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Wink hopes to expand Schenectady partnership

Wink hopes to expand Schenectady partnership

Wink founder Nathan Smith said the Quirky spinoff’s partnership with Schenectady is exploratory and
Wink hopes to expand Schenectady partnership
Nathan Smith, founder and CEO of Wink, talks with Brad Irvine, co-founder and chairman of Wise Labs, and Dennis Encarnation, co-founder of Wise Labs, about the lighting system now in place at Schenectady City Hall, Oct. 22, 2015.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Wink founder Nathan Smith said the Quirky spinoff’s partnership with Schenectady is exploratory and that he’s hoping the business stays in the city after its future sale.

Smith traveled from New York City to Schenectady on Thursday to attend a morning news conference at City Hall announcing the city’s technology partnership with Wink, Wise Labs and Cisco.

Wink recently installed its technology in City Hall to help cut down on energy usage. Smith said the company is looking to expand its reach citywide.

“Some of the things we could potentially do is put smoke detectors in all of the commercial buildings in Schenectady,” said Smith, Wink’s chief technology officer. “We also could increase the efficiency of lighting and HVAC systems in public buildings. HVAC systems are huge consumers of electricity.”

Wink is an application people can download on their smartphones to control their home’s lighting, power and security. The business is up for sale after Quirky filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.

Wink employees, in partnership with Wise Labs, installed new LED lights on the first floor of City Hall and in Room 110. Wink also put a WiFi hub in Room 110 that can control the lights.

The technology comes at no cost to the city, Smith said, though he added that there is the potential for a contract with the city in the future.

“Right now we’re in an exploratory phase and trying to figure out if it makes sense,” he said. “We’re seeing how each product would work in public spaces.”

Wink has entered into an agreement with Singapore-based Flextronics International for the sale of the connected-home platform for $15 million. The sale is subject to better offers.

Smith said the last day to submit bids is Oct. 29. About 40 Wink employees work out of Quirky’s Center City office on State Street, he said. Wink has a total of 80 employees, including the New York City office.

Smith said his No. 1 concern is whether the company will stay in Schenectady after it’s sold.

“We hope to stay in the city,” he said. “I can’t predict the future, and I don’t know who the buyer is going to be. We really want to maintain this partnership with the city.”

Wink is actively working with Flextronics to lay out a long-term plan for the company, Smith said, but those discussions are preliminary until the sale is closed.

The technology at City Hall enables Wink to tap into the building’s network and bypass the security firewall, Smith said.

In April, Wink experienced an outage after a failed security update where people’s devices connected to the Wink hub couldn’t access the Internet and couldn’t be controlled by the application.

“It’s very secure,” he said. “We go through independent security audits on a quarterly basis. We have been running these programs for about a year now.”

Wise Labs, which formed about a year ago, shares space with Quirky in Center City. The company is made up of several former General Electric employees.

Jon Glass, a former GE employee and partner in Wise Labs, said the business is planning to open an “Electric City Innovation Center” in early 2016 to promote tech collaboration.

“The inspiration of our business is based in Schenectady,” he said. “As the city puts in place its smart LED lighting and citywide WiFi network, that’s putting an amazing platform out there.”

Glass said Wise Labs is looking to bring together scientists and technologists, and engage with people in the Capital Region to establish applications on top of infrastructure, like “smart lighting and smart parking.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy, a Democrat seeking a second term, said the technology partnership could save the city between $350,000 and $400,000 a year with full implementation.

“That money will allow us to hopefully build out throughout the city a network,” McCarthy said. “This puts in place a network of lighting where the lights are very efficient and also has a big component of analytics with high-definition cameras.”

The city’s technology partnership also includes Cisco. The company recently installed six new streetlights on Jay Street that have LED lights, security cameras and WiFi.

John Coluccio, the city’s signal superintendent, said the plan is to install 36 high-tech streetlights on Union Street, between Broadway and Lafayette Street, in the next couple of months.

“Each light is called a node and connects to the WiFi hub Cisco installed on Jay Street,” Coluccio said. “The cameras on the streetlights can report energy usage and malfunctions.”

Legislation co-sponsored by Assembly members Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, would allow municipalities to take ownership of their streetlights.

The bill has yet to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The legislation would enable Schenectady to install the high-tech streetlights citywide, which would aid in parking enforcement and public safety.

“With this legislation, cities will take advantage of lower electricity rates by using energy-efficient LED streetlights,” Santabarbara said. “The lighting will dim and brighten based on time and activity. This legislation is common sense to allow cities like Schenectady to make smart investments in 21st century infrastructure.”

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