UW Prof Shwetak Patel’s Energy Startup, Zensi, Bought by Belkin

4/21/10Follow @gthuang

Zensi, an energy monitoring startup co-founded by University of Washington assistant professor Shwetak Patel, has been acquired by Belkin, the computer hardware and wireless company based in the Los Angeles area. Financial terms of the cash deal weren’t given. The news was reported earlier today by CNET.

Patel co-founded Zensi in 2008 while he was in graduate school at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but he has continued to develop the technology at UW as a faculty member in computer science & engineering and electrical engineering. The company’s technology includes sensors that you plug into a wall outlet to measure the amount of electricity used by each appliance or device in a home. Zensi’s similar systems for water, gas, and ventilation—and software to run it all—could help people keep better track of their home energy and resource use, and ultimately reduce it.

Zensi was based in Atlanta and Boston, but the technology was licensed from UW and Georgia Tech. To hear Patel talk, this is just the beginning for using software help consumers better conserve energy. “This puts UW on the map as a premier place for energy work in the residential space,” says Patel. He adds that Zensi is one of the first examples of a residential energy monitoring company getting acquired for cash. The acquisition should speed up the process of making Zensi’s technology widely available to consumers. Zensi was looking to close a round of venture capital earlier this year, but decided to go the acquisition route when multiple bidders appeared, Patel says.

Indeed, the residential energy monitoring sector seems to be heating up all around, with big companies like Intel, Microsoft, Google, and even Apple unveiling new products in the past year. (Intel’s most recent offering looks a lot like Zensi’s, in fact.)

Patel’s fellow co-founders include Gregory Abowd from Georgia Tech, Matt Reynolds of Duke University, and CEO Kevin Ashton, who was based in Boston and has joined Belkin as general manager of the company’s new Conserve business unit. Belkin says to expect some new energy management products later this year.

As for Patel (who’s in his late 20s), now that he’s made his “big splash” in energy, he says he’s working in other areas, such as health-monitoring technologies. An example might be a mobile phone that can do X-rays in the field, he says. Will he work on another startup? “I imagine I will again,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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