D.C. tech start-up SmartThings got its start two years ago when founder Alex Hawkinson discovered his Colorado vacation home had flooded, costing him $80,000 in repairs.
He didn’t learn about the disaster until a month later, when the Washington area resident returned to the house and found the porch and basement rotting. Had he been alerted sooner, the damage might not have been so great.
“We’ve got a handyman down the road who could have come in and fixed everything,” Hawkinson said.
The experience prompted him to begin work on a sensor capable of alerting his smartphone if something went awry again. That led him to imagine a product allowing a homeowner to remotely turn off lights, unlock doors or even send for a plumber.
Among the tech-savvy, Hawkinson’s vision of interconnected devices is called the “Internet of things.”
Today, his company, SmartThings, sells kits helping smartphone users monitor and control objects in their homes. For a few hundred dollars, customers receive a handful of devices, such as motion and moisture detectors or presence sensors, which they set up around their homes. Signals from these devices are transmitted to a special hub, also part of the kit, then to SmartThings’ data cloud, and finally to the smartphone, allowing users to respond through the app.