It is April 5, 2018, and we are less than a month away from the end of the Hacking for Energy class. Since we last saw the students, they did an additional 106 number of interviews, bringing their total interview count to 413. They also learned about the remaining boxes of the Business Model Canvas, continuing the lessons from the March and February. Below are the concepts that they learned.
Week 9: Since Week 8 was a recap week and the following week (March 15th) was spring break, it had been some time since we introduced the students to a new business topic. This week we had the students focus on key resources and activities. Key activities what a company must do in order for their business model to be a succeed, and key resources are assets, whether they are physical, financial, intellectual or human, that a business must have to enable that success. For example, if your company is a cell phone manufacturer, one key activity might be be manufacturing the batteries while some key resources would include the manufacturing equipment, the building where you do the manufacturing, and the intellectual property related to the cell phone . To help the students think through these concepts, we have them fill out a table that lists all their key activities, what key resources are necessary to enable this activity, and the status of the activity. We also have them color code the chart to display human, financial, equipment, and intellectual assets.
This week also marks the first time that the students began working on the left side of the Business Model Canvas. We started the course by having the students focus on Value Propositions, and then had them move into the right side of the canvas, which are topics related to the customers - customer segments, customer relationships, and channels. In Week 9, we had the students begin to think about the left side of the canvas and topics related business structure - key activities, key resources, and partners. This sequence is intentional in Lean LaunchPad. The right-hand side is about figuring out who your customer is, if they are willing to buy your product, and what motivates them to buy. The left-hand side is about figuring out if and how you can deliver the product envisioned after answering the key questions from the right-hand side.
Week 10: Continuing with topics on the left side of the canvas, in Week 10 we had students look at Partners. In Lean LaunchPad, Partners help provide the key resources or execute the key activities that you are not able to do within your own business. In the case of the cell phone manufacturer example from above, a partner may be a battery manufacturer who helps you design a prototype battery for your phone because you do not have the technical expertise in-house to do what needs to be done.
The types of partners you see in a business are:
To help the students think about partners, we had them build partnership diagrams where they mapped out their potential partners, including the type of relationship they would have, and the value that each partner would get out of the relationship.
For this week (Class 11), we had the students focus on the Cost Structure box of the Business Model Canvas. In particular, we asked to students think about all the costs that need to be incurred for their company to function. This is the culmination of their learning, as they are going to take all of the information they have gathered from the past 11 weeks (How will you reach your customer? What are resources do you need? What partners will you have?) to determine how much it all will cost. Once students fully understand the costs that drive their business model, they can then compare them to potential revenues to really understand if this is a potentially scalable business.
Some fun highlights from the past couple of weeks:
We think they are happy to be coming to the end:
Instructor: This is your last day of the Business Model Canvas
The students: Woohoo!!
But it also clear they have learned a lot:
Student: We talked to a company doing something very similar to us but in the Midwest. They definitely need to do their customer discovery though because they were talking about how their product was for everyone.
Instructor: You sound like Steve Blank right now and it makes me so happy!
We also love these teams’ true priorities
Student: We did very well at this event the in-person interviews but I was disappointed.
Students: There was not a lot of free swag
Student: I like free swag.
Here are Week 11’s presentations:
First up was Aquathots, the team working with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. When we last saw this team, they were developing a water-saving device for residents to reduce water consumption and save on their water bill, but they are now developing a water usage tracking service that will help managers and residents save money by saving water.
This week, the team spoke to property managers and some companies in the metering sector. When describing their cost flow diagram, they indicated that their business model depends on the data that they collect being free, which is the case with city building water usage data. Their current plan is to have residents download their app that benchmarks their water usage. As they reduce their water consumption, they will earn coupons or possibly monetary rewards. Since the property managers and not the residents pay the water bill, any money savings on the water bill will accrue to the managers, who will then share some of the savings with the Aquathots team. The team thought that property managers would also want to download the app to track water consumption, but they learned from their interviews that larger property managers would not be as interested in the product that they are offering since they have too many other things to think about. The teaching team asked the students if they thought about how they would incentivize each customer that they have identified, as small business owners and residents have different considerations when making buying decisions. Why would a resident want this app? What kind of savings would a property manager need to see in order to get excited about the product want this app? They suggested talking to more of their target customers (property managers and residents in metered buildings) and finding out from them what would incentivize them to save water.
