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Columbia Startups Join the IoT Conversation on Capitol Hill

At the request of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, Donnel Baird ’13BUS, founder of BlocPower, delivered Senate testimony to give insight from the perspective of entrepreneurs involved in the Internet of Things (IoT).

“The Columbia Entrepreneurship community has strong contingent of startups involved in IoT. Working with two of them – Fero Labs and Radiator Labs – we identified common concerns and opportunities that are reflective of what many IoT innovators face and could inform policy,” said Baird.

Now, the Caucus has introduced a bill that could help smooth the way for new ventures.

The Startup Gamble with IoT

Startups that rely on the IoT – everyday devices that can gather, analyze, and send data, like thermostats, smart mattresses that track sleep patterns, or inhalers that can determine the cause of an asthma attack – need to make a gamble.  There is no standard technical protocol for how these objects can “talk” to each other and relevant platforms, so companies make a decision about what will probably work best, most of the time. There might come a point, however – maybe when the business expands – where the startup finds itself faced with an area or platform that requires a different “language”.

Big companies make these gambles too, but can weather the cost if they need to create a new version of their products and services to “speak” differently. For lean startups, the resources needed to make these same changes can be a blow to their viability.

Columbia Gives a Voice to Startups

An active member and advisory board member of the entrepreneurship network at Columbia, Baird spoke with fellow IoT startups Fero Labs and Radiator Labs ahead of the hearing to discuss mutual experiences.

BlocPower provides enterprise software and engineering and financial analytics to help cities make local buildings greener, smarter, and healthier. The company uses IoT to collect and analyze all the data from the small and medium sized buildings that it works with. Fero Labs, which helps factories maximize product quality and optimize energy usage, and Radiator Labs, which turns existing radiators into smart and energy efficient heating systems with room-by-room temperature control, similarly rely on IoT to collect and analyze data.

“Some of the largest industrial companies we work with understand how industrial IoT will lead to enormous productivity improvements. But they are also aware of the data integration and security challenges that go along with it, and it’s great that the Senate is taking action in this regard,” said Berk Birand, CEO of Fero Labs.

Baird’s testimony reflected the challenges that these three startups have faced, typical for new IoT ventures.

“One consistent theme is that it is most important for the Senate to explore ensuring that IoT data infrastructure is built for everyone to access,” Baird said in his opening remarks. “Other priorities are the Senate’s potential role in facilitating the Interoperability, Security, and open availability of data, as the basis for allowing startups to innovate.”

Bipartisan Support for Innovation

According to Baird, despite national political turmoil, it was a heartening surprise to see bipartisan cooperation. The conversation between caucus members and the panel of experts included thoughtfully considered questions and informed comments.

“Members asked detailed, specific, productive questions to figure out what the future of this technology can be for the American economy,” said Baird.

The resulting bill signaled that startups are an important part of the IoT conversation by creating an incentive for an expedited timeline on standardization. As reported in New York Magazine, the act sets down “security standards for vendors that sell internet-enabled technology to the government,” noting that “any tech firm hoping to land a government contract would need to comply with these new security regulations by making changes that would probably be applied to consumer sales as well.” The faster IoT gets to a standard protocol, the better for entrepreneurs.

To show your support, contact the caucus and your Senators to let them know that IoT cybersecurity is a priority for giving IoT entrepreneurs the best chance of success.

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