Lighting’s newest IoT startup aims to open sales channels

July 24, 2018
Smart lighting is struggling to lift off in a big way. It needs a boost in corporate access and partnerships. Ingy wants to provide just that.

Smart lighting is struggling to lift off in a big way. It needs a boost in corporate access and partnerships. Ingy wants to provide just that.

With lighting’s transformation into all things “smart” stuck in adolescence, a brand new IoT startup is positioning itself as a middleman aiming to match firms from the technology, property, building automation, and lighting worlds in a much-needed effort to not only facilitate technology development for enterprise level deployment but also to grease new sales conduits.

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Bastiaan de Groot, the former Feilo Sylvania smart lighting development chief who co-founded Amsterdam-based Ingy just 10 weeks ago, told LEDsMagazine in an exclusive interview that there is a “big void” between the aim and the reality of the lighting industry’s effort to become the linchpin of smart building networks.

Indeed, the lighting industry’s march into the smart world has been a slow one. Despite several years of marketing the idea of chip-equipped, Internet-connected luminaires that collect data and help analyze building use and improve operations of all sorts, the industry can point to only a small number of deployments. End users have yet to generally flock to illumination companies for such purposes.

Smart lighting is lingering in the “early adopter” stage and could benefit from varied go-to-market approaches, says Ingy CEO Bastiaan de Groot, who notes that enterprise-level wireless technology would also help. (Photo credit: Mark Halper.)

“A lot of people say smart lighting should happen,” de Groot told LEDs. “There is some really interesting stuff happening. But is it fully happening yet? No, it’s not. It’s very incidental. It’s early adopter work at the moment. There’s a big void in the industry. Everybody’s looking for the lighting companies to pick it up. I can tell you from experience that it’s a hard job.”

Ingy itself is not making luminaires. Rather, its mission is to establish lighting companies as lead players in smart building jobs by hooking them up with the many other disciplines typically involved, such as real estate and property management, information technology, and building automation. This would allow lighting companies to expand their supply chain, partnerships, and customer access points, while helping them spin out of their conventional practices.

“The normal lighting supply chain of going to specifiers and lighting designers is just breaking down the moment you start going into the IoT route,” said de Groot. “At the same time, the parties that normally do smart building (traditional KNX and LonWorks suppliers, for instance, and newfangled occupancy analytics companies) don’t really understand lighting. So there are two sides looking at it and both thinking, ‘That’s not really my part.’ That gap needs to be bridged.”

Ingy believes it can make the difference while ensuring that lighting prevails as the main player in smart building initiatives.

“We see lighting as the way into the smart building, enabling us to roll out a reliable wireless network that other things can be added onto,” said de Groot, who left Feilo on April 30. “We still see a wide space in the industry that nobody’s really taking care of. Everybody assumes that these roles will be filled in, but nobody’s really taking them on. This is both on the systems integration level, and also on the sales side, where you probably need a completely new route of sales.”

In fact, de Groot noted, Ingy is more focused on helping to establish the partnerships and the sales points than it is on technology development. “It’s not only the information technology companies. We also bring the real estate companies together, the IT companies, the smart building companies, the building management companies, and also quite a few of the smart lighting players who produce specific modules.”

Ingy takes its name from a combination of “innovation” and “energy,” with energy efficiency being a key driver in its efforts to establish lighting as an intelligent network that saves energy and can also yield valuable insights on facilities, and trigger actions such as rearranging unused space, adjusting heating and cooling, and many others.

“Our view is that the lighting system needs to be paid from the energy savings within three to five years,” de Groot said. “With the new EU building directive, most buildings in Europe need to be upgraded. Lighting is typically the first choice to retrofit of all energy saving technologies, creating a massive drive to replace lighting in a large portion of the existing buildings. This creates a unique opportunity to replace the lighting with a version that also includes smart building functionalities like air quality monitoring, indoor navigation, and space utilization.”

While focusing on the ecosystem of partnerships, Ingy is keen to help wireless technology scale up to enterprise-level deployments involving thousands of nodes and sensors, which would take smart office lighting well beyond the smaller deployments that have mostly characterized it to date.

“One of the biggest challenges is very simple: a robust wireless network,” de Groot said. “It’s not fully there yet at scale. Everybody’s releasing a few hundred nodes. But if you really want to do thousands of wireless nodes, one of the biggest challenges is to get the wireless connectivity robust on such a scale and connect it to the Internet.”

De Groot noted that wireless in particular is important because of the vast potential market in retrofit jobs, where wireless makes more financial sense than wired technology because it spares potentially huge costs that would be involved in rewiring.

But even with watershed wireless developments such as last summer’s ratification of a standard for Bluetooth Mesh wireless technology, the industry generally lacks blockbuster lighting-led smart building examples. At the same time, it is losing potential smart building sales to IT companies, with which it could partner. For example, last year Barclays outfitted banking headquarters in London with occupancy sensors, independent of the lighting system. It was a symbolic snub to the lighting industry, which would like nothing more than to embed occupancy sensors and the like in office luminaires.

“Barclays put 10,000 presence sensors in that building to do occupancy analytics,” de Groot said. “Imagine if you want to put a presence sensor in every luminaire there. You’d be going with tens of thousands of nodes. I don’t think there’s anybody at the moment that dares to do that on a wireless lighting system.”

Such large-scale implementation has for the most part escaped lighting companies,

The difficult transformation into the Internet of Things (IoT) has been evidenced by a downturn in sales and earnings at industry leader Signify (formerly Philips) and by a 2018 forecast cut by the world’s second-largest lighting company, Osram.

Ingy’s notion of helping lighting companies alter their sales routes echoes a recent informal survey by GE’s Current smart lighting group, which found that lighting companies should target IT departments more than their traditional contacts in the facilities management department when selling smart lighting.

Likewise, an Osram change management specialist pointed out not long ago that the switch to smart lighting entails nothing less than a complete overhaul of the business model, including a shift away from hardware sales and toward services.

Ingy is operating on angel investor funding as it currently forges partnerships. It hopes to hit the market by early 2019, helping to bring the smart lighting industry into full adulthood.

MARK HALPERis a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.