Techstars Companies visit Rochester Entrepreneurial Community for Techstars++ Partnership. Part Three: Solenica

Part One: Nebulab

Part Two: LiquidLandscape

 

Company: Solenica

Based in: Rome, Italy and San Diego, CA

Techstars Connection: First Class in the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator (2015), San Diego

Tagline: Let the sun shine in.

 

THE PROBLEM

Most people spend 90% of their day indoors.  Shocking right?  You, me, and most people we know are inside, and out of the sunlight, for about twenty-one hours each day.

“We're hardwired to thrive in sunlight.  It's good for us, it makes us feel good.  So why wouldn't we want to spend more time in it,” explained Solenica CEO and Founder Diva Tommei.

It seems initiative that sunlight is good for our health.  I feel refreshed after spending time outdoors and feel a particular drop in productivity and general alertness during daylight savings.  Surprisingly, there are very few studies examining the science behind daylight and health.  This is exactly where Solenica plugs in.

 

THE SOLUTION

Solenica is a hardware startup, originally developed in Rome.  “We hope to be the daylighting company one day,” explained Diva.  Solenica is developing a product which Diva affectionately refers to as Lucy.  Lucy is technically a heliostat.  She’s a robot composed of a clear sphere and movable mirror to reflect sunlight.  Lucy’s brain is full of photosensors.

“She’s clever.  She’s intelligent.  She can figure out in the sky where the sun is and redirect it to where you point the sphere.  So through that sphere, you can tell the device where you want to have the sunlight redirected.  So you are effectively taking sunlight from somewhere it is falling to somewhere it’s shaded,” said Diva.  

Lucy can redirect sunlight from near a window or some other lit portion of a room to illuminate a dark corner or a long corridor.  Lucy brings more sunlight indoors.

Lucy is a pretty self-sufficient woman.  She’s solar powered.  She has no cables; she can easily be moved.  She’s lightweight and Wi-Fi enabled.  She works both in- and outdoors. 

Because Lucy is smart, she also serves as a sort of weather station.  When she’s working, she’s also collecting data about temperature, humidity, and environmental variables in all the geographical regions Lucy is placed in.  This data is uploaded anonymously into Solenica’s servers, where the data is clustered and analyzed.  Lucy is also equipped with humidity, temperature, ultraviolet, and carbon dioxide filters. 

Lucy can also reduce cost energy savings.  “Having Lucy redirecting sunlight into a room allows you to avoid switching artificial lights on, consuming electricity,” explained Diva.  There are just certain products and tools that can’t be cut off from electricity, like computers and medical ventilators.  Lucy can help buildings move towards net zero energy. 

Diva actually built the very first Lucy during her time as a PhD student at Cambridge.  She had relocated to Cambridge from Rome, and experienced quite a shocking change in the amount of sunny hours.  Her office only had one window, which was far away from her desk.  She developed seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, during her first year of PhD studies. 

But, Diva had a window, she had some sunlight, and she had a lot of creativity.

“I started building something that didn’t look this pretty, but kind of worked the same way.  It had this mirror that could figure out the sun in the sky and redirect it where I was sitting.  And that really helped me.  It helped me through the PhD,” Diva related.

The Lucy that Solenica brought to Rochester is still a minimal viable product, but she has come a long way since her Cambridge predecessor.

“We’re putting her into the hands of beta testers to understand how they use her, what they like, what they don’t like, what we can make better, before we finalize and crystallize, freeze if you will, the design for production,” Diva explained.

The team will launch an Indiegogo fundraising campaign in the fall.  Those interested can enter their email address on the Solenica website to be notified of the exact date of the campaign launch. 

 

WHAT SOLENICA HOPED TO ACHIEVE IN THEIR ONE WEEK IN ROCHESTER

“We’re incredibly excited about the opportunity to work with an institution like the Mayo Clinic.  The breadth of research that the clinicians and physicians do is astounding. …So there’s the Well Living Lab downstairs.  And we’re big fans of what they’re doing, which is starting with the human being and then building the building out.  So how do we create indoor environments that are healthy, nurturing, and positive so that you have a better life or a better experience indoors?  And what challenges for installing these types of products, where within the clinical setting, or within the medical facility settings, could we do the most good?” asked Solenica COO Louis Huynh.