One year after finishing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Bing Chen sits in a coffee shop with caffeine in hand, contemplating the room’s lighting. It’s 9 a.m. on a rainy Seattle day. “The light in here is too warm,” Chen says. “It should be brighter at this time in the morning.”
Chen should know. His startup, Ario Living, uses WiFi to synch lighting to the body’s natural sleep/wake cycles. Waking up? Blue light, which stimulates cortisol production to awaken the body and maintain alertness. Closer to bedtime? Amber light, which mimics the body’s response to darkness by facilitating the release of melatonin.
Artificial fluorescent lighting harms the body’s natural circadian rhythm by affecting the non-visual photoreceptors in our eyes that are sensitive to changing levels of blue light, according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Letter. These photoreceptors impact the circadian rhythm and change the balance of the endocrine system, impacting the production of hormones that affect sleep patterns. By using natural lighting cycles, Ario Living’s technology restores these balances and facilitates a natural sleep cycle. This, in turn, alters behavior, mood and overall health.
Ario Living’s technology synchs to each individual user’s natural sleep cycles. It’s responsive. It’s sleek. And it began to take first shape as a business in the 2014 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC).
“We knew nothing about business. We were – are – engineers. We knew nothing about pitching,” Chen says. “But suddenly here we are, with all of these judges asking us questions we had to answer.”
While Ario Living’s technology was in its early stages at the EIC, their experience at the Challenge pushed Chen and his cofounder, Dale Dell’Ario, to develop it further. They added new members onto their team to speed up the development phase and leaped into StartX, an accelerator program at Stanford University, and focused full-time on Ario. Ario’s recent Kickstarter has more than quadrupled their funding goal of $50,000, finishing at $201,165 funded.
Since then, Chen’s life has been consumed by lighting. When beginning his masters degree, he assumed he’d be working as an engineer for one of the large companies in and around Seattle after graduating. Instead, he now pulls all-nighters, watching the crowdfunding totals pour in and thinking about the next steps for the business.
How does he feel about raising triple Ario Living’s funding goal? “It’s nice to know people actually want it,” he says, laughing. “We’re not crazy.”