Kate Olinger is developing go-to-market strategy as product manager for Phyn, Uponor’s “intelligent water” joint venture with Belkin International.
The Phyn product, in pilot testing in the United States and Canada, offers automated controls to help protect homes from leak damage and conserve water. Uponor, a leading manufacturer of plumbing and indoor climate systems based in Finland, and California-based Belkin, the consumer electronics accessories giant, announced the Phyn joined venture in May 2016. Uponor North America, based in Apple Valley, is part of Uponor. Olinger said the intention is to begin promoting a commercialized Phyn product after January 2018.
“It’s creating a new way to talk to plumbers and a new opportunity to bring some technology to plumbing,” Olinger said. “Plumbing’s been around a long time, but we haven’t really come up with a way to digitize and monitor it as we have with some of the other systems inside our homes.”
The testing is helping to develop algorithms and machine learning capabilities that will enable Phyn to detect water leaks, Olinger said. It also is assessing how homeowners want Phyn to notify them of a leak, through a text message or other means, and how often they want to be contacted.
Olinger, who began working at Uponor North America in 2002, previously managed its plumbing pipe business and has worked in engineering, project management and marketing. She has a chemical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota.
Q: How did you get involved with the Phyn project?
A: Our president, Bill Gray, was announcing the joint venture … and I thought that was something I really wanted to be involved in. It’s an exciting opportunity to create a whole new business within Uponor.
Q: How would you describe your experience working with counterparts from Belkin?
A: They have a similar work ethic but a little different culture. They move a little faster, more of that start-up feel. The product life cycles within Belkin is usually much shorter, both development-wise and how long someone uses a product. We’re balancing that on the Uponor side where you need to have something that’s going to stay watertight for 25 years.
Q: How do you anticipate selling Phyn?
A: Because we have a strong history of working with plumbers, that’s our focus. Get them up and going, get them the materials they need and then have them sell it to homeowners. There’s another portion of the pilot where we’re working with 18 installers around the United States and Canada. We’re finding that we want to focus on plumbers that have a service type of business and are looking for a new source of income from installing the product.