Connected-Car Startup Vinli Raises $6.5M From Samsung, Cox Automotive, And More

Vinli launched at TechCrunch Disrupt SF last September by promising to bring the car into the smartphone age. The company is making a small sensor that plugs into a vehicle’s OBD port and allow the driver to access a suite of apps on their smartphone, providing additional functions not currently built into the car. Think of it as the missing link between your smartphone and car. And today, some nine months after launching, the company is announcing a $6.5 million Series A financing round and several significant product updates, retail distribution news and the launch of its Indiegogo campaign.

Samsung Global Innovation Center led the round with participation from Cox Automotive, Continental ITS and the Westly Group, best known as an early investor in Tesla with the firm’s founder helping the automotive startup go public. Between these four investors, Vinli is gaining access to a vast array of resources, from Samsung’s consumer-oriented focus, to Cox Automotive’s deep reach into car dealers, to Continental’s knowledge as one of the world’s largest tier 1 automotive suppliers. Executives from Samsung Global Innovation Center and Cox Automotive are joining Vinli’s board of directors.

Vinli co-founder and CEO Mark Haidar explained that these investors will ultimately help the company realize its goal of being embedded in the car. As he pointed out Samsung does not currently have an in-vehicle system like rivals Apple and Google.

“Vinli is focused on bringing the most personalized, best driving experience possible to modern drivers, one that enables smooth connectivity to their favorite apps”, said Luis Arbulu, Director of Strategic Investments at Samsung Global Innovation Center, in a released statement today. “We are excited about Vinli’s innovative technology and look forward to welcoming the team to the Samsung family.”

Vinli plugs into a car’s OBD II port — a data interface equipped standard on cars since 1996. From there a smartphone connects to the device through Bluetooth and serves up a multitude of apps, anything from a safe teen driving app to an OnStar-like service to an Automatic clone that helps drivers drive smarter. The whole platform is open and so far Haidar said Vinli has convinced 1,000 developers to build apps for the system. The company expects to launch with 20 apps in August and Haidar knows of 120 more currently in development.

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The company is manufacturing its devices and expects to launch by the end of August.  Today it’s launching an Indiegogo campaign to allow pre-orders of the device. When Vinli launched on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage, the company revealed a basic $50 device and a complete device with GPS, LTE, and WiFi hotspot. However, going forward, Vinli is dropping the $50 option and dropping the price of the $150 unit to $100. Those who previously pre-ordered a $50 model will get upgraded for free to the new model.

Haidar said T-Mobile is partnering with Vinli to provide the wireless connectivity for their device, and is in talks with a major retailer for a third quarter launch.

With a fresh $6.5 million in the bank and the guidance of new investors, Vinli should be set to compete in the growing automotive technology space. The company’s solution is perfect for cars purchased before infotainment systems became smart.