MANKATO — Local energy efficiency company 75F and its founder and CEO Deepinder Singh are flying high.
The technology start-up built a wireless system that senses and controls temperature in different rooms and zones in a building. The product launched in March 2014 and since then, it has won regional and national recognition at innovation competitions.
It won top honors in the Minnesota Cup, was among the top finalists in a national competition by Cleantech Open and was one of a dozen companies invited to make a pitch at Google's Demo Day on April 2. At Demo Day, the company generated buzz by having a plane with "The Internet of Air" emblazoned on a banner fly around Google headquarters.
Singh, 40, said he didn't expect to accumulate quite so many accolades, but he entered the competitions as a means to allay customers’ fears.
"We're a small company and people are risk-averse," he said. "The recognition is that this is a company that has public acceptance from experts."
Singh said they're on the verge of a big expansion. He will present the product to the Region Nine Renewable Energy Task Force in a public event at 9 a.m. Friday at the Intergovernmental Center Council Chambers, 10 Civic Center Plaza.
Once the system is installed, it analyzes and controls the temperature and also tracks energy usage and air quality in buildings. Many systems now focus on allowing people to actively control their home from their smartphones, he said. "What we need is for the device to do things on your behalf."
Bob French, chief evangelist for 75F, said he left his own company to work with Singh. He had mentored companies through the Minnesota Cup competition, which was his first connection to 75F.
"I've worked with a lot of start-ups and there are many aspects of quality that you want to see to be successful," French said. "You're looking for intellectual property, which is a barrier to entry; you're looking for a large market, which here is more than 4 million buildings; you're looking for some type of dominance over the competition, presence of funding and an experienced, intelligent team.
"All of those things were present in spades, and I've never seen that all together before," French said of 75F.
Singh and his family moved to Mankato in December 2006, when his wife, Dr. Manpreet Kanwar, had finished a fellowship in Detroit. The two are from the same town in India and reconnected years later. Despite not having heard of Mankato and being weary of cold, she interviewed for the cardiology job at the Mankato Clinic.
"We knew we wanted to be in a smaller town, outside a city," she said. "It was a great opportunity, and I realized this job had everything I was looking for."
At the time, Singh worked on networks supporting Voice over Internet Protocol systems for Verizon. "I had one of the world's first terabit routers in the garage," he said. "It came on a forklift and my wife missed it once it was gone because she got used to a warm garage."
They chose their house outside of city limits because Singh was a member of the Canadian National Shooting Team. He put a target in the woods behind their house and could shoot just from an open window or shoot air pistol in a range inside.
While he's done competing, he said, he is still competitive when he picks up a pistol.
"My kids won't play 'Ghost Blasters' with me," he said, laughing.
He does shoot trap and skeet. And his other hobbies — flying planes and racing cars — reflect his motto: life, liberty and the high-speed pursuit of happiness.
His climate control system idea first struck Singh when his family was new in their Mankato home, their older daughter, age 1, was first in her own room and would consistently cry at night. Singh and Kanwar found that the girl’s room was 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house. Singh, a computer engineer by training, wanted to solve the problem.
"And to do it well, engineers have to form a company to do it," he said, chuckling.
Singh's first design was for residential use. It started well — it won GE’s Ecomagination Award. But then the housing market collapsed and with it, the potential market.
The next step
So he turned to the light commercial market. Now 75F is moving from a regionally focused company to a national one. He said he hopes to get to 1,000 systems this year and 10,000 next year.
"There are 4.3 million buildings that meet our criteria," Singh said. "It's a large, untapped market and we’re the only product that is easy to install."
The company has received $650,000 in private investment in a first round of equity-capital raising.
John Labatt, who recently joined the company, is working to connect 75F with national building management firms.
"I came on, number one, for the people and their high integrity," he said. "We have a new cutting-edge technology that is a game-changer, in my opinion."
French said Singh's leadership style also helps the company move and improve quickly.
"Deep has very high standards of achievement and I know that’s what it takes," he said. "He will stick you on a pin and examine you, and there's no way to learn faster than that."
Kanwar described Singh as energetic, ambitious and fun.
Last year he called saying he had found the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day, she said. He had found Drive A Tank, Kasota, and wanted to crush a car in a tank. She said she convinced him that would not be a suitable outing, so they went out to dinner. "I think he did go with a guy friend," she said.
Their daughters, Amrita Kaur, 8, and Simran Kaur, 6, enjoy Singh's energy, Kanwar said. And they tried to help clean in preparation for Tuesday's visit by U.S. Sen. Al Franken to their house and Singh's basement office. The girls made a soapy solution, wiped knobs and cleaned the kitchen with it, surprising their parents.
Singh and Kanwar agree Mankato has been a good place for them and their girls. "We don't plan to be anywhere else," Kanwar said.
And it's been good for 75F.
"It's a great place to live, a good place to start a business and a good place to produce," Singh said. "The work ethic locally is very hard to beat and there's loyalty, which is hard to find in bigger cities. People here don't switch companies, which works great when you're trying to start a business."