ProAxion is one of five startups to win a collective $250,000 in grant funding from the nonprofit Durham-based NC IDEA Foundation. Since 2006, the foundation has awarded nearly $4.5 million to 109 startups around the state. The five companies were narrowed from 11 finalists, 26 semifinalists and 173 total applications for the Spring 2016 cycle. Profiles of the rest of the companies are linked below.
A year since an industrial machines guru and software engineer got together at a local Startup Weekend, their company called ProAxion
has landed an NC IDEA grant and will soon release its first product.
ProAxion solves a problem co-founder Justin Rothwell encountered over 18 years designing and selling industrial machines and systems. He wanted to help equipment owners schedule repairs before a major problem occurred instead of reacting in an emergency situation. He thought a device that measures vibration and can sense when changes in vibration occur in real time could help machine operators predict when one might fail.
Combined with a software that analyzes all the data collected, ProAxion would provide what Rothwell calls “predictive maintenance as a service” or “a Fitbit for industrial machines.” Clients don’t pay for the hardware, but for a subscription to the service that monitors and provides reports on machines. His co-founder Elliott Poger, a former Google engineer, is building the software.
The pair first applied for a grant last fall when they participated in Groundwork Labs. Though they were named a finalist, another six months of work has allowed them to get feedback from a series of beta customers and apply it to a first product called Tactix they plan to release to paying customers in July.
They’ve also landed $100,000 of a $250,000 seed round. NC IDEA funds will specifically used for more product development. Beta customers have asked for sensors that also monitor temperature, humidity or speed, and they want it all on one dashboard.
“We are developing a data pipeline into the factory, a cloud-based system where any wireless sensor can go into it,” Rothwell says. Another next step is integrating it with the major enterprise software, like SAP, used by manufacturers.
According to NC IDEA President and CEO Thom Ruhe, industrial applications like ProAxion’s are “bedrock stuff in private equity.”
“These are quiet companies that go forth and have big impact,” he says.
NC IDEA was especially impressed by the knowledge of the team, the early proof points, and the size of the industry.
“I love the metaphor that they are the check engine light for industrial machinery and motors,” Ruhe says.
ProAxion’s big goal is to drive down the costs of maintaining equipment and increase the utility of systems, which according to Rothwell, are historically complex and expensive, especially for the supply chain manufacturers ProAxion will target. Early customers include a Raleigh-based ready-mix concrete company and a maker of car upholstery in Virginia.
“We’re really about manufacturing—we believe strongly in how important it is to the American economy,” Rothwell says. “These are places that really need the technology.”