The Wisconsin IoT Council held its inaugural event, “Challenges and Opportunities: Internet of Things in Wisconsin and the Midwest,” at Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan on Tuesday, September 17.
The Council was formed by the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) as part of its FreshTech Innovation District. It is a professional, membership-driven organization that promotes Wisconsin and the Midwest as the epicenter for the Internet of Things (IoT). With recently hired Ron Rumack serving as coordinator, the Council drives technological advancement in the region by providing the organization and its members with a forum and environment conducive for networking, relationship building, talent attraction, and mutual exchange of information relative to the Internet of Things.
Jeremy Udovich, Regional Sales Director of HiQo Solutions, and Wisconsin IoT Advisory Board Chairman, gave opening remarks to the standing-room-only audience. He spoke about the importance of manufacturers making interactive products, because those who don’t will lose out. He said the Wisconsin IoT Council serves the entire state and plans to hold events at locations around Wisconsin.
Julia Kanouse, CEO of the Illinois Technology Association (ITA), the founders of the Midwest IoT Council, gave an introduction to the Midwest IoT Council. She said with all the talk about how to become “the next Silicon Valley,” she firmly believes that Chicago and the Midwest don’t need to be “the next” anything. With its proximity to many Fortune 500 companies, existing business-to-business technology, and other strengths inherent to the Midwest, the region is already positioned to emerge as a national leader in the advancement of the Internet of Things. Kanouse explained that the Midwest has a rich history of supporting industries such as manufacturing, software, big data, retail, and healthcare, and the mission of the Midwest IoT Council is to establish Chicago and the Midwest as an epicenter of IoT.
The first keynote address for the event at Blue Harbor was given by Shane Moll, President, Power Tools at Milwaukee Tool.
Moll talked about how the company reinvented itself by “introducing disruptive innovation to the industry.” The company invented the technology that enabled the use of lithium-ion batteries in power tools and revolutionized the power tool industry when it launched its li-ion V28 line of cordless power tools in 2005.
As part of Milwaukee Tool’s commitment to a connected tomorrow, a line of smart tools was launched in 2015 that communicate with software called One-KeyTM. The innovation allows tradespeople to use a smartphone or computer to dial in precision settings, view utilization data, and receive alerts before equipment needs repair. The software also provides tool tracking and security. Currently, 35 tools produced by Milwaukee Tool are connected. The company’s growth has skyrocketed since it dedicated itself to “disruptive innovation.”
The next keynote speaker was Don DeLoach, IoT Thought Leader, Author, and CEO & Founder of Rocket Wagon Venture Studios, which is passionate about building exceptional IoT companies as it helps new entrepreneurs build products, teams, and market strategies.
DeLoach talked about start-up incubators (where there is co-working with some mentorship) and start-up accelerators (more formal short programs with more mentorship and small equity investments). He explained that the venture studio model, like Rocket Wagon Venture Studios, is an even more aggressive form of the incubators and accelerators, where the studio has a full team that has “been there, done that,” and brings that experience to selected entrepreneurs to help move them from idea to commercialization.
DeLoach talked about IoT policies that a company should consider as they wade into the IoT waters, such as who has exclusive ownership of data collected from IoT technology. Privacy issues have also been a hot topic recently, with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, and other companies making headlines. These controversies and uncertainties have kept some companies from taking the plunge into developing or incorporating IoT technology.
One company that has taken the plunge is Kohler Co. with its KOHLER Konnect ® smart products. The Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror, for example, has a built-in voice assistant allowing the user to control KOHLER Konnect ® products by voice, adjust lighting levels, and even complete tasks like checking their calendar. The DTV+™ showering system allows the user to create presets for sound, water, steam, and lighting. KOHLER Konnect ® products can also be controlled through a phone app. Other connected products by Kohler include kitchen and bath faucets, toilets, and intelligent lighting.
After a break, Jeremy Udovich then moderated a panel discussion with a question and answer segment on building an IoT team. Panelists included Shane Moll from Milwaukee Tool; Steve DeCabooter, Director of Connected Platforms at Gilson Inc. in Middleton, which is a leading manufacturer of specialized analytical instrumentation for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries; and Marwan Estiban, Director of Engineering at Kohler Co.