds added to the $180,000 raised so far to help bring VitalFlo to market. The device is a hardware and software product that allows healthcare providers to collect respiratory data from their patients remotely and catch health risks before a patient reaches critical condition.

There are several competitors on the market, but according to Luke Marshall, VieMetrics’ representative for the night, VitalFlo is “better than other lung function testers on the market.” Marshall went on to explain that VitalFlo is not just a connected inhaler—VieMetrics’ system will create a much needed healthcare network for patients with respiratory diseases.

Viemetrics is in need of around $200,000 to conduct a home use study with the prototyped device, continue solidifying product design and create a doctor portal.

Windlift is an airborne wind energy (AWE) system that founder Robert Creighton started developing in 2004. The benefit of AWE, according to Creighton, is that it generates sustainable energy at one tenth of the cost of traditional wind energy systems.

“Windlift is a good alternative to offshore wind farms, because they are not visible from shore,” says Creighton, explaining that systems like turbines have caused controversy in the past. “The cost of installation is also significantly cheaper than turbines currently being used.”

The system has two design patents pending, and has received funding support from the US Army and Marine Corps. A prototype was delivered to the US Marine Corps in 2016. Creighton believes that $1 million in funding will enable Windlift to complete prototype demos, file an additional 20 patents, move forward with military partnerships and enlist marketing support.

Conservation Labs
Water leaks within a home can not only cause significant damage, but also contribute to water waste and increased bills. Conservation Labs aims to fix this problem with its H2know device. H2know is a connected home device that can be attached to any water pipe without the need for a plumber. It transmits data on water consumption, potential leaks and appliance usage so a homeowner can monitor the flow of water throughout their home.

In order to stay on its projected timeline and go to market in the next year, Conservation Labs needs to raise $1 million in capital. Once the product is on the market, the next step is to develop a partnering shut-off device that would attach to the lever valve and turn off the water flow in case of a large leak or pipe burst.