Beating the Kickstarter odds to make homes smarter

Image of Janice Cheam outside

When Sauder BCom grad Janice Cheam came up with the idea for Neurio, a product designed to help householders save on electrical bills, she knew she had something consumers would want.

What Cheam, president and CEO of Energy Aware Technology Inc., couldn’t prove, was whether they’d be willing to pay for it.

“Since we had never sold to end consumers before, we needed to provide market validation for Neurio to our long-time supporters and potential funders to encourage them to back it,” she said.

They needed a strategy to show there was a market for a consumer product that had never existed before. Cheam co-founded Energy Aware Technology in 2005 after coming up with a real-time energy display product in her New Venture Design class at Sauder. Four years later, the Vancouver-based company was described as “the most promising start-up company of the year,” by the B.C. Technology Industry Association

Neurio, their newest product, is a home intelligence technology that monitors the power a home uses, and calculates the cost of running individual appliances in real time.

Our success with Kickstarter meant that there’s a substantial market for Neurio.

– UBC BCom alumna Janice Cheam

The device’s open-source system operates using a Wi-Fi sensor installed in your breaker panel, and a cloud service which uses algorithms to detect and track power usage. It can also integrate with other applications to do things like send reminders when the washer is done or adjust the thermostat for when you come home.

To prove that Neurio had market appeal, she and her team launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. They saw it as the best way to get the product out in the market ahead of time, prove interest, and raise money to fund the initial manufacturing costs.

They set a goal of $95,000 in a 30-day period between Oct. 16 to Nov. 15, 2013. Realizing that more than half of Kickstarter campaigns don’t get funded, Cheam and her team knew they had to take extra steps to ensure their success.

The Energy Aware team brought on an additional resource to build PR, marketing and community outreach before their Kickstarter launch. They received extra mentorship from Cheam’s former lecturer, Sauder Marketing instructor Paul Cubbon.

“We researched extensively to find niche bloggers, inform them of the campaign and share our brand story ahead of putting out an official press release to major media outlets,” added Cheam. “The timing of these outreach activities was meticulously planned to achieve maximum impact for our launch.”

Were they successful?

Energy Aware reached its 30-day fundraising goal in just two weeks. By of November 15, they were 281% funded, having raised $ 267,373 in pledges from 1,967 backers from over 35 different countries.

Cheam hopes Neurio units will be ready to ship to consumers next April at a retail cost of $250.

“In terms of funding a major new tech product, crowdfunding, even if you reach the standard limit of $100K, is not enough,” she explained. “Our success with Kickstarter meant that there was proof in the pudding for future investors and partners, that our product works and there’s a substantial market for it.”