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Comfort zone

With “smart vents,” alumni-led startup Ecovent retrofits homes for room-by-room temperature control

January 29, 2016

Ecovent

Alumni-led startup Ecovent provides room-by-room temperature control

You need an extra sweater in one room, but over on the other side of your pad, the sun streaming through the windows makes you sweat. That’s how houses are, no matter how smart your thermostat is.

A startup launched by two MIT Sloan grads promises to please your inner Goldilocks. Ecovent Systems, headquartered in a funky old brick schoolhouse in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, has built a room-by-room temperature control system that you operate with your phone. The product won Automation Device of the Year award at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2015; a year later, the company has raised $6.9 million in Series A funding and boasts a $1.4 million pre-order backlog.

Ecovent’s solution uses basic physics, as well as high-tech sensors and algorithms, to deliver tailored heat or air conditioning to each room. Co-founders Dipul Patel, MBA ’14, now CEO, and Yoel Kelman MBA ’14, COO, met in MIT Sloan’s popular New Enterprises class and clicked right away.

The pair designed a three-piece product for homes with forced hot air; homeowners with clanking steam radiators or hot water baseboards are out of luck on this one. Pop out your existing vent covers and replace them with Ecovent’s “smart vents.” Set your desired temperature for each room on your phone. A sensor, plugged into any wall outlet, registers a room’s temperature and humidity by drawing air up past monitors mounted inside. It sends information to a hub unit, which tells each vent how much to open or close. Ecovent can also monitor how efficient your HVAC system is and send data to your maintenance contractor—if you want to opt in.

“It’s like an X-ray for a doctor,” Patel says. A manufacturer in New Hampshire began producing the components in January.

Getting to this point was not exactly a breeze. The duo were passed over in the Pitch round of the 2012 MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Patel turned to Google vice president and two-time entrepreneurship competition winner Mike Cassidy, SB ’85, SM ’86.

“He said, ‘Dude, these business plan competitions shouldn’t be about winning. They should be about getting you ready. If you don’t win, it doesn’t mean much. But why you did not win—that could mean a lot,’” Patel says.

For some reason, Patel says, the Ecovent value proposition was not catching on: “Energy efficiency wasn’t working.” They adjusted their message to highlight home comfort. In the spring of 2013, they won $1,000 in the MIT $100K Accelerate round, and won the Pitch round in the fall.

Things moved along a little faster after that. They built a dollhouse with motorized vents to prove their concept. Then they joined the Techstars Boston accelerator and raised enough angel funding to pull in two engineers Patel had worked with during his seven-year stint at Lockheed Martin. Last summer they closed a $6.9 million series A round lead by Emerson Climate Technologies; they now employ 40 people.

“Our backgrounds in radar helped us understand the sensors we needed,” Patel says. “And now the very strong data science people we have detect patterns. We’re in a position to start cranking.”

MIT Sloan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem catalyzed the startup, Patel says. “I learned the value of asking for help,” he says. “I would cold-call professors and they wouldn’t just talk to me while they checked their email—they would sit down and engage. Everyone truly wanted to help.”

Ecovent’s first mission statement is stenciled high on one of the schoolhouse walls. The black script pops on the pale yellow paint: “Exceptional talent solving the world’s biggest overlooked problems.” Patel now admits that was a little too broad. The world is ready for the energy efficiency angle. The company has changed its mission to “Leading the world in reducing global energy consumption by unleashing an exceptional team on the world’s most overlooked problems.” As Goldilocks might say, that’s just right.