This Kitchener-based startup sees big potential in “FitBit for your house”

Alert Labs recently won $100,000 at a technology demo day for its line of hardware that monitors pipes, furnaces and electrical equipment

Alert Labs water flow sensor

Alert Labs water flow sensor. (Alert Labs)

Basement plumbing isn’t exactly the sexiest product market, but it’s hot enough for Alert Labs to have won a $100,000 award at a recent Dragon’s Den-like startup competition in Toronto.

The Kitchener, Ont.-based company, which makes furnace and water meter monitors, beat out five other startups at Communitech’s Rev Demo Day to take the top prize. The competitors were all high-level startups with products ready for market and revenue growth prospects ahead of them.

For its part, Alert Labs is targeting a basement-protection market worth an estimated $10.5 billion in North America. The Rev Demo judges obviously figured the company has a good shot at capturing a healthy portion of that pie.

“We need to make this technology work to our advantage and make our lives simpler,” says company co-founder and chief executive George Tsintzouras. 

Tsintzouras got the idea for Alert Labs while travelling in his previous role as a director at projector manufacturer Christie Digital Systems. He was in Beijing on business when he got a 3 a.m. call from a tenant at his rental property back home. A small water leak had unfortunately evolved into a major problem.

Tsintzouras was left scrambling to fix the situation, despite it being the middle of the night on the other side of the world.

When he got home, he searched for preventative solutions to avoid such headaches in the future. He couldn’t find any to his liking and discovered that his friends Kevin Wright and Ruth Casselman, who worked at Christie Digital and BlackBerry, respectively, had similar experiences. The trio launched Alert Labs last year in response.

The company makes what Tsintzouras calls “FitBits for your basement,” or sensors that connect key systems – water meters, furnaces and sump pumps – to a smartphone app. They use 2G and 3G cellular connections rather than Wi-Fi or Bluetooth so that they can keep working even in a power outage.

The sensors cost between $259 and $299 each while the continual cellular monitoring is $3.99 a month per device.

The sensors monitor activity and alert home owners if something unusual, like a leak or unexpected heating, is happening. Unlike actual FitBits, Tsintzouras says the sensors provide actionable information and suggestions on what to do in given situations before it’s too late.

“Don’t tell me I’ve used 933 litres in the last hour, tell me this is 15 times higher than normal,” he says. 

The sensors can quickly pay for themselves by preventing costly disasters such as floods, Tsintzouras says, while home insurers are also giving discounts to Alert Labs customers.

On top of the $100,000 Rev Demo prize, the company also recently won a contract with the city of Guelph, Ont., to outfit 40,000 homes with water conservation sensors. At 14 employees, Alert Labs is positioning for big growth.

“We’re happy to have a prize like that, but for all intents and purposes the money has already been spent,” Tsintzouras says.