Smart-Kitchen Startups Give Cooks Digital Help Via Internet of Things

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on recipes chosen from its app. And in 2014, Korean appliance maker Samsung bought SmartThings, which makes a hub of sorts for smart homes that is able to connect to about 200 devices.

Other startups such as June, Anova, and Tovala have been focused on building smart appliances themselves. Last year, Electrolux added to its smart appliance arsenal by buying Anova, which makes the Anova Precision Cooker, for $250 million, according to CB Insights.

David Rabie, co-founder and CEO of Chicago-based Tovala, had spent time in the food industry, founding a chain of vegan restaurants and frozen yogurt stores. As meal-kit companies proliferated and technology began to be introduced into the manual cooking process, Rabie says, “every product meant compromises from taste to time to health to energy.”

So, he says he and his co-founder set out to create a product that “controls everything from the ingredients to the end result of cooking.” Tovala sells a smart oven along with meal kits for between $199 and $399, depending on the meal plan chosen.

The smart oven is programmed to know how to cook Tovala’s meals, and can be set to more generic “salmon” or “chicken” settings so a user could make their own recipe. The key, Rabie says, is that unlike other meal kit services, with Tovala there’s very little prep in advance and, therefore, not much to clean up.

“We’ve heard from customers who’ve said they didn’t eat fish before Tovala because it was an intimidating ingredient to cook,” he says.

In December, Tovala raised a $9.2 million Series A funding round led by Origin Ventures, with Pritzker Group Venture Capital, Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto, and Y Combinator, among others, participating. (Tovala was part of Y Combinator’s 2017 winter class.)

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based June, another smart oven startup, has received investment from Amazon’s Alexa Fund. The exact amount wasn’t disclosed but, in a blog post, Amazon said June would become a part of Alexa’s Smart Home Skill API (application programming interface).

Aviel Ginzburg, managing director of the Techstars Alexa accelerator, says voice technologies and the connected home are becoming “the peanut butter and jelly of consumer IoT.”

And, perhaps not surprisingly, this combination of technologies has gained some of its best traction in the kitchen. “The best of these products aren’t the best because of technology alone, but because of the seamless marriage of the physical and the digital,” he wrote in a Techstars IoT newsletter in March. “They are those experiences that let us interact with technology in the right context, in the right way, at the exact right time. They don’t break, don’t overburden the user, and truly make things easier.”

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