Startup Q&A - BluCloud Solves the Problems of Sustainability and Incompatibility in the IoT Space
Internet of things, or IoT, is quickly becoming one of the more prominent sectors in the Boston tech scene. This being a relatively complex type of technology, the companies that are a part of it are doing some intriguing things.
For example, one company is BluCloud, a startup out of Tufts University that is creating and developing IoT deployment hardware. Founded in 2016, their BluBase platform is currently being utilized by environmental monitoring companies, including some out on the ocean.
BluCloud’s Founder, CEO, and Director of Engineering Dan McCormack and Director of Operations Michael Morscher sat down with us to discuss what the company does, how its hardware works, and what its like being a tech startup coming out of Tufts University. They also shared their own point of view on the growing IoT scene in Boston and what their predictions are in that space.
Colin Barry [CB]: I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins behind BluCloud?
Michael Morscher [MM]: BluCloud started off with the idea of creating a standard for “modular technology”. We wanted to enable hardware products to be built in a way that makes them consumer-friendly by way of having compatible, interchangeable components in order to be more sustainable than many modern devices. After focusing on hardware engineering and developing some models, we transitioned away from the consumer model and took on an industrial focus by producing sensor packages for agriculture and water quality projects.
As we were working with our partner organizations, we realized that it wasn’t sensing instruments themselves that the industry was missing, but a scalable and affordable solution to remotely access and act on sensor data. This inspired us to develop the first iteration of our cellular gateway devices, which stream data in real time to a cloud database. Since then, we have expanded the capabilities of our hardware to operate over a variety of communication protocols and power sources to fit the needs of any deployment environment. And, we also developed our in-house cloud data platform, BluBase, to offer more powerful analysis functionality that brings value to our industrial customers.
CB: Your core team is primarily from Tufts University? How would you describe the entrepreneurial/tech scene at the university?
Dan McCormack [DM]: Yes, that’s right, BluCloud came about as a classic college startup!
Tufts isn’t traditionally known for high technology or entrepreneurship, but there is an up-and-coming entrepreneurial scene with good resources and mentorship especially through the Gordon Institute. From a more general perspective, Tufts really promotes the idea of interdisciplinary learning, which helps inspire the bridging of ideas, such as engineering innovative new hardware but with the socially meaningful purpose of enabling access to remote agricultural and marine sensors. Such an idea is able to expand in scope to become a well-established startup, which is just how it went. And, having roots in the Boston area has proven to be an equally great asset for a startup in the IoT industry.
CB: What is the ultimate goal of BluCloud?
MM: Our goal is to become the standard platform for IoT deployments by offering a system that is easy to install, use, maintain, and reconfigure. The two largest problems that the IoT industry has been unable to overcome are incompatibility and sustainability. Traditionally, systems designers put together piecemeal networks of products that don’t smoothly communicate with each other, which leads to these being one-off systems which become underutilized or discarded with the search for a new solution undertaken. Our approach from day one has been to design our stack to be pervasively compatible and sustainable, and we’re proud to deliver such a solution to the industry.
CB: Explain what your company does. If it’s a particular software/platform/service/etc. how does it work?
DM: BluCloud’s mission is to connect stakeholders to their data to deliver key insights. Too often, expensive sensing equipment is deployed just to store data locally on the device, and someone needs to physically visit each sensor and manually aggregate and analyze the data.
We eliminate the barriers to access, regardless of the deployment size and location, through our seamlessly integrated core hardware line of real-time remote data loggers and the BluBase cloud platform. One of our gateways will interface with an existing sensor, receiving the data and streaming it securely over a WiFi, cellular, or satellite network depending on the deployment location. This data is stored in the client’s BluBase account where data can be accessed, analyzed, and visualized instantly and effortlessly.
The beauty is that our stack is compatible with any type of data, whether it be temperature or air quality measurements, industrial systems feedback, even images, and video.
CB: Who are some of BluCloud’s clients? Any use case that stands out to you?
