When Sce Pike walks through the door, the room lights up. This is not actually a metaphor, though it could be: Pike has long been an energetic and outspoken leader in Portland’s tech scene; Citizen, an interactive design firm she’s co-owned since 2010, boasts a client list studded with Daimler, T-Mobile, and Samsung. When the 40-year-old steps into a living room in NE Broadway’s new Grant Park Village apartment complex, lights snap on. Classical music whispers. Pike’s newest venture, a start-up called IOTAS, is running the place, and she can adjust her surroundings via a blueprint-style smartphone screen.
“It’s just a very nice out-of-the-box experience,” she says.
The term may lack a certain poetry, but “the Internet of Things” is a hot tech topic: according to one recent estimate, there will be 6.4 billion Internet-connected devices and objects in 2016, up 30 percent from last year. The “smart home” is the most visible manifestation, with Google’s Nest thermostat and Amazon’s voice-activated Echo hub among the products vying to become the new thing that runs heating systems and fires up coffeemakers.
Launched in early 2014 on just $700,000 of investment capital and a subsequent $1.8 million grant, IOTAS bets bigger players have a problem. “Early adopters aren’t buying homes,” Pike says. “At Home Depot, you’re talking to the wrong demographic. It’s my older brother shopping there. I’d have to buy it for him and set it up.”
Instead of pushing DIY kits for handyman dads, IOTAS aims to conquer the elusive millennials by wiring the urban rental market, whole property-management portfolios at a time, with a seamless experience. (“Millennials want access more than ownership,” Pike says.) Grant Park residents move in with IOTAS already installed; the mobile interface and simple, preset routines (“Vacation Mode,” “Out for the Day,” etc.) make operation roughly as easy as summoning Uber. Pike believes owners will love the marketing perk, and utility companies will love outlet-by-outlet detail on power usage. For IOTAS, however, the future is all about data.
“We’ll learn users’ habits and be able to offer customization,” Pike says. “Third-party developers will write apps, because we give them access to the infrastructure of a building.” (Which leads, naturally, to talk of the Tinder-style dating-app possibilities—future apartment complexes could have a real swinging vibe. “We won’t take that one on,” she says, laughing.)
Pike remains a partner and executive at Citizen, but says IOTAS absorbs a lot of energy—and has shifted her standing in Portland’s tech world. “I guess I like the challenge,” she says. “Citizen is established, so why not start all over? Before, I was being asked to be on the boards of start-up accelerators. Now I’m asking for money.”