Winner Spotlight: SmarterShade’s Mike Stacey Introduces a Magic Switch for Smart Windows
What if you can control light transmission, privacy, clarity, and reflection of your window with a flip of a switch? SmarterShade makes it happen. SmarterShade, a Chicago Challenge Cup winner, is an innovative and affordable solution to window shading.
We caught up with Mike Stacey, CEO of SmarterShade, to talk about not only the story behind his company but also what’s coming next. Stacey will compete against other energy startups at the Challenge Cup Global Finals in Washington, D.C., in May of 2015.
So, tell me—what is SmarterShade? What do you do?
We make smart glass simple and affordable. With smart glass, you can control the tint level of the window by touching a button. The concept of smart glass is not new; it’s been around for more than 30 years.
Historically, we’ve operated smart glass by charging glass with electricity. Because we believe in smart glass and think it’s an incredible material, we started over by looking at smart glass in a whole new way to make it simple. The key benefits of our product are that it can be manually operated without any power and is a quarter of the price of other smart-glass technologies.
What is the story behind SmarterShade?
My cofounders and I met at the University of Notre Dame. While I was getting my MBA there, I met some undergraduate students who had a class project on finding a better solution to blinds and shades. Those students came up with smart glass as their solution, and were basically looking for someone in the University to write a business plan for them.
As soon as I found those guys, I fell in love with their business concept. Since I had some experience in writing business plans and even starting small companies, I offered to write their first business plan. I also took their prototype to the market to receive feedback from possible customers—the initial reaction was “Wow, can I have this on my window?” From that point on, we decided to form a company.
What successes has SmarterShade had so far?
On a customer front, we’ve brought in about $350,000 in customer and strategic partner payments. In total, we’ve raised about $1.8 million through grants, competitions and financial investments. More importantly, we’ve had validation from our customers, partners and investors.
What makes SmarterShade different from competing platforms?
We’ve created a broad technology platform that can be implemented both within a double-paned window system and as an aftermarket add-on to existing windows. We are launching our first product in Europe through a distributor that will sell our product to hospitals. We’ve also secured large partners to get involved in the architectural segment; we are creating commercial windows and residential windows as well.
What led you to participate in 2015 Challenge Cup Chicago?
I actually learned about it through my incubator in Chicago. It looked like a very interesting event so I applied right away.
What piece of advice do you have for other startups in the beginning stage?
Believe in yourself, believe in your idea and don’t stop. Because nothing is easy but anything is possible. You can make things happen if you don’t stop at “No.”
For us, it has been an incredible learning experience. It’s not all successes along the way, you go through failures but that is where you learn—you need to be ready to fail, but also be ready to adjust from that.
How do you plan to prepare for the Global Finals in May?
I think preparation starts now! I was really impressed with the event in Chicago—I met a lot of great folks, got some exposure and received incredible feedback. We now have an access to a whole new network through 1776.
In the meantime, I’d like to expand my network, do my research on other startups and really plan on how to spend time well at the Global Finals. I want to make it count!