Read more about the companies that have benefited from Better Futures support.
How can Better Futures help your business?
Peter Davies, founder of Verv, talks about his exciting new product, and how Better Futures helped move his business forward.
As an AI company looking to revolutionise the energy industry with our tech, Better Futures seemed like a perfect fit. Our goal is to pioneer a movement towards a low-carbon economy and, by launching the first peer-to-peer energy trading community on social housing in the UK, we are well on our way.
Verv is an AI-based smart home product that sits next to your electricity or smart meter, and analyses your home energy data at its source.
The Verv hub is able to sample home energy data at up to a million times per second (compared to a smart meter sampling data every 15 seconds). This allows it to provide users with advanced insights into their homes via the Verv app which were not previously possible. This includes real-time updates on spend per individual appliance, analysis of energy efficiency of appliances and, as Verv learns your home, notifications if appliances have been left on too long and alerts about appliance deterioration before they actually break.
This is made possible thanks to Verv’s AI and machine learning technology which can analyse the energy signatures of individual appliances.
With increased knowledge around energy usage and tips to help users reduce their carbon footprint, Verv makes homes smarter and more efficient.
We have also developed a blockchain based peer-to-peer energy trading solution for our Verv hub that can be integrated into the product via a simple software update.
This is being field-trialled on social housing in Hackney. It will allow those with renewable technology (eg solar panels) and battery storage to share any excess energy they create directly with their neighbours who don’t have this tech. Critically, this will improve access to affordable, low-carbon energy for many people.
What challenges have we faced?
Owing to the advanced technology behind our smart home product and our peer-to-peer energy trading solution, recruiting people with the right machine learning, specialist programming and blockchain skills can be challenging. In addition, UK regulation around peer-to-peer energy trading is still being worked out. We are working to inform and advise OfGem regulation around peer-to-peer energy trading using the results from our government backed trials and look forward to seeing certain barriers being softened in order to pave the way for this innovative technology to be implemented.
How did we work with Better Futures?
Better Futures provided a valuable support network and expertise in the space that helped push us forward.
In November 2016, we ran an equity crowdfunding campaign with a view to raising £500k to support Verv’s rapid growth. Better Futures provided strategic support from early on within the process, advising us on both the financials and the marketing. Having raised £1.2m, and significantly exceeding our £500k target, we were very pleased with the results.
Better Futures gave us access to a number of networking events and introductions to key industry players. In addition, we were given the opportunity to both present our plans and demo our tech to industry leaders at these events, and increase visibility around our brand.
I would absolutely recommend the project! Better Futures provides an invaluable support network on all aspects of the business, numerous opportunities to attend key networking events and the chance to demo your tech to industry leaders, as well as help to increase visibility for your brand.
What’s next for Verv?
We are in the middle of our Series A EIS investment round to accelerate the deployment of Verv. Having exceeded our £500k target on Crowdcube and raised £1.2m, we are focusing on rolling Verv out to the UK market and deliver on our 12,000 unit sales pipeline, grow our team, design our final enclosures and continue to invest in our IP roadmap (six patents to date).
Having received the support from multiple government grants, we are also pushing forward development of our peer-to-peer energy trading solution which will improve access to low-carbon, affordable energy.
We launched the first peer-to-peer energy trading community on social housing in Hackney in January, aiming to empower the community to become completely energy self-sufficient using solar panels and our technology. We look forward to using the results of this trial to inform Ofgem regulation around peer-to-peer energy trading.
About the Founder: After university I founded a specialist software consultancy called Austin Consultants which uses a graphical programming language called LabVIEW to automate and test large systems, primarily in the engineering and automotive industries.
During this time, I worked on multiple projects, acquiring data at extremely high frequencies and disaggregating this data. When I took on an energy consultancy project using this high-speed data technology, I realised the extent of what was possible. At this time, one sample of energy data every 30 minutes was considered cutting-edge and what we were doing far exceeded this. This led us to sell our commercial monitoring solutions to Crowne Plaza Group, Dubai Ports and AT&T.
As the technology advanced, it became clear that there was an opportunity to tackle energy by targeting individual homes and helping to educate them about their usage, bring down their bills, reduce their carbon footprint and protect their homes.
At the time, smart meters were being rolled out across the domestic market but the information they provided was not detailed enough to encourage the long-term behavioural change in the home that would ultimately lead to lower energy bills and increased efficiency. Hence Verv was born.
Ehab Sayed, Founder of Biohm, reveals how he made use of the help on offer from Better Futures.
As a sustainable company of 14 passionate and dedicated individuals, we are naturally attracted to a programme that aims to have an impact on the environment and society. As a start up with limited resources, we were keen to make use of all the help made available to us through Better Futures.
Biohm is a research and development-led company that allows nature to lead innovation in the construction industry to create a healthier and more sustainable built environment. Placing biological systems at the heart of our inspiration, we combine philosophies of the Circular Economy and Human-Centred Design with future-tech to create a step-change in building technologies, materials and manufacturing methods. We specialise in circular and truly sustainable construction systems and bio-based materials.
Triagomy, our revolutionary construction system, is capable of achieving drastic reductions in a building’s environmental impact, build-times and costs. It uses our very own unique bio-based materials, which include a Mycelium (mushroom-based) insulation, a Food-Waste Board and a plant-based concrete alternative. This off-site interlocking construction system creates carbon-negative buildings that can be deconstructed at any stage of their life; supporting a much-needed transition towards agile infrastructure and offering unprecedented flexibility to architects, property developers and occupants.
