Sustainable Buildings, a brand new startup and spinoff of the University of Groningen, has already passed a few great milestones, like winning the Green Mind Award twice, the Startup Fast Track and the Pioneers Festival Community Award. Founded by Faris Nizamic and Tuan Anh Nguyen, the startup is now moving forward, after a very successful crowdfunding campaign last summer.
Faris Nizamic and Tuan Anh Nguyen, who were PhD researchers of the University of Groningen, got the idea for their software system by looking at the energy usage of their own university office building; the lights that are left on when nobody’s around, or computers that stay on during the weekend, etc.
Together with their team, they developed a cloud-based system that monitors electricity and gas consumption of buildings, as well as consumption of devices and appliances that are using a high percentage of energy, and shows the results and total consumption on smartphones, tablets and public displays. Essentially, by raising that kind of awareness and better energy management, energy consumption can be lowered by as much as 15% to 35%. Office buildings on average make up for 40% of energy consumption in Europe alone, so this is a really significant improvement.
Roots in research
Faris, who is originally from Bosnia, and Tuan Anh, originally from Vietnam, were doing their PhD research in a similar field, leading up from research to their own startup. “Before starting our business, we were committed to finish our PhDs first”, Faris explains. “That way, we could also have validation that our innovation works, and then see how to increase impact by bringing it to more buildings.”
The first practical applications of their research were done in their own building at the Zernike Campus. “Our co-workers would see us climbing up on ladders and wondering what we were doing”, Tuan Anh says. “It’s a great way to start out and test things, because you’re working with real users, who you talk to on a daily basis, in your own building. You know the building and the people, so you also get immediate feedback.”
“But we also had a lot of help from VentureLab North and the Startup Fast Track program”, Faris adds. “Our own specialty is research of course, and that’s where we learned the business side of things, like how to come up with a business model and how to test it by constantly validating it every step of the way, talking to building owners and facility managers.”
For Faris and Tuan Anh, making office buildings as energy efficient and sustainable as possible is not the only goal. “We want to help building owners to provide the best working environment for their users. That way, building users can sustain a good health and be productive for a longer period of time.”, Faris explains. “Moreover, if building users do not notice our energy saving actions, that means we do a good job. This kind of system should not distract users; it should enable them to focus and be productive, instead of dealing with their working environment.”
“Take motion sensor lights for example”, Tuan Anh adds. “If the lights go off automatically when you’re sitting still in your office for a while, that can be pretty annoying, and it distracts people from their work.”
Sustainable Buildings launched a very successful crowdfunding campaign on Symbid last summer, raising over €130,120 of the initially aimed €100,000. “People thought we were crazy”, Faris laughs. “Launching a campaign in August, when everyone is away on holiday, is far from ideal. But it went great, and it’s also great because it shows that our idea got the recognition from the market in that way.”
So now, with the investments, what’s in store for Sustainable Buildings? “We’re currently developing two extra services”, says Faris. “Right now, we can give building owners and facility managers easy tools to monitor energy consumption and indoor environment in real-time. The second step is providing them with an easy way to control their buildings. Finally, we are also working on automating the whole process using artificial intelligence and machine learning. In the end, we want to make buildings as energy efficient as we can, while also making sure the people working there satisfied and as productive as possible.”
“We’re currently working with the Municipality of Groningen and Groningen Energy Service company (Gresco) to make more buildings sustainable”, Tuan Anh adds. “We’re also in talks with Engie to see what we can do for schools. High CO2 levels or not enough oxygen influence the ability of children to concentrate, be productive and learn in their school. If you’re able to monitor that and improve the quality of air by proper ventilation, it could really help.”
“We’re looking to grow organically and continually test and improve as we go along”, Faris explains. “That starts here in Groningen, but we want to roll out our products in Europe over the next 5 years.”