MM: Our customers in the general sense are companies and organizations that stand to benefit from real-time connectivity to their sensing instruments. This need presents itself in many industries -- some of our largest applications are in environmental monitoring (water, air, and soil quality) due to the distributed nature of sensors and the traditional barriers to data access such as power and connectivity. Our hardware allows clients to remotely access their data, which would otherwise require physically visiting the sensor sites to gather, and our cloud software stack allows for insights to be generated. In environmental monitoring, the result is a tangible impact on safety and sustainability which is an initiative we’re proud to contribute to.
Another use case that stands out is enabling connectivity in the “smart city” space. We’ve worked with clients on urban deployments which monitor the integrity of infrastructure and have helped them overcome design challenges to provide durable and scalable systems. We have a couple of “smart city” clients in the Boston area that we hope to be able to tell you more about in Q3 of this year.
CB: BluCloud has a good amount of IoT hardware. How long did the development take on the software and hardware?
DM: The hardware has gone through a couple of iterations to get to our current lineup of real-time remote data loggers, so the development time in total was around 18 months. We originally focused on the hardware and made it compatible with any software platform, but started developing our own software in order to offer a seamlessly integrated solution for our customers. Our platform, BluBase, was developed about a year ago over four months and offers the functionality of data access, analysis, and visualization. We’re constantly adding new features and integrations to BluBase as we come across interesting industry challenges that a solution can be developed for.
Our standard hardware products are adaptable to just about any use case, but we also offer custom hardware engineering for particularly complex and unique applications. We operate under the methodology of Design, Develop, Deploy. So, if you’re looking to benefit from one of our gateways but need an extra battery pack for an extended remote deployment, or if you want to operate on a different communications protocol, we’ve got you covered. The development time on a typical custom project is anywhere between two weeks and two months, depending on how heavily our existing designs can be leveraged.
CB: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months?
MM: BluCloud started off as a streamlined team of two executives (Dan in Engineering and myself in Operations) but has grown over the last 18 months, adding in-house software engineering resources along with a couple of regular contractors. We are looking to expand by adding more positions, mostly in sales and strategy, but also in technology (our integrated platform means we typically look for team members skilled in both hardware and software).
CB: Has your company participated in any trade shows/meetup events in the Boston area? What about events outside of Boston?
DM: Boston has a great community of tech meetups, with a quality mix of entrepreneurs, investors, industry experts, and everyone in between in attendance. Just recently we presented at the 89th Boston New Technology meetup and got great feedback from the connections we made. We also enjoy attending IoT-related events when we aren’t presenting to get involved in the community and network. Outside of Boston, we’ve attended events in the New Bedford area, which is where we manufacture our hardware, and which has a growing IoT scene as well.
CB: Is the company bootstrapped or seeking investments?
MM: We have been bootstrapped from the start, and have been rather self-sustaining with low operating costs and healthy revenue. Right now we’re in talks for some private pre-seed investment to accelerate and grow our team in the short term, and plan to raise a Series A round in six-to-nine months.
CB: I’m always interested in how a startup came up with its name. How did BluCloud get its name?
DM: We get asked that a lot. In truth, it was a pretty spontaneous choice, but it was inspired by the idea that there are many white “clouds” in the IoT space, but nothing to connect them or integrate with the rest of the technology environment, the blue sky. We’ve built a replacement for all the other clouds, one that seamlessly integrates with the sky, essentially, a great blue cloud.
…we dropped the ‘e’ for character.
CB: Do you think Boston has potential to be a hub for IoT companies?
MM: Absolutely. The tech and entrepreneurial scene of Boston is second only to Silicon Valley, but Boston also has the industrial focus needed to inspire and foster the development of IoT hardware and software. This is especially important in motivating meaningful and significant IoT products. For example, compare a system that conducts water quality monitoring in rivers for the benefit of the community versus frivolous consumer products like web-connected toasters. So, Boston has a high potential for being a hub for industrial IoT companies in particular and hopefully can help define general IoT in the industrial context that best serves it.
Images courtesy of BluCloud