Intelligent machines

Intelligent machines

BY LINDA BAKER

0114 FOB Launch
Smart Mocha CEO Surj Patel
// Photo by Jason Kaplan

Surj Patel has made a career out of bringing people, places and things online. Born in Kenya and raised in England, Patel helped launch the BBC’s first website in 1994. As a grad student at MIT’s Media Lab, he experimented with hooking up physical objects to the Internet. “What happens? You can tell the temperature in Spain; watch a coffee pot in Cambridge.” Now Patel, 43, is applying his engineering prowess to Smart Mocha, a startup that aims to “democratize” the fast-growing field of machine-to-machine technology. Existing “M2M” solutions — in which objects are embedded with sensors, then linked online for remote communications — typically require multiple purchases and integration services from different vendors. Smart Mocha rolls these complicated and costly processes into a package deal: Customers merely affix sensors and a base station, then pick up the data on a secured website, all for one monthly fee. “Companies don’t want to manage a huge chain of infrastructure,” says Patel. “We take the pain out of it.” Patel and his two co-founders are finishing up pilot projects in different industry sectors, including vineyards, where sensors monitor water conditions, and grocery store HVAC systems. The team is also seeking a $1 million angel round. “It’s very hard; we’re web guys going into the industrial market. That’s stodgy, not sexy.” But Patel is confident Smart Mocha is riding the wave of the next web revolution: Creating sensor networks for industry is a $200 billion global market, he says. Even that is the tip of the iceberg. “The ‘Internet of things’ drops the power of data gathering to nothing. We’re interested in interpreting that data. There will be an ecosystem coming.”

Company: Smart Mocha 

Product: Sensor networks 

CEO: Surj Patel 

Headquarters: Portland

Launched: 2013

Origin story: Co-founder Steve Osborn came up with the company name after his wife handed him a mocha: a “satisfying blend of ingredients” — just like the product was supposed to be, Patel recounts. The original name was Glados, “an overbearing, artificial intelligence overlord that enslaved humans from a sci-fi novel. But we dropped that. I felt it was not a good brand transfer for what we wanted to do.”

Open source: “Around Christmas last year, I organized a Meetup group called ‘Thing Tuesday.’ This one gets regularly over 80 people. Some were able to feed back on ideas as we modulated them. One sits on our customer advisory panel. So we are very grateful to the community in shaping our company.”