Earlier this year, we welcomed TZOA
to our portfolio. Their technology monitors, measures and improves indoor air quality through the use of
data sensors, IoT, data management and smart home automation.
- Founded: 2013
- HQ: Vancouver, BC
- Funding: March 2021 $5M Series A
Investors: The Brightspark Canadian Opportunities Fund, accredited investors via a Brightspark SPV, as well as strategic angels
People spend more than 90% of their time indoors, and the awareness of Indoor Air Quality (AIQ) is growing. In the past few years with pollution and forest fires, and more recently with the COVID-19 pandemic, the cleanliness of the air we breathe has become critical to how we think about our health and wellbeing.
In 2020, the market for AIQ monitoring systems suddenly skyrocketed years into the future. The coronavirus outbreak brought indoor air quality into the spotlight as hospitals worked to mitigate the spread of disease. A year later, offices, retail, and education facilities have prioritized finding strategies to reopen safely and minimize infection. Chief operating officers and building owners/operators are looking for answers on how to safely reopen offices, hospitality, recreational, education, and other facilities while giving employees, customers, and students peace of mind.
Enter TZOA, a company that has spent the last seven years developing deep technology that addresses the air quality market. The company was founded by Kevin R. Hart, a Journeyman Redseal Electrician, at the age of 23, after experiencing high levels of carcinogenic crystalline silica dust on industrial worksites. New regulatory changes in North America proposed to enforce safety, but there existed no convenient or affordable way to monitor exposure levels. It struck Kevin that we care about our water & food quality, but we lacked a tangible way to see the impact the air we breathe has on our wellbeing.
TZOA's initial approach was to develop a low-cost, portable air quality monitor that could detect small harmful particles in the air and distribute it through retail channels to citizen scientists and change makers to influence public policy. After several iterations, they realized that it wouldn’t be enough to tell people that there was something wrong with the outdoor air quality on their way to work. Kevin discovered that TZOA could make the largest health impact by helping people control their indoor environments, where we spend on average 90% of our time.
Since then, the company’s mission has become the providers of complete solutions for indoor air quality. They have designed and patented a device called HAVEN that fits inside a ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) vent and monitors multiple data points to determine air quality inside individual homes, places of work, leaseholds and even "crisis spaces" such as meat processing plants.
Their unique hardware and software products use IoT to connect, monitor, and inform users (consumer homes as well as large businesses) and control systems on what is required to improve their air quality by upwards of 90%.
Much like Google Nest has done with “smart” thermostats, TZOA is introducing the concept of “air intelligence”. HAVEN leverages proprietary sensor technology to detect air pollutants in real-time, delivering air quality updates straight to a user’s mobile device. The technology can regulate the airflow as well as filter detected contaminants out of the air through high-performance air filters.
TZOA’s big vision is to leverage their product and the data it can capture to become a leader in the $6B Air Quality Monitoring Systems (AQMS) market. TZOA is not the only company trying to disrupt this market. According to Pitchbook, more than $US 600M was invested in the space in 2020. We believe that TZOA has an edge with its relationship with big OEMs and a solid distribution network.
Kevin Hart, CEO
Kevin spent 5 years as a journeyman electrician after fast-tracking apprenticeship and taking the ACE-IT program at the age of 18. By 23, Kevin became passionate about the problem of invisible environmental contaminants that could affect human health while on the industrial worksites he frequented.
Kevin pursued an entrepreneurial path and incorporated TZOA with the intent of creating accessible technologies that measured the contaminants in the air. He was accepted into the Foresight Cleantech Accelerator, the Creative Destruction Lab program, and the ReadWrite accelerator program in San Francisco where he lived for 3 years before returning to settle in Vancouver.
Jacques Perreault, Brightspark lead
TZOA already had a relationship with OEMs and some distributors. The contribution from the Brightspark team and Jacques, in particular, will be to help the company in its expansion strategy towards HAVAC contractors and the general public market for TZOA products. Jacques already works with companies in the IoT sector, and understands the challenges related to growth.
The company was referred to us by a fund that we know very well, and that was in contact with TZOA. We were impressed by the quality of the management team and their domain expertise. After a few reference calls on the team and the market dynamics, it became apparent to us that we needed to become partners with this company.
In December 2020, we led TZOA’s first institutional investment via the Brightspark Canadian Opportunities Fund. We also enabled accredited investors from our network to invest alongside us through a Special Purpose Vehicle. This funding will support the company in continuing to develop the technology and ramp up its sales & marketing efforts.
Why we invested
We’re excited about TZOA being our first investment based in the booming Vancouver tech ecosystem. The company is led by a passionate team and has built unique technology that represents an exciting growth opportunity in a massive market - all pillars of Brightspark’s investment thesis.
Investing in TZOA presented a unique challenge: In addition to the distance between Montreal (our HQ) and Vancouver (TZOA’s), we did 100% of the transaction virtually. We adapted our processes accordingly, but the most challenging aspect was to create a relationship of trust with the TZOA team. It was not easy, but we succeeded.
With the COVID-19 crisis accelerating an already growing market, we see an opportunity to take significant ownership in an IP-driven company with impressive early traction with one of the world's largest HVAC OEMs as an anchor customer. The pandemic might be the inflection point many market players have been waiting for. Chief operating officers and building owners/operators are looking for answers on how to safely reopen offices, hospitality, recreational, education, and other facilities while giving employees, customers, and students peace of mind. This is a common trend for our investment team in the past year, as we looked to invest in companies that were accelerated by the COVID pandemic, but will endure far beyond.
Even before COVID-19, the increase in pollution has triggered the spread of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and cardiovascular problems. The rise in awareness of the adverse effects of polluted air on health and employee productivity has propelled the air quality monitoring market's growth. Besides, the supportive government regulations about monitoring and controlling air pollution and an increase in a public-private partnership for air quality monitoring have supplemented the demand for air quality devices. We are foreseeing an acceleration of the growth of this market because of COVID.
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