From a class on entrepreneurship, to a Senior Design project, to working on startup companies in UNC Charlotte’s Portal Building, Electrical Engineering alumni Josh Cox and Peter O’Connor have been entrepreneurial partners for years. Now their latest venture, the internet of things company Oxit, is booming and the friends are building a team of UNC Charlotte alumni and other experts to keep pace with customer demands for their much-sought-after products and services.
Cox (BSEE,’14) is the company’s Chief Operating Officer, and O’Connor (BSEE, ‘14) is Vice President of Engineering. Their company also includes other UNC Charlotte-educated engineers, along with Forty Niner business, marketing and international relations experts.
“We had taken an entrepreneur class together, and in that we developed a product that we took on to Senior Design,” O’Connor said of himself and his partner Cox. “We called our team and product Red Wire logic. It was a technology that let devices in the home communicate and be controlled through the home’s central wiring system, creating a smart home. Our project won Senior Design. After graduation, we continued working in Portal trying to develop the idea.”
Red Wire Logic never made it to commercial development, but while in Portal, UNC Charlotte’s business incubator, O’Connor and Cox sat in on the pitch of a fellow entrepreneur group. The pitch was for a new type of safe and efficient smoke detector. They were so impressed with the idea, that they knew they wanted to be part of the team. That led to the company Halo Smart Labs. The company developed and manufactured a smoke detector that was eventually on the shelves of every Lowes store in America, but ultimately the commercial viability didn’t work out.
“From there, Josh and I took our combination of knowledge and said ‘let’s see what else we can do,” O’Connor said. “We knew we wanted to do something with IoT (Internet of Things). So, we got started, and had our first customer within a month.”
The IoT company Oxit was launched in 2014, with the first three employees being O’Connor, Cox and UNC Charlotte Computer Engineering alumna Sara Melo as the Chief Architect.
“IoT as a technology is for businesses that want to make data-driven decisions,” Cox said. “IoT involves acquisition of data and then determining what action to take based on the data. Everything is becoming connected in our world. What we’re doing is creating value through data collection from a distance, and offering the control of technology, manufacturing, services and more based on the data.”
Oxit is specializing in IoT through use of LoRa, Long Range wireless area network technology, and the connection protocol LoRaWAN (wide area network). The connectivity protocol uses low power, is long range, cost efficient, and offers powerful penetration capabilities to communicate through walls and other barriers. Hardware Oxit has developed includes wireless connectivity sensors and controls that operate on coin-sized batteries lasting up to five years and work with a variety of connectivity protocols.
Specific Oxit services include embedded development, mobile and web development, hardware development, backend development, prototyping, project management, design, testing and post launch service.
“The sector is extremely diverse, because connectivity is needed everywhere,” Cox said. “We focus on the technology, and then the applications of that technology are extremely varied.”
Some of Oxit’s customers include electric, gas and water utilities, retailers, manufacturers and service companies. To date, Oxit has had more than 100,000 IoT device launches across more than 10 products worldwide. The Oxit team’s success rate boasts millions of connected devices deployed for their clients within a wide variety of industry applications.
The company now has more than 80 employees worldwide. The diverse, hybrid team, includes 20 people in the Charlotte headquarters, 40-50 engineers and developers in India, and remote workers in other parts of the U.S., Egypt, Poland, Lebanon, Puerto Rico and China. To keep up with growth at its Charlotte headquarters, Oxit moved into a new building in 2020, which they have already nearly outgrown.
The team in Charlotte includes seven UNC Charlotte alumni, from Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering Technology, Business Communications, and International Studies. A new hire who will be joining Oxit soon is completing a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, with his thesis being on LoRa technology.
“We have a strong Forty Niner core, and are always looking for ways to integrate more with the University,” Cox said. This integration may include internships and Senior Design projects.
“We will be running internship programs for both engineering and marketing,” Cox said. “Internships are a great way for us to start instilling the skills we like to see in the people we hire. Having launched six products this year, we are starting a pilot project with UNC Charlotte to help us with development. This will be a Senior Design project. It is interesting that we won Senior Design, have served as judges for Senior Design, and are now becoming a project sponsor of Senior Design.”
Oxit is always searching for driven, creative people to add to its team, and in many cases this ends up being UNC Charlotte alumni. “We hire a lot of Niners,” Cox said. “We’re always looking for motivated engineers. We like people who can use their heads to solve problems. We want people who are actively seeking knowledge. Our field is constantly changing, and we all have to be lifelong learners. For this, our relationship with UNC Charlotte is going to keep being a key to our success.”