Our next presentation was DemoDogs, who are working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with new transportation options for low-density areas in order to reduce GHG emissions. This team has been progressing quite nicely since they hit on their idea to create an app that predicts demand for ride-hailing services as a way of reducing the idling time of those drivers. This week, the team did a really nice job thoughtfully outlining their costs. In particular, we like that they ran experiments with Google Ads to see what their customer interest might be and learned that the conversion rate for Google Ads was much lower than they thought. They used this new data to rethink their Customer Acquisition Costs which they are worried might be too high to sustain a business. We were really happy to see the team using real data but also cautioned them to take this data with a grain of salt: getting someone to click on an ad is one thing, but getting them to actually pay more for a service is another. We recommended that, once the app is up, they could refine what their conversion rate is. This will likely increase their CAC, but a high CAC on its own is not a bad thing. It is really the comparison between the CAC and the Lifetime Value (LTV) that matters, so we also recommended they revisit their revenue model and LTV calculations.
Next was PowerTab, the team working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to solve the information gap that exists around EVs and the capabilities of their batteries, with their current solution being a web app that will provide fleet owners with a custom comparison of the cost-savings, environmental benefits, and mileage range of electric vehicles (EVs) to better make purchasing decisions. This team had a good week, as they were able to get some good industry interviews at the International Auto Show at the Javits Center. In particular, they spoke with telematics data providers to learn more about the feasibility of getting data collected from GPS trackers into their web app to better inform their analytics. What they learned from speaking to the telematics providers is that much of the raw data they need to make their app successful (battery health, current vehicular mileage range) would be impossible to access without buy-in from the auto company, and right now there is little incentive for the auto companies to provide that type of data to a third party. Other than that newly discovered challenge, the interviews from the auto show were fruitful, as they helped the team build out a well-thought cost structure, and helped them better define their business model.
Our final team is Residential Potential, who are working with the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to build something that enables the participation of residential and small business owners in the distributed energy resources (DER) and demand response (DR) market. This team, which is made up primarily of CUNY students, only had two interviews this week because they it was CUNY’s spring break, though they will have to finish off the remaining 8 interviews next week. The one non-CUNY student on the team who was not away enjoying spring break was still able to give a good presentation on Cost Structure. In particular, the team did some research to figure out where the highest number of DER aggregators there are by location. They not only learned the states with the most aggregators (Texas, followed by California and New York), but also that the total number of aggregators in each state in very small, the most in Texas with 300. The teaching team emphasized that they need to think about the relatively small pool when determining the price of their services. Given how small this market looks, how many DER aggregators will the team need to have as customers (and how much will they need to charge) in order to see a profit?
The next time we will be blogging, it will a recap of these students’ Final Presentations! It will be an exciting day, when the teams will tell us whether or not they are going to go forward with their projects - you don’t want to miss it! Learn more and register below.
We are officially 2 months into the Hacking for Energy Class, and as the interview counts improve, so do the business hypotheses! Since we last saw the students, they have done 171 interviews, bringing their totals to 306. We have also seen some changes in the class composition. Team SolarLedger, who was working to build a blockchain-based solution for grid security for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), disbanded because two of the team members got job opportunities, making the time commitment for the class impossible to manage. One of the other members that team decided to stay in the class, and was able to join the DemoDogs team and work on their project. The other team member decided to audit the course but not participate on any specific team.
Since the February Update, the student teams began to dig more deeply into the other boxes of the Business Model Canvas. They also started to make strides on their hypotheses and potential fits for their solutions. Below is a brief rundown of the topics and concepts that they learned in the last couple of weeks.
