YORK LINK TECHNOLOGY INTERVIEW SERIES
With smart technology finding its way into everything from water bottles to doorbells and more, the valid-use case is arguably still in a trial and error phase. But with home heating and cooling having a significant comfort-level and financial impact on homeowners across Canada, the United States, and across the globe there’s a definite need to develop usable smart home technology solutions. Markham-based Smart Cocoon focused their entrepreneurial efforts in developing a market-ready solution that can increase efficiency in the home HVAC system for every room. What is it? We interviewed one of the founders, Sean Cobham, to learn more about their smart fan technology designed and developed in York Region; Canada’s second largest tech hub.
1. What was the motivating factors or story behind developing a tech company focused on home IoT products related to climate control in the home?
Smart Cocoon is a home energy solutions technology company, founded on the concept of smart home automation. Although it is by now a well-established sector, Smart Cocoon’s founders, Sean Cobham and Kaveh Raeesi – two entrepreneurs with deep domain experience in energy and operations – quickly understood that the competition in energy efficiency was fierce and it would be difficult to break through the veil of billion dollar companies staking claim. They decided to concentrate on one product that they could have complete control over, by asking themselves: “what is the most impactful product we can develop with our skill sets?”
According to energy.gov, heating and cooling accounts for about 48% of the energy use in a typical US home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes. Statistics Canada reports this number at 56% for a typical Canadian home. Smart Cocoon has focused its attention on tackling this issue, bringing a true and customized airflow management solution to customers at an affordable price, delivering the perfect temperature in every room.
Smart Cocoon has found that 90% of single family homes have one Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) zone. Often, relative to other areas, two or more rooms in the home are either too hot in summer or too cold in the winter. This substantial temperature difference is inefficient, uncomfortable and expensive; since there’s no control of airflow unoccupied rooms often get more air than needed.
Current smart thermostats in the market cannot manage and control airflow in individual rooms or separate different areas of the house. While temperature sensors can control the HVAC system, they do not control individual registers or boost airflow where it’s needed. Smart Cocoon’s smart booster fans are able to fill this gap.
2. Can you explain the R&D that goes into developing a product like this? What skills helped you take this idea into a fully-formed product ready for the market?
The smart home industry is still fairly new and the vision of the connected home is slowly beginning to come together. The market still has a way to go before it reaches its full potential. Many consumers still do not understand connected devices’ value and early adopters may face significant pain points. Despite the proliferation of devices the industry is still far from the vision of seamlessly connected homes. We have yet to see explosive growth in the market, but well-positioned players have the ability to create tremendous value.
From basic features, such as controlling devices away from your home, to having a meaningful conversation with your home and creating a comfortable environment, smart devices will become a “must have” rather than a “nice-to-have” feature for every home in the near future.
Furthermore, home builders are increasingly adding smart appliances to the homes they build and home buyers are looking for upgrades that create energy efficiency. Energy and utility companies are providing incentives to customers for upgrades that reduce energy usage. Smart Cocoon is looking to incorporate its Smart Fans, not only to solve airflow issues in problem rooms but to give the homeowner complete control of airflow, room-by-room, automatically and effectively. The company is establishing two research projects with professors at York University to implement artificial intelligence and total understanding of the energy flow within the home, using its units.
3. What are the future goals for Smart Cocoon?
Smart Cocoon’s Smart Booster Fan combines environmental monitoring with airflow management and coordinates with smart & conventional thermostats to bring true and smart climate control for homes. Smart Fans come with an app that allows the homeowner to manage and control each register, from wherever they are via Wi-Fi. Alternatively, the homeowner may calibrate the Smart Fan once and the device will sync itself with the thermostat and furnace to ensure the perfect temperature.
Turning everyday products into connected products and linking them into smart home systems is a complex process. But while the technology that runs behind the scenes to enable the smart home is complex, the homeowner’s experience must be easy and intuitive. By optimizing for ease-of-use throughout the entire ownership experience to include purchase, installation, configuration, operation and management of smart home solutions, Cobham and Raeesi plan to make Smart Cocoon the ultimate user-friendly experience for all its customers.
According to Cobham, “Smart Cocoon will continue to design and build smart devices for homes. Our Smart Fan is just the beginning. Our aim is to deliver the ultimate comfort through smart technology that understands the needs of the homeowner and incorporates artificial intelligence to act automatically.”
4. As a Markham-based technology company, what value have you found from being in the tech ecosystem of Toronto Area’s York Region?
According to Cobham, “Considering York Region is the fastest growing large municipality in Ontario and home to Canada’s highest concentration of technology companies, we know we’re in the right spot. With the support of organizations such as YSpace, York University’s technology accelerator, we are part of a 4,300-company cluster of technology firms at various stages of development. At YSpace we’ve often had conversations with other entrepreneurs and founders that have been where we are today and can provide guidance, support and make vital business connections. The ecosystem in the York Region is healthy and robust, giving us a great opportunity to get established, grow and thrive along with the community.”
Cobham also noted that the colleges and universities in York Region offer a wide array of services for collaboration with startups and create access to industry leading professors, postdocs and graduate students. “All manners of industry, manufacturing, development, testing, consultants, financial services, and personnel exist in the Region, which is significant and speaks to the completeness of the technology development ecosystem here.”
5. Tell us about the founders and their personal journeys to this point, which triggered the launch of Smart Cocoon?
Kaveh Raeesi as a mechanical and a Six Sigma/Lean-certified designer, Kaveh, has vast knowledge in both industrial automation and quality assurance with close to 20 years of experience.
Ehsan Mirdamadi has a degree in Computer Science and has more than 20 years of experience with software architecture and cloud services. He is a seasoned mentor and active participant in the angel network ecosystem within Ontario.
Sean Cobham is a professional engineer with over 17 years of experience in electrical and product design. He lends deep experience in consulting and product development within a startup environment.