6 Home Automation Gadgets to Smarten Up Your Small Business

There are many correlations between running a small business and running a home. Here are some home automation gadgets you can take advantage of to make your small business more efficient and productive.

There are a lot of correlations between running a small business and running a home. In many ways, a home is a small business (just without the profit part). You already know that advances in home automation technology can save you a bundle on your home’s utility bills, so why not apply that same technology (and money savings) to your small business? Whether your home is already fully automated, or you haven’t even started considering how to put the Internet of Things to work for you, consider incorporating one or all of these connected devices into your small business to save money, add convenience, and increase security.

Honeywell’s smart thermostat also acts as a personal weather station that you can chat to.

1. Smart Thermostat

The most talked about piece of smart home equipment is a natural solution for small businesses, too. An intelligent thermostat will regulate the temperature in your business automatically, helping save money on heating and air conditioning costs.

Labeled “learning thermostats,” these products from Nest and Honeywell are taking the concept of programmable devices a step further, by removing the programmer – you. Instead they learn your routines and set the temperatures accordingly. They also use geo-fencing to know when a space is empty and when to turn things down. You can also adjust these smart thermostats remotely via your smartphone.

Currently the choice is between stylish simplicity with a Nest ($249) or fully-featured with Honeywell’s 7-Day Wi-Fi Smart Programmable Thermostat with Voice Control ($299). The voice control allows temperature settings to be adjusted by talking to the thermostat. It will also answer questions such as: What is the time? What is today’s date? What is the temperature outdoors? Not strictly necessary, but pretty awesome.

0ce26a04-c898-42ee-a41a-759afe5982ba_4002. Smart Lights

Smart light bulbs offer convenience and energy savings. Install a smart LED bulb starter kit such as the one offered by TCP, and you can have your entire work space illuminated by low-energy-use LED light bulbs that you can program to turn on and off at specified times, and control remotely. A starter kits runs $109 for three bulbs, a remote control and a gateway to connect them all. You can add up to 250 bulbs to the gateway at $17 each, so outfitting a small business won’t break the bank. The bulbs have an estimated lifespan of 23 years and use 85 percent less energy than a standard incandescent, so they quickly pay for themselves, plus you can control your lighting and dimming from anywhere.

The Belkin WeMo Switch can be paired with a motion sensor.

3. Smart Power

The ability to turn electronics on and off remotely is one of the core conveniences offered by home automation. Plugging devices essential to your business into a Belkin WeMo Switch ($49.99) or a Wink Pivot Power Genius ($79.99) can easily achieve this, while providing peace of mind and money savings.

Attached to these smart power sockets, devices can be programed to switch on and off at pre-set times or controlled remotely via a smartphone app. Wink offers two smart outlets in its six-socket strip (the WeMo just has one). However, you can attach a motion sensor to a WeMo switch ($99.99), enabling you to use motion to turn your electronics on and off.

The Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt can be integrated with Nexia Intelligence, a home automation system that can control a variety of devices.

4. Smart Locks

Smart locks are a natural fit for a small business, especially one that has seasonal employees or contractors continually needing access. High-end smart locks will let you assign e-keys, allowing access to the holder at a certain time or for a certain period. They are easy to revoke, meaning that when an employee leaves you don’t need to change the locks.

Kwikset’s Kevo ($219) is one of the best currently on the market, however it is limited to iPhones, but you can also use key fobs. The August smart lock ($199 with pre-order), which debuts later this year, is compatible with iOS and Android, plus it attaches to your current door lock making installation very simple. Its features include notifying you when someone enters or leaves and automatically locking when the door closes behind you.

The Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt ($199) doesn’t need a smartphone at all; it works via a touchscreen keypad. Plus, if you purchase a Nexia Home Intelligence system ($79.99) you can schedule lock codes to be active only on certain days and at specific times. It also has a built-in alarm and you can receive text messages when it is triggered or when specific codes are entered.

Just think of him as a super cheap employee.

5. Smart Floors

Cleanliness is crucial for productivity, and in a small business we all know how much appearances matter. So it follows that by adding a robotic floor cleaner to your employee roster you will not only save time, but see an increase in profits. Because, what customer doesn’t appreciate a well-kept shop?

Just pop an iRobot Braava Floor Mopping Robot ($199 – $299) down and let it do its work two or three times a day — far more than you would likely ever manage. It promises to systematically cover your entire floor in a single pass, using disposable or microfiber cleaning cloths to pick up dirt, hair and dust from any hard surface. It’s also super quiet, making it suitable for any space where serious work is being done.

Insteon’s indoor/outdoor capable wireless camera can keep an eye on the shop from all angles.

6. Smart Security

Save yourself a bundle on a monthly-fee-based security system by installing wireless cameras such as those made by Dropcam ($149 – $199) to keep an eye on your business yourself. Most wireless camera systems offer simple set up. Just plug in and connect, and you have the ability to stream live video via a computer, smartphone or tablet, use DVR playbacks, and operate with sound and night vision, and motion activation. However most are rated for indoor use only. If you want to keep an eye on the inside and the outside, consider a camera such as the Insteon Wireless 700TVL Indoor/Outdoor Security IP Video Surveillance Camera ($119).

Jennifer Tuohy is a tech aficionado who writes for The Home Depot about technologies that can help entrepreneurs save time and money. The home automation products Jennifer talks about in this article can be found on The Home Depot website here.

