Where it's based: San Francisco
When it was founded: 2013
Why it's Fierce: Helium Systems is one of a number of startups tackling the Internet of Things (IoT) space. But the company's backing and leadership--which is focused on what the company could eventually offer to the market--is what sets Helium apart from the pack.
During the latter part of his 14-year tenure at Qualcomm, Rob Chandhok spearheaded the development of the AllJoyn protocol. AllJoyn, which was launched in 2011, was Qualcomm's open-source application development framework for ad hoc, proximity-based device-to-device communications--perfect for the Internet of Things. In December 2013 Qualcomm gave the code behind the AllJoyn framework to the Linux Foundation. In turn, the Linux Foundation created the AllSeen Alliance to use AllJoyn to develop a new interoperable standard for connecting devices and objects to the Internet.
It was that work that put Chandhok into Helium's orbit. Late last year Chandhok moved from Qualcomm to become Helium's president and COO. Helium offers an IoT platform running on a modified version of 802.15.4 radio technology for data transport, the same protocol used by the Google-backed Thread Group for IoT.
Although Helium initially launched with plans to target wide-area wireless services, covering entire cities, Chandhok said Helium now has refined its target to smaller areas, like factories or neighborhoods. He said the company's system is designed to manage large numbers of inexpensive devices and sensors running the company's Atom module. Once those devices are connected to Helium's platform, it allows developers and customers to quickly and easily connect with those devices in order to update them and analyze the data they collect.
Chandhok said Helium was conceived with the idea that "it was too hard to connect things to the Internet." The result is the company's platform, which Chandhok said will "just work out of the box."
Bolstering Helium's position is the $15.98 million Series A funding the company raised in December from heavyweights like FirstMark Capital, Digital Garage, Marc Benioff, SV Angel and others. The 30-person company is now working to refine its platform to handle larger numbers of devices and to manage ever greater amounts of data. "We're really working through the architectural stuff," Chandhok said. "We have a bunch of stuff in the pipeline."
What's next: Chandhok said Helium is seeing interest in its technology from the likes of energy management, gas and agriculture companies--companies that want to closely monitor all aspects of their far-flung businesses. He also said the company's technology, once established, could be useful to small businesses: For example, Chandhok said restaurants could use inexpensive Helium sensors to make sure refrigerators are maintaining constant temperatures.
So what does the company plan to focus on in the next year or so? "We will do some vertical applications ourselves to prove the platform," Chandhok said. "We have to iterate quickly."