Electric Imp nets $15M to push Wi-Fi for the industrial internet

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Electric Imp, a startup that builds Wi-Fi modules and cloud for connecting devices has raised $15 million in Series B financing from a slew of investors, including Chinese contract manufacturer, Foxconn. Other backers include PTI Ventures, Rampart Capital, and returning investors Redpoint Ventures and Hugo Fiennes, the CEO and co-founder of Electric Imp (pictured center).

The appearance of Foxconn, a contract manufacturer most people associate with Apple’s iPhone, as an investor indicates its apparent interest in connected devices. As connectivity is embedded in light bulbs, rings and appliances, Foxconn surely sees a chance to expand its business.

As an interesting side note, Fiennes was able to put in the capital thanks to his stake in Nest, the connected thermostat that Google purchased earlier this year for $3.2 billion. “So you can say that Google helped fund us,” Fiennes said in an interview.

The round brings the total venture capital invested in Electric Imp to $23 million, a healthy amount for a company that is building both hardware in the form of Wi-Fi modules and supporting a cloud back end for many customers. So far, most of the focus has been on the consumer side of the market, where one can find Electric Imp modules inside Quirky products from GE as well as in Rachio sprinklers. The benefits of the Electric Imp gear is that it runs software on the module that handles provisioning and connecting back to the cloud — something most hardware engineers don’t want to mess with.

While the consumer market is a success, Fiennes says this round will help Electric Imp expand into more industrial arenas┬ásuch as the smart grid or manufacturing, where it already has several undisclosed customers. Fiennes explains that it is testing a reference design for a Wi-Fi gateway that could be used inside a warehouse or office to track assets via a combo Bluetooth and Wi-Fi system — something that would be much cheaper than cellular.

The idea is that assets on a truck for example, might have a cheap Bluetooth tracker on them that are picked up by a BLE/Wi-Fi gateway inside a warehouse. When they enter the warehouse the assets are noted and that information is correlated at the next stop via the same system. I could see this being pretty useful in airports to track luggage making it onto a plane.

“Most people think of Bluetooth as a phone technology, and phones are people centric, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Fiennes. Electric Imp isn’t going to make a Bluetooth module, but it can make sense to combine the two technologies.

With the financing in hand, Fiennes estimates he won’t have to raise money for a few years and can focus on building the business. So far Electric Imp has found a lot of success catering to the lack of experience in trying to connect devices to the web, and I’m curious to see if it remains here or expands deeper into services as the market matures.

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