by Katie Ellman

Manik Suri is founder and CEO of technology company Therma. Before founding Therma, Manik co-founded the Governance Lab (GovLab), an innovation center at New York University that developed technology solutions to improve government. He is a former affiliate of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and has held positions at global investment firm D.E. Shaw & Company and the White House National Economic Council.

Based in San Francisco, Therma is a leading innovator of IoT-based temperature monitoring solutions designed to create significant reductions in food waste and energy costs. Founded by alums from Harvard, Columbia and UC Santa Barbara, the company is led by a mission-driven team of food industry professionals and technology innovators focused on one thing: making an impact on climate change.

A leader in growing the “smart cold chain,” Therma develops innovative, IoT-powered, 24/7 temperature monitoring and real-time data analytics devices and platforms deployed across thousands of restaurants, retailers, manufacturers and government agencies worldwide, with leading brands including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Burger King, NOW Foods, 7-Eleven and Wyndham Hotels.

Impact Report Series Producer Katie Ellman speaks with Suri about his career journey and how it brought him to capitalizing on the IoT to improve refrigeration for the food industry.

Ellman: In your own words, could you describe to me what Therma is and what you do?

Suri: We build smart, cold chain technologies to overhaul the refrigeration supply chain, trying to create cleaner and more sustainable cooling in ways that advance human health, while protecting the planet itself. We use a combination of technologies: IoT sensors, data analytics and web and mobile tools to help reduce waste of product, energy and refrigerants across the cold chain.

Those three — products, energy, and refrigerants — have a business ROI, and they’re also big drivers of global warming. In total they represent around 7 percent of all warming, which is a big number. And the refrigeration supply chain is growing at 15 percent because so much of the world that’s developing wants refrigerated products, fruits and vegetables, proteins, drugs, vaccines. And so, refrigeration is growing massively. It’s already a big source of emissions and has many failure points. We’re trying to help reduce that waste in ways that allow these important goods to get to humans, while also protecting the planet.

Ellman: Can you talk through the tech that you provide and how it works? 

Suri: We think of Therma as an acronym that we came up with after the fact, it’s: temperature; humidity; energy; remote monitoring application. That’s Therma. We use IoT (Internet of Things) sensors that connect real time data from inside a fridge or freezer, a walk-in, or a display case to get the real-time temperature and humidity collected and reported. That’s the fundamental. Wireless, low cost, reliable sensors that can get the signal out of the inside of refrigeration interiors.

That sounds fairly straightforward, but it’s actually pretty novel. The reason being that wireless technologies weren’t able to get signals out of the inside of the fridge or freezer until very recently. WiFi and Bluetooth and generation one wireless connectivity layers couldn’t get a signal out of the iron or steel siding of a fridge or a freezer, which is why almost none of the companies we work with had wireless monitoring. We work with companies like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Domino’s, 7/11, NOW Foods, Marriott Hotels, Wyndham Motels. These are not small companies and they definitely looked at technology for years.

Therma is a hardware enabled data platform that uses low cost, reliable sensors to monitor and alert and help drive efficiencies and avoid spoilage events. And we’re working towards additional functionality on top of that, but that’s kind of where the platform is today.

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