ComfyLight is a spin-off of the ETH Zurich and University of St.Gallen, Switzerland. It is the first light bulb that is able to learn how you move around at home and is then able to simulate your movements perfectly when you’re out in order to prevent burglary. We sat down with co-founder Stefanie Turber and talked about her startup.
Stefanie, before we talk about ComfyLight, tell us your story. When and why did you go for a PhD and what was your research about?
Before I started my PhD in 2012 at the University of St.Gallen, I had been working for nearly 5 years in strategy and business development for a high-tech company in Germany and later in China. At that time, I already had a strong curiosity for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, how they would impact the economy, people’s living standard, as well as the company’s way of doing business. To understand this phenomenon in-depths and help advancing it, I took a step aside and started a PhD program initiated by the Bosch Internet of Things Lab at St.Gallen University and ETH Zurich. The program is fully dedicated to IoT and with a strong practical focus. My research has been addressing the need for new business model concepts that would reflect the affordances of digital technologies as well as thereby changed ecosystem dynamics. It directly feeds into ComfyLight and vice versa.
In which environment did the idea for ComfyLight arise?
A core concept of the PhD program at the Bosch IoT Lab is that each doctoral student would pick a „vertical“ for a deep dive, i.e. a real-world project as indispensable element of his/her doctoral studies. An advantage of this setting is that research and practice are closely intertwined and mutually enrich each other. Marcus Köhler (co-founder) and I teamed up for our vertical in the smart home area, which we tackled from various perspectives – from a user behavioral, technical and economic point of view. The result is ComfyLight. Reflecting on the concept of our PhD program, I think, it is just a great way to naturally get PhD students into a research mode generating both relevant and solid research insights – and once in a while a startup.
What distinguishes your technology from your competitors?
The majority of security solutions only detect burglary, which we think is too late given an intrusion is usually done within 3 minutes – too short for any meaningful reaction. ComfyLight starts one step before. Instead of only detecting intrusion, ComfyLight helps to prevent burglars from breaking in by perfect presence simulation. The home automatically seems occupied as normal and makes it a less attractive target to burglars. The preventative presence simulation is based on learned movement patterns. The technical concept behind, i.e. the set of sensors and IoT technology integrated in ComfyLight, is unique and resulted from a myriad number of iterations. Building the security use case upon the technical concept involved more iterations and a deep dive into user behavior and preferences. This elaborative approach has led to a patent as well as to a well-rounded, and thought-through use case, with a lot of attention to details. This deep integration of hardware, software and use case is not a matter of course – more often than not we see IoT devices featuring a randomly attached sensor and use case.
You won a lot competitions and prizes. One of them was Venture Kick. Why did you apply for it? How did the win help you?
In the first place, getting through Venture Kick labeled us as a Swiss startup to watch and it lend credence to our venture way before market launch. Moreover, the Venture Kick jury – all recognized experts – continuously challenged our approach with the right questions, and provided us with access to the Kicker’s camp, as a most intensive training session. It has been of indispensable value for us.
After that you were a Pionierpreis-finalist, you won the De Vigier Award and ealier this year the CES Innovation Award in Las Vegas. What are the benefits of all that?
The De Vigier Award of 100,000 CHF was the key cash injection that allowed us to start ramping up a team and start our series development even before closing our first financing round. Being part of the pionier award brought us an article in the Swiss newspaper NZZ which led hundreds of people to sign up for our newsletter and fieldtest – a great proof that ComfyLight resonates with Swiss consumers’ needs. The CES innovation award is a next bigger statement that ComfyLight does not only attract attention among Swiss consumers, but on global level.
ComfyLight did a successful crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter. Why crowdfunding and what is the goal?
Kickstarter is the leading platform worldwide for financing innovative and trendsetting projects of young startups. For ComfyLight, it has been a unique chance to offer ComfyLight to the users already prior to market launch. It helped us to get valuable feedback, but also to cover the high costs of a first production batch. Moreover, the fact that our goal of CHF 50k has been reached within 7 hours is a good indicator that we have achieved a pretty good product-market fit so far.
Check out the Kickstarter video of ComfyLight:
Is the venture leaders program an option for you?
venture leaders is definitely a program which we closely follow. I perceive it as a great way to explore ComfyLight’s opportunities in specific markets, and to connect and network with other startup teams. The organizers will see our application after market launch ;-).
What are your future plans?
We can’t wait to release our API on the software side, and to start developing further valuable services beyond the ComfyLight core functions. For the cool deal: We are happy to speak with investors with a view to the next financing round.