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Venture capitalists often speak of green building as a promising sector, but few have actually invested in companies developing innovative building materials. Beyond Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Serious Materials, most cleantech junkies would probably struggle to name more than one or two other venture-backed green building outfits. But a stealthy startup called Soladigm might become the next familiar name on that list.
The Milpitas, Calif.-based company has raised $20.7 million out of a total equity offering of $21.6 million from Khosla Ventures and Sigma Partners, according to a regulatory filing (hat tip VentureWire). Based on other filings, it appears the startup has already raised at least $14 million in previous funding rounds earlier this year from the same VC firms.
Soladigm execs have said very little about their technology, and they didn’t return our calls for comment. The startup’s web site says it’s developing “next-generation green building solutions…by bringing together a world-class team and resources from the glass, optical coatings and semiconductor industries.” Based on founder Paul Nguyen’s LinkedIn profile, the initial focus of the company seems to be “smart windows” using electrochromic devices. Electrochromic glass can change its tint when it comes in contact with electric current.
This feature has great promise for the green building industry because windows are often the source of tremendous heat loss or gain, making heaters or air conditioners work harder and consume more energy depending on the time of year. Smart windows could be made darker on hot days with the flip of a switch in order to block most of the solar radiation entering buildings. If the electrochromic feature is coupled with high insulation, the window could also keep in heat during cold days.
But Soladigm won’t be the first to commercialize windows using electrochromic technology. Faribault, Minn.-based Sage Electrochromics, which raised $20 million in venture funding earlier this year, is already selling window and skylight systems that can be dynamically darkened or lightened. The company has installed products in residential and commercial applications, has an established network of retailers across the United States, and has plans to expand internationally. And Germany’s EControl-Glas is already selling electrochromic-based glass products in Europe.
With Soladigm keeping tight-lipped about its plans, it’s unclear how the startup intends to compete with the incumbents. But the building industry is enormous, and besides potentially competing on quality or price point, there are plenty of niche markets, from manufacturing facilities and universities to hospitals and high-end homes.