Hello, McFly: Reno nabs California ‘Internet of Things’ startup Breadware
After going through the toughest recession in its history, Northern Nevada has seen its fair share of economic development victories. Here's a list of some of the major developments for the region in recent years. Wochit
The year 2015 has come and gone without Marty McFly’s hoverboards from Back to the Future becoming a staple in stores.
And no, today’s non-hovering “hoverboards” on wheels don’t count.
When hoverboards — or perhaps even Terminator nemesis Skynet — become reality, however, there’s a chance that microcontrollers and prototyping kits would be part of the equation.
For those unfamiliar with the technology, microcontrollers are small computers used to control a host of electronic processes and devices. Creative tinkerers, for example, have been using microcontrollers to create nifty gadgets like automated door locks that can communicate with smartphones and even retro game consoles for folks who might have missed out on Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition.
Major companies are getting in on the action for internet-connected technologies, too, with products such as Amazon’s Echo or Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator available on the market. These myriad devices that are able to connect and communicate online are all part of an ever-expanding concept known as the “internet of things” or IoT for short.
With global consulting firm Bain and Company forecasting $300 billion in business opportunities by 2020 for the IoT sector, many are looking to expand into the industry. One startup that just moved from California to Reno is hoping to get into the lucrative market by helping aspiring entrepreneurs create products with its prototyping kits and make the transition from concept to market a lot easier.
“It’s so hard to design even a tiny circuit,” said Daniel Price, CEO and co-founder of Breadware. “The exciting thing about Breadware is that it’s similar to Wordpress or any other tool that enable people to be more creative without being experts in the basic technology.”
Breadware’s name has its origins in an item that will be familiar to folks who dabble in circuits and prototyping. According to Price, the “bread” is a nod to the good, old breadboard.
“(A breadboard) looks sort of like a waffle and you plug wires into it until it becomes a nightmare of a mess,” Price said.
The second part of the name symbolizes the company’s approach of simplifying and streamlining product creation by uniting hardware with software, Price added.
Stalwarts such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi have dominated the prototyping sector over the years, especially for hobbyists. Although both devices are excellent, they require more work when doing a full-fledged product launch that features wireless capability, Price said.
Once you try to move from the prototyping stage to the production stage, for example, the process typically entails redesigning products and redoing firmware, which can be a major hurdle for some people, according to Price.
“A lot of folks get stuck after the prototyping stage,” Price said. “With Breadware, we’re unifying the hardware development, mobile app development and web dashboard development into one central tool.”
The company did not ask or receive incentives from the state as part of its move to Nevada, Price said. It recently closed a round of seed funding that included two investment groups from Reno, which factored into its decision to move from Santa Barbara. The move was announced Thursday during a luncheon of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada luncheon at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.
Breadware’s new location is in the Innevation Center in downtown Reno, a tech hub formed in partnership by the University of Nevada, Reno and Switch, which is building the largest data center campus in the world at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.
Price also pointed the flurry of activity in Reno in recent years as part of its attraction to the area, which included the arrival of Panasonic and Tesla’s Gigafactory as well as Apple’s data center. That activity got another high profile newcomer following Google’s purchase of 1,200 acres at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center this month for a potential data center.
Breadware is much smaller than those companies but still plays an important role in Northern Nevada’s efforts to diversify its economy with technology, said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.
“Selecting our community speaks volumes about the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the opportunities it affords technology startup companies,” Kazmierski said.
For small companies such as Breadware, Reno is a perfect fit, Price said. Breadware has 10 full-time employees, eight of which are in Reno. The company plans to hire four more people this year and another 10 employees in 2018. Reno’s recent economic development wins complement the area’s quality of life, which should allow it to recruit more talent from the Bay Area, Price said.
“Reno is large enough that you have the resources needed to grow your company but small enough where you can be a key part of the community instead of being just some other small startup,” Price said. “To be part of Reno’s rebranding and growth and be able to contribute to that over the next few years is something we’re all excited about.”
Internet of challenges
Despite all the cool things that arise from the internet of things, it can also bring forth some nasty headaches.
At the top of the list are security issues from hacking.
The U.S. Eastern seaboard, for example, saw a massive internet outage last October after DNS service provider Dyn, which helps people connect to Internet addresses, was hit by a serious online attack. The hack was done not through computers but by accessing internet-connected devices like closed-circuit cameras.
“Now you have all these devices that serve as potential entry points for a malicious attacker,” Price said. “All these devices tend to be simple small processors so they don’t have as many security features as a computer.”
Another issue involves privacy. Not only can hackers potentially gain access to you via internet-connected devices, legitimate businesses that make appliances such as smart TVs and refrigerators also can use them to gather your information for marketing purposes.
For its part, Breadware only facilitates storage but can’t access or use that data in any way, Price said. Privacy, however, will be an ongoing issue as the internet of things continues to expand. Just how much privacy is enough is a question that has yet to be fully answered, Price said.
“What you’re really looking at is the dividing balance between privacy and convenience,” Price said. “The younger generation is used to instant gratification and higher levels of convenience whereas the older generation isn’t, so it becomes a question of how much privacy will people insist on.”
At the same time, the internet of things has the potential to revolutionize life as we know it. Although there’s a lot of “fluff” in the sector, Price said, there are also plenty of promising avenues, not just with smart clothes and appliances but applications in transportation, manufacturing, construction and the medical field as well.
As far as inadvertently creating an all-powerful artificial intelligence that takes over the world, the jury is still out on that one, according to Price.
“Regarding, Skynet, I can’t comment,” Price said with a chuckle. “If it’s going to come, the internet of things is certainly not doing us any favors.”