Week 4: Since the students were asked work on Customer Segments in Week 3, the natural next step prior to Class 4 was to have them spend a little more time matching their customer segments to the value propositions they explored in the earlier weeks. This time, we had the students build a Value Proposition Canvas, which is a great diagram that helps entrepreneurs think through who their customers are and why they should care about the proposed solution.
Week 5: This week, we stepped away from the question “What customers are you selling to?” and moved through “How do you deliver your product to your customer?” We had the teams start to answer that question by building a channel diagram. A channel diagram is a tool that helps entrepreneurs think about what physical channels (direct sales, distributors) or online channels (direct sale from website, web store) they can use to make their product available to their customer and also about the economics (costs) of using each of those channels.
Week 6: Week 6 asked a new question “How are customers going to find your product?” Making your product available through physical or online outfits is one thing, but you still need to get the word out to your customers to find your product so that they can buy it. To help answer that question, we had the students create get-keep-grow diagrams. A get-keep-grow diagram is a tool that helps entrepreneurs map out the various marketing techniques and sales strategies that they can use to reach their customer base. This diagram is based on information gathered in customer interviews about how customers behave now: what events do they go to, how do they search for new products, what websites or blogs do they follow? By knowing how customers consume information and find out about new products now, teams can better develop strategies for reaching them.
Week 7: Another week, another diagram! This week, we asked the students to think about how money will move in and out of their organization, and to map out that movement using a Payment Flows Diagram. This is an important exercise in any industry, but is particularly helpful in cleantech because customers are in complex ecosystems with a variety of players within the customer’s organization as well externally. There are so many federal, state, and municipal incentives that cleantech entrepreneurs need to keep track of as well. By mapping out the payment flows from a variety of sources, entrepreneurs can figure out if the breakdown of money coming into their company is revenue, private capital, or subsidies, and determine if their business has a healthy business model.
This brings us up to the present, Week 8, which is what today’s recap is about. For this week, the students were asked to a recap of what they have learned so far, presenting all the diagrams that we asked them to create so far, but now updated to include the instructors feedback. You can see the results of this exercise in the student presentations below.
Some fun highlights from the past couple of weeks:
A good entrepreneur can pivot on the spot
Student: “We have decided to narrow our customers to the A and B because we think they will care more.”
Instructor: So do you add them to your Business Thesis?
Student: No, we SHOULD HAVE added it
We are training an army of passionate energy nerds:
A student struggles to remember what FERC stands for: “They are the Federal Energy…..” The rest of the class helps out and chimes in, “REGULATORY COMMISSION.”
Sometimes saying something out loud helps clear up confusion:
Student: “We think this group might be our customer.”
Instructor: “Sounds like they are not your customer, but you need to care about their behavior.”
Student: “Yes! They are the customer of our customer.”
Instructor: “Right, they are not YOUR customer.”
Student: “ Ah yes! right, right!
Here are Week 8’s presentations:
First up was Aquathots, the team working with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to develop a water-saving device for residents to reduce water consumption and save on their water bill. The team is struggling to understand who their customers are and what motivates them. They made a creative move in how they connect with their proposed customer segment, interviewing individuals who originate from water-scarce countries but now live in New York City, but the instructors did not see a lot of learning from those interviews, and the learnings they did have were not reflected in their business thesis or their diagrams. Not reflecting updated intel in the slides and diagrams is something we saw from all the teams (some were worse than others) and is a common thing that will happen as entrepreneurs go through the customer discovery process and update their hypotheses about their business idea. Doing customer discovery is a lot of work, but it is vital to take the time to input the new ideas into the diagrams, and then doing the work to figure out if those new assumptions will stick and make sense. We could tell this was a challenging week for the team, and we hope they are able to make some gains in the future.
