TechWatch editor Emily McDaid dives into the IoT realm to find out more about Wia, an ambitious start-up led by Conall Laverty.
Start-up Wia was founded by an ambitious young Northern Irishman who sought to make the IoT mainstream. The venture capital community took notice, committing more than €1m in seed funding to Wia, just two-and-a-half years in existence.
Boiled down to its basics, Wia is a set of tools for developers to enable any device to be connected to the internet of things (IoT). A consumer offering is also in the works.
“I started Wia in Belfast on Hill Street, and was soon offered a place on the NDRC accelerator in Dublin,” said founder and CEO Conall Laverty. “We went through their Launchpad programme for early-stage SaaS companies with global growth opportunities. We’ve been based in Dublin ever since, at Dogpatch Labs.”
Laverty tells me that Suir Valley Ventures is one of their principal investors. I’m not surprised that he got funding – he’s super-energetic, driven and has a big dose of humility – a potent mix of qualities in a CEO.
What does Wia provide?
He explained: “We provide developers with a cloud platform for building any IoT app. The cloud is needed to turn a dumb device into a smart connected device, but when you start from scratch it takes months and months for developers to build something that’s production-ready.”
Wia’s path was to provide the software and tools that developers need to build “in a few minutes”.
This works for “everything from thermostats to weather stations to asset trackers”, Laverty said.
Who are your customers?
“We have partnered with Vodafone on NB-IoT [narrowband] device network, so this is an exciting development for us,” he said.
“Whenever someone goes to Vodafone and says we want to go on to the NB-IoT network, they can go on to the Wia cloud and be fully compatible straight away.”
Laverty tells me other customer engagements are still on the hush-hush. “But there should be news soon.”
What kind of apps are people building in Wia?
“We release tutorials all the time. One example is using facial-recognition cameras to build a smart doorbell. Developers in more than 100 countries are using it for free to build their own projects.”
What about monetisation?
“As soon as they have connected more than 10 devices, we charge a monthly subscription,” he said.
Laverty is quick to emphasise that building trust and awareness in the developer community was the first goal for Wia.
And about Wia: the name is pronounced like ‘Why-Ah’ and not ‘Whee-Ah’. It’s short for all the questions a device must answer: ‘Who I Am, Where I Am, What I’m At.’
Why do I think that’s important for TechWatch readers? Because Laverty has convinced me that this is one Irish start-up you’ll hear more about.
Do devices connect to the network via Bluetooth?
Laverty said: “The connectivity doesn’t matter – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular. As the market grows, there’s even more of these methods appearing, so we’re trying to solve that fragmentation of the ecosystem. Our mission is to be the place where all your devices talk to each other. If it connects to the internet, it connects to Wia.”
How can I get IoT into my home?
“Next month, we’re releasing a consumer app – you can connect everything from your doorbell, to your light switches and thermostats. You can buy them from any manufacturer and get them all to speak to each other. For example, you want the thermostat to talk to the air conditioning system. This is why we’re partnering with Airbnb, so hosts can manage their whole property from afar in one app.”
What’s your vision for Wia? Where do you want to be in five years?
“We want developers in every country to use it. We’re bringing IoT to the next level. There will be 25bn devices connected by 2020, so we want to have a billion to us.
“We’re the universal language of things – Wia is the passport for the IoT.”
Do you use IoT at home?
“I have both Alexa and Google Home – sometimes, I call Alexa Google and vice versa. My security and weather systems are connected. I promised my mother I could connect her chicken coop to the platform.”
This led to us getting very excited about how we could connect our pets to IoT. Feeding bowls, cat flaps – the list is long. I won’t divulge every detail, but have a look at Daphne’s Catflap.
Laverty said: “My next tutorial will be a Fitbit for hamsters.”
Where can your fans get these hundreds of tutorials?
“Reddit, Dev.to, Instructables – all the usual social networks. As one example, we made a Lego ferris wheel that uses facial recognition and only spins when you smile at it.”
By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch
A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch