TBJ: Mann+Hummel moves AI startup from Silicon Valley to the Triangle

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By Lauren K. Ohnesorge  


Qlaire began in Silicon Valley. Its sole purpose: to innovate.

Mann+Hummel, a German filter manufacturing firm with an innovation center at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, had sent them there, hand-selecting the five founders from its campuses across the globe. They would be part of something new, an incubation initiative Mann+Hummel was starting in order to foster new products.

Fast-forward to today, and Qlaire is piloting a new artificial intelligence technology at 10 sites across the globe.

But, as of Monday, the AI startup calls the Triangle its home base.

“Competition for talent acquisition in Silicon Valley is really high,” says Ellie Amirnasr, CEO of Qlaire. “We couldn’t compete with all those large, established tech companies that are in Silicon Valley.”

In an interview, Amirnasr says that, now that Qlaire is ready to scale, it’s also ready to get serious about its future – and that’s going to be in Raleigh.

“Being from Raleigh, I really wanted to push the startup mentality, be part of the changes going on in RTP … I wanted to come back here,” she says.

And Mann+Hummel, which has a growing team of 40 in Raleigh, was more than ready to have the addition.

“We thought Raleigh would be a better option than Silicon Valley from a cost point of view,” Mann+Hummel CTO Charles Vaillant says. “And we’re hiring more people.”

For Mann+Hummel, Qlaire represents something completely new.

Mann+Hummel – and companies like it – were already selling air quality monitoring systems, spitting out information, “but not any actionable insight,” says Amirnasr.

“We see more and more companies are curious and interested about measuring the indoor air quality in buildings,” Vaillant says. “People get in more and more trouble with asthma, allergies … employers are interested in providing good air quality for their employees.”

For North Carolina, it may mean even more companies. That’s the hope of local developers, including Dennis Kekas, the associate vice chancellor of partnerships and economic development at N.C. State.

He says initiatives like this validate the efforts his team expends in recruiting companies like Mann+Hummel to Centennial Campus. Mann+Hummel picked the site for its Americas headquarters and innovation center in 2013, and has since expanded into other buildings and facilities in North Carolina.

“Their presence is relatively small, but they do a lot of cool things,” he says.

Leah Burton, director of Centennial Campus Partnerships and Industry Alliances, says the company’s local evolution has been good for the whole region – but particularly N.C. State, whose students have gleaned first-hand experience through partnerships with the firm.

“They’re the kind of model we really like,” she says.

Mann+Hummel, which has another tucked-in company in Raleigh, filtration solution firm I2M, has also been acquiring since it moved to Raleigh. This week, the firm announced it’s buying Tri-Dim Filter Corporation in Virginia. And earlier this week, it made an investment in an RTP startup, Get Spiffy.

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