A Hub for Mobile Beacon Data, Unacast Aims to Woo Brands

Mobile Proximity Data Firm Scores $5 Million in Funding

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Thomas Walle, co-founder-CEO, Unacast
Thomas Walle, co-founder-CEO, Unacast
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As the globe becomes dappled with devices tracking our movements through physical space, one company aims to organize and standardize the data flowing through those trackers. Oslo-based Unacast has focused its early efforts on corralling the growing array of so-called proximity services firms that have mobile beacons and other tracking sensors installed in stores, restaurants and entertainment venues, serving as a hub to integrate sensor data with ad platforms including Lotame, Mediamath and Oracle.

Now Unacast aims to work directly with brands. It's hoping a fresh influx of $5 million in a series A funding round helps get it there. "We are having a lot of brand direct conversations," said Chris Cunningham, chief revenue officer at Unacast. The company has just begun speaking with agencies including WPP and hopes to hold meetings with brand execs at this year's annual Cannes Lions advertising festival.

Mobile beacons and other proximity-location-tracking sensors continue to proliferate in retail and other business locations across the globe, numbering 6.2 million as of the first quarter, according to a recent report from Proxbook, a Unacast-affiliated directory of companies in the space. Today, companies use beacons and sensors to gauge foot traffic, better understand who's in its business locations, and deliver messages to people when they're near a specific area of a store or facility.

The company, which scored a seed funding round of $1.6 million in April 2015, connects ad platforms with around 50 proximity services firms to enable digital ad retargeting based on location data gathered by beacons and other sensors that communicate with mobile devices. The new $5 million in funding comes from venture capital firms Open Ocean Capital and Investinor.

Unacast plans to bolster its infrastructure capabilities in order to manage what it hopes will be more data flowing into its system from sensor and beacon providers, and the recent funding round will fund that goal. The money will also go toward bringing on new sales staff, particularly in the company's New York office.

The idea behind the service is to assist companies taking in mobile sensor data -- the information intercepted by sensors when mobile devices come within close proximity -- to turn it into a new revenue stream by integrating it with ad platforms that allow advertisers to target mobile ads to people who have been near those sensors. For instance, a retailer may want to retarget a shopper who was in the shoe department with an ad in the future.

"We have a large cost ahead of us which is to aggregate and normalize all this data," said Thomas Walle, co-founder and CEO of Unacast. Much of the data generated by proximity sensors is not in a form that is readily applicable to ad targeting or tagged properly to be used by ad systems.

Historically such sensors might trigger a message offering a discount on a product when a mobile app recognizes that someone is near a sensor in a certain area. However, the data might only show that someone was near sensor number 123 rather than near a sensor in the cereal aisle. Unacast wants to ensure that data showing someone has been in the cereal aisle at a grocery store is labeled in a way that's recognizable to ad targeting platforms.

Unacast is helping proximity firms tag and structure their data to speak the language of ad technologies. "Some proximity companies do this themselves; sometimes it's not really applicable in the online marketing space," said Mr. Walle.