Millennial Net Catches $6M

A growing number of venture firms have invested in something that has to do with 802.11 technology. However, Globespan Capital, Kodiak Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners invested $2 million apiece into a company that works with 802.15.4 technology, which is a little different.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennial Net uses 802.15.4 technology, which supports extremely low-powered devices, unlike 802.11, which has enough power to allow coffee drinkers to cruise the Internet at Starbucks.

802.15.4 supports Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPAN). The technology, for example, is useful to people in a factory who are moving around and trying to get accurate and timely information back to the central monitoring station.

The companies three founders are all former professors or graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s prestigious d’Arbaloff Laboratory. Sokwoo Rhee, Sheng Liu and Harry Asada spent years at the laboratory working to create a wireless biomedical sensor.

Then the three founders and company President Todd Riedel redirected their work towards mesh networking technology. Riedel says he is aware that the company’s technology has wider appeal in the automotive, security and medical industries, but is directing Millennial’s initial efforts at government agencies and major corporations.

Millennial’s product, the I-Bean, extends the range of wireless networks that employ 802.11 and other related, unlicensed wireless spectrums. They do this by using the wireless devices to relay traffic both between themselves and out to the wider Internet. I-Bean, which is no bigger than a stack of quarters, uses extremely low power, which results in lower costs over time.

The I-Bean product uses 30 times less power than a Bluetooth device, which means you don’t have to keep changing its batteries. It can keep working for 10 years.

To be certain there are other developers working in this space. Companies like Boston-based Ember, which raised $20 million last October from several venture firms, and Crossbow of San Jose, Calif., which was funded and is licensed to Intel Corp. But the technology threshold is such that Millennial’s deep research experience, and the relatively small number of competing developers give the startup the potential to be an early winner.

Additionally, Millennial is already selling development kits to Alston Power, a U.K.-based engineering company. Beyond work with customers for its off-the-shelf devices, Millennial also provides custom development for customers; which can mean more memory or more power. Finally, the company licenses its technology to OEM suppliers who can incorporate and re-sell iBeans-based technology.

Ullas Naik, a managing director in Globespan’s Boston office and one of the co-lead investors in Millennial Net, says that his firm has looked extensively at the Wi-Fi space, saw a lot of companies, but Millennial Net was chosen as his firm’s first investment in the WPAN arena. “Millennial is the most interesting and has the most immediately applicable of technology in industrial, factory and building applications,” says Naik. “There are factory builders who want this [technology now].”

Email Jerry Borrell