Clearly, Dr. Dre Never Founded a Tech Startup: RTP & Silicon Valley

If you had asked me two months ago (during my scrupulous search for summer employment) whether I’d rather take a job in California or North Carolina, my answer would have been instantaneous. I mean, one of those places is home to Silicon Valley and the other… well… isn’t.

I’ve always viewed California with a sense of marvel. It’s “The Golden State,” the birthplace of companies like Google and Apple, and the home of my former dream college, Stanford (thanks for crushing that one, out-of-state tuition). And who can resist the lure of the west coast’s idyllic weather, scenic beaches, and picturesque landscape? Perhaps esteemed lyricist Dr. Dre said it most eloquently: “[California is] a state that’s untouchable, like Eliot Ness.”

But in hindsight I blame the majority of my partiality to Silicon Valley on my ignorance of what lay elsewhere. To make a long story short, in April I landed a job working for a start-up in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park (RTP), and before I knew it found myself living and working in The Bull City (for those Mad Men fans out there, I actually live in a building that’s a five minute walk from the Lucky Strike water tower).

In retrospect, like most good things that happen in life, I could not be more thankful that fate brought me here. I’ve spent the last two months working for an incredible young company in a vibrant and unique start-up community—a community that not only has a very distinctive personality, but seems to be quite comfortable as an up and coming start-up incubator on the East Coast. No, it’s certainly not Silicon Valley, but from what I can see RTP is not trying to be.

Granted, I should probably take a second to acknowledge that on many levels it is unfair to directly compare RTP to Silicon Valley, as they have entirely different start-up ecosystems. Silicon Valley has the kind of established environment needed to support and scale the rapid growth of companies like Intel, Adobe, and Yahoo. They’re a breeding ground for billion dollar companies. RTP: not as much (as of yet, anyway). However, even though many of the Triangle start-ups in this area may never reach the status of Google or eBay, this certainly doesn’t mean that a great deal aren’t on the fast track to developing innovative products and services that will change the world (and perhaps lead to some lucrative exits along the way).

As a result, as anyone closely following the start-up community in this area will confirm, the Triangle has continued to see larger and more frequent investments from VC firms over the past few years. And this trend seems to be continuing.  So while there is undoubtedly more money out in Silicon Valley, that is certainly no reason to overlook the infusions of capital that are occurring in RTP. In short, what this means for young and aspiring entrepreneurs is that one may no longer have to “go west, young man,” in order to prosper.

And how about the talent pool? It’s quite common to hear that the best and brightest entrepreneurs are coming out of Stanford and other California based schools. But just like Silicon Valley has a great many colleges and universities to draw upon for fresh talent and spirited innovation, RTP has a handful of phenomenal schools right in its own backyard: Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, and Wake Forest, just to name a few. Not to mention that when one compares the cost of living, it’s no wonder more cash-strapped students aren’t attracted to settling down somewhere within RTP. Trust me, I speak from experience on this one. And let’s not even talk about the commute. I highly doubt I could find an awesome place to live anywhere in California that was a four minute drive from my office.

All other factors aside, I think the greatest thing about RTP is the strong network that exists here among entrepreneurs. Aside from the young talent and soaring research and technology in the area, I humbly believe this communal spirit is what drives the ever-growing startup community here. The sense of support and collaborative approach one finds here, even as a summer intern like me, is inspiring and refreshing. Every night of every week I am invited to meet-ups, conferences, happy hours, and networking events, all organized for the sole purpose of encouraging entrepreneurs in the area to meet, share experiences, and enjoy one another’s company. And with the existence of multiple incubators here for the sole purpose of launching startups, it’s almost impossible to ever feel without help or out of sync, regardless of your role within the company. Organizations with the purpose of pushing the area’s entrepreneurial impact, like Bull City Forward, even hosted a networking event for startup interns.

As Stanford professors Joseph Bankman and Ronald Gilson point out, “Communities are defined by their mythology.” From what I’ve experienced firsthand over the past two months, RTP has a community that’s small enough to easily connect with the right people, but big enough where there’s enough space to thrive amongst each other.

If you happen to be from the Triangle area, I don’t mean to bore you with what you may already know. If you’ve never been to these parts, I highly suggest a trip to explore Raleigh-Durham and all of the amazing facilities catered to new, innovative, and world changing companies (i.e. American Underground, Bull City Forward, CED). Like I was, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and inspired by the incredible start-up community here. Moreover, not to boast, but it is worth mentioning that Durham received 2nd place in reader’s pick of New York Times Places To Go for 2011

So while my intention is not to start another east coast/west coast rap battle (RIP Tupac), I think it’s worth pointing out that California isn’t the only untouchable state, especially when it comes to start-up environments. In fact, I think Petey Pablo might have been ahead of the curve a bit when he asked all of North Carolina to “Raise Up” back in 2001. Or perhaps I’m reading into it all of these rap lyrics too much?

Obscure Hip Hop references aside, I have a new respect for RTP and all it has to offer. With such an immense amount of talent, research, and innovation all calling the Triangle area home, one should be careful not to allow the “wow factor” of Silicon Valley to overshadow RTP and the growing number of start-ups here.

California or North Carolina? I’m happy I went east.