We are collaborating with innovative companies, collectives and research institutes to develop natural, bio-based, smart and multi-tasking materials that could replace those currently used in construction for a more sustainable future. All of our materials are the result of collaborations with nature and the sensitive manipulation of naturally occurring biological systems and processes.
We convert one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the UK into a valuable and functional material. Food-Waste Board can be used as a replacement of wood-based sheet material (e.g. dry lining), could be moulded into any shape and it is completely natural, vegan and biodegradable.
We use fungus to consume organic and synthetic waste and transform it into foam, sheet and leather-like materials. Our mycelium foam is ready for commercial interior use and building insulation and we are currently experimenting with other forms. The Mycelium grows into any desired shape with minimal human intervention.
We are developing a number of new products that offer more sustainable alternatives to concrete and bespoke moulding.
What challenges have we faced?
Our main challenge has been funding. We are a rapidly growing company when it comes to our ideas, impact and workforce. However, accreditation for our construction system and materials could cost over £200k. We have decided not to go for conventional funding mechanisms (VCs etc.). Instead, we are aiming to raise our funds through initial sales of our materials and consultation services as we do not require accreditation for certain applications. We are also working hard to gain new clients for these projects.
How did we work with Better Futures?
We have received excellent support from the project; supporting us in creating a costing model for our various project typologies. This will make it considerably easier for us to accurately cost our products and services, as well as keep track of our margins and how we could become even more financially sustainable over the long-term.
We will also due to receive material testing support with Imperial College London, which would help us immensely in our material development process. This would allow us to accelerate the commercialisation and accreditation process of our Mycelium material.
What’s next for Biohm?
The next steps for Biohm are to set up an appropriate supply chain and scale-up our material manufacturing process. This will be in collaboration with Three Pools’ permaculture farm in Wales to form a truly circular manufacturing facility that consumes waste from local businesses and supplies them with our by-products, which happen to be mushrooms!
We also aim to host a range of events and workshops as well as take on some large consultancy projects.
We would definitely recommend Better Futures to other start-ups and have already done so!
We found the Better Futures Project extremely valuable because they helped us overcoming these challenges, exactly when we needed the most: just before commercialisation.
AirEx is a smart ventilation control that helps reducing heating energy demand without compromising damp and air quality. It measures (and predicts) environmental conditions and its smart algorithms automatically regulate the air flow. As a result, it saves money on residents’ energy bills, improves thermal comfort and protects the home from condensation and damp.
Our core team has previously led the delivery of 30,000 energy assessments in social housing, which made us realise that the market is lacking low-cost yet high-impact solutions to tackle fuel poverty and climate change – this is why we developed AirEx. We are a small, but dedicated team of engineers, product designers and built environment professionals who are truly passionate about tackling fuel poverty.
Background of founder: Agnes Czako
After graduating from the Economic University of Budapest, Agnes moved to London to kick-start her career in cleantech sector. Just over 6 years ago, Agnes joined the first spin-out company of Sustainable Ventures: The Sustainable Home Survey Company (SHS) and quickly trained up as a Domestic Energy Assessor and soon after as a Passivhaus Consultant. During this 6 years Agnes led the delivery of SHS’s energy assessments across fuel poor communities in London and South-East England. The company’s in-house energy surveyors completed 30,000 energy assessments during the first phase of ECO, and Agnes has personally surveyed over 2,000 of these households. This helped her gaining a deep insight into the struggles that many vulnerable families face at home: cold draughts, damp and subsequent health problems, due to the lack of energy efficiency in their homes. Having this hands-on experience helped Agnes and her co-founders design and develop a solution that is significantly cheaper than alternative energy efficiency products: AirEx can pay back in 2-3 years via reduced energy bills.
Alongside of leading the commercial side of AirEx, Agnes also completed a part-time master’s programme in “Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment” at the University of Cambridge, which largely helped her gaining further insight into sustainable design.
What challenges have we faced?
We are a small but passionate team of engineers, product designers and built environment professionals. However, the problems we are facing as a small start-up are not uncommon: how to grow our team, how to build up our sales pipeline effectively, how to turn trials to paid customers, etc.
Furthermore, obtaining private sector investment without a rigorously tested and approved product is often challenging.
Working with Better Futures.
Better Futures organised valuable networking events and thanks to their extensive network in cleantech they managed to put our team in touch with the relevant experts in this field. Particularly the “Sustainable Entrepreneurs – Building Tech” events proved to be helpful, where like-minded founders from very similar sector had the opportunity to share their own experiences and challenges they face and brainstorm collectively to come up with a solution.
The introduction to the UK-GBC proved to be very valuable too – their membership provides multiple benefits for cleantech start-ups.
Furthermore, Better Futures helped us with numerous one-on-one sessions when we discussed fundraising strategy, sales pipeline, customer proposition, or partner development. These aspects are incredibly useful at an incubation stage. BF’s extensive network in cleantech helped us gaining more exposure, participate on events, pitch our company in front of influencers in the cleantech industry.
They also helped an incredibly lot by offering interns from relevant masters courses. These interns turned out to be super helpful in prototyping and meeting tight deadlines!
Lastly, thanks to Better Futures’ support we had exposure to the “Women in Cleantech” series of workshops organised by the London Commission for Sustainable Development: a perfect opportunity to meet like-minded female founders in such a male dominated industry – which we believe can be changed!
The next steps for AirEx will be to raise a next round of seed investment, grow our team and prepare for our market launch!
I would highly recommend the Project for other start-ups that are truly committed to tackle climate change. If your business is at a stage of seeking for a network of investors and potential customers, or government stakeholder groups, then Better Futures can certainly help!