Smart window startup View kicks into overdrive with $100M from Madrone (those Walmart guys)

Churning out next-generation smart windows that can dim on demand is an expensive proposition. That’s why on Tuesday seven-year-old dynamic window maker View (formerly called Soladigm) announced that it’s raised a $100 million round from private equity firm Madrone Capital Partners to scale up its business. View has now raised more than $300 million in funding, and previous investors include Khosla Ventures, GE, Corning, DBL Investors, and the Westly Group, among others.

If Madrone Capital Partners is a familiar name to you at all it’s because they’re associated with the Walton family, the heirs to the Walmart fortune. The fund has invested in a few cleantech startups in recent years including efficient engine company Achates Power, solar company Sunrun, solar inverter Enphase Energy, and (gasp) the dreaded Solyndra.

View smart windows

View makes dynamic windows, also called electrochromic windows, which use a low-voltage electrical current to reflect or absorb light, tinting or untinting the window. The company not only makes the windows themselves, but also the controller system, the software and the apps that can control the window tint from an iPhone.

The coloring effect on the window can cool or warm a room, and can save energy by cutting down on air conditioning and heating. View says the windows can cut 20 percent off the costs of heating and cooling, 20 percent off of lighting, and can reduce peak load (electricity at peak times of use) by 25 percent. But View’s customers are also just as interested in the aesthetics and design of the windows, and the control factor, and companies that are buying the windows include hospitals, corporate offices, hotels and universities.

The original core technology came out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the windows are made by sputtering a 1 micrometer thick layer of tungsten oxide onto a pane of glass. That layer is sandwiched by another pane of glass. The process is similar to one that’s done in the semiconductor industry, but on large glass pieces.

View's smart windows

View’s smart windows

View CEO Rao Mulpuri told me in an interview that the company is now shipping glass that’s 50 square feet in size, and they’ve done 50 projects across North America. Some of the largest projects they’ve done are 27,000 square feet worth of smart glass at a hospital in Toronto, and they’ve just started on a project for a 37,000 square foot tech center in Louisiana. The first small pilot installation was in the lobby of the W Hotel in San Francisco back in 2012.

View’s windows are a premium product, so they’re more expensive than regular windows, or obviously window coverings like curtains. But Mulpuri tells me that the company is able to reduce its costs to make the windows as it scales up production, so it’ll be able to generate more revenue for R&D and expansion in the future.

Three hundred million is a lot of money for a startup, but making glass and hardware is an expensive proposition. Green building company Serious Energy ended up selling off its assets, including its window making divisions, late last year after it failed to scale them and wasn’t able to raise more money to scale them.

With this $100 million round View intends to not just grow production at its factory in Mississippi, but also sales, distribution and marketing. The company has taken a bit of time to move into commercialization — they first launched out of stealth in late 2012 with their first installation at the W Hotel. They raised a $60 million round from Corning 6 months after that first project, and now they’ve raised this whopper round another half year later.