Lemnos Labs, the San Francisco hardware incubator, is setting itself up for a busy spring. The hack space has a named Eric Klein (pictured) as a partner and brought startups Sproutling and Pantry in house. This brings the number of Lemnos startups to 11 and the number of partners to three.
The news also showcases how the evolution of the internet of things is moving beyond deep tech and connected gadgets into everyday life.
Connecting parents and stomachs
The two startups deal with issues near and dear to my own heart: parenting and food. Pantry, a startup that was created 16 months ago, provides a refrigerated kiosk to offices that uses RFID to track the meals stored in the kiosk. Yes, the internet of things is creating a resurgence of interest in RFID. Art Tkachenko, the founder of Pantry, is trying to use its kiosks as a source of new revenue for food companies and a way to deliver healthy food to office workers.
The kiosks work by having workers swipe their credit card to unlock the door. Then they choose between a few dozen meals, snacks and drinks available. As the worker removes the item, the RFID reader tracks the item removed and bills the customer’s card. Pantry also offers a dashboard for the food company tracking expiration dates, empty slots and analytics for future demand. The dashboard can help plan the best route for delivering replacement food to the kiosks around town, essentially using a connected device to create a service that expands the market for food wholesalers.
On the parenting side, Sproutling offers a sensor system for babies that wraps around an infant’s ankle and monitors its vital signs. The resulting data is sent to a parent’s smartphone and is aimed at augmenting (or even replacing) the baby monitor. As Sproutling co-founder and CEO Chris Bruce pointed out, a baby monitor isn’t an ideal experience when most parents just want to know that their baby is safe. Instead of actively watching a video monitor or listening to every cry, the Sproutling device would notify parents when something is wrong.
Both startups have received an undisclosed amount of funding from Lemnos as well as space in the facility. As hardware heats up a lot of entrepreneurs are pulling together cool projects with Arduino boards and cheap radios. But moving beyond the duct tape stage into something that could be both manufactured at scale and make money is a big leap. That’s one reason both founders are excited about Lemnos.
It’s also the reason that Klein, a former Nokia and Apple product executive, has decided to join as a partner as opposed to building his own hardware startup.
“Where do you learn that art of manufacturing and product design?” he asked. “I was blessed to work at Apple in the early 90s and built hardware teams. It’s a profession that you learn on the job and there aren’t as many people who learned at the big schools of Palm, Apple and Sun. But now it is so easy to get into hardware but there aren’t quite as many people who have been building [manufacturable] hardware for 15 years to help.”
Klein decided he wanted to help. Not just his own startup, but the 11 at Lemnos and the hardware community in general. Eventually he’d like to write a book that helps expand the knowledge farther afield, but Lemnos Labs is a good first step.