Next was Residential Potential, who are working with the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to build something that enables the participation of residential and small business owners in the distributed energy resources (DER) and demand response (DR) market. This team was actually able to gain some insight, as they learned through their interviews that the DER market is expected to triple between 2017 and 2021, and it is a market of particular interest to NYISO. However, their channel diagram needs work, as they are drawing conclusions on how to interact with aggregators based on only a few interviews. They need to spend more time on their get-keep-grow diagram since the numbers they presented did not look entirely accurate. All of that aside, the instructors were impressed by how the team has been working to understand the complicated DER and DR markets, and could really tell from this presentation just how much the students have learned about the industry in such a short amount of time.
Our next presentation was DemoDogs, who are working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with new transportation options for low-density cities in order to reduce GHG emissions. The last time we saw this team, they were really struggling with finding a good solution to the overarching problem of better transportation in cities. The team, by conducting more customer interviews and consulting with the instructors in office hours, have hit on a potential solution to their problem and are now testing it its effectiveness. Their idea is to create an app that predicts demand for ride-hailing at transportation nodes, improving drivers’ profitability and convenience for riders while reducing the amount of time ride-hailing drivers spend riding around alone looking for customers. Their journey is a great example of Lean LaunchPad in action: you may not see the forest through the trees in the beginning of your journey, but staying open-minded in the customer discovery process can lead you to a solution you never would have even considered in the beginning. You will notice a marked difference in the last presentation that we shared and this more recent one: with a defined business thesis, they have been able to make great strides in thinking about their customer, channels, sales, and payment flows, though they still need to better understand the GHG impact of such a service.
Our final presentation was PowerTab, who are working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to think of different battery revenue models for electric vehicles, though they have refined their problem some to focus more on solving the information gap that exists around EVs and the capabilities of their batteries. The current solution that this team is proposing is a web app that will provide fleet owners with a custom comparison of the cost-savings, environmental benefits, and mileage range of electric vehicles (EVs). The team started off by saying they have decided to narrow their focus to people who purchase electric vehicles for municipalities and universities because they are interested in environmental benefits. This team also had a good insights this week from their interviews, they learned that many of their potential customers have range anxiety, a worry that the batteries in electric vehicles will not be able withstand the driving patterns required of the user. They also learned that most of the batteries in EVs have a lifespan of 8 years or 100,000 miles. The fleet owners have very different driving patterns than that of a home user, so the team now needs to ensure that the types of trips that the fleet users do would not dropping the battery life down too much, which would affect the calculations in their web app.
As the students continue working on their projects, we are excited to announce that we have a date for the Hacking for Energy final presentations. The event will take place on April 26th in the afternoon up at Columbia University. If you have been following this blog and enjoying watching the students’ progress, we hope that you join us and watch the students present on their journey in customer discovery. Head to our event page to learn more and RSVP.
It has been 2 weeks since we last heard from the Hacking for Energy Class, and we already see the students making progress on their projects. In this time period, the students teams have already done 135 interviews (approximately 27 interviews per team). From those interviews, the teams are beginning to realize that their initial project ideas may not be the best solutions for the problem at hand. Some of the teams had to go back to the drawing board and look at the feedback they were getting from their interviews to redesign their solution to better meet the needs of the market. This process is called pivoting and is a very normal and healthy practice in the development of a startup because it means they are listening and adapting.
Since we last checked in, there has been an update in the group roster. The team Fresh Minds, who were working with Bright Power to develop a solution that would better organize energy data, was struggling early on to keep up with the pace of the course. Since they were not able to complete the required weekly customer discovery or adequately prepare for the weekly presentations, we saw that it would be a challenge for them to catch up and asked them to leave the course. We take commitment to the course seriously and hope that they apply next year knowing full well the time that is necessary to succeed.
In the weeks since we last checked in the rest of the student teams, they have learned quite a few concepts in Lean LaunchPad through assigned readings, video lectures, worksheets and in-class discussions. Below is a brief rundown what was discussed in the last couple of weeks.
Prior to the first class, the students learned about the central tool of the Lean LaunchPad methodology, the Business Model Canvas (BMC). The BMC helps entrepreneurs map out their business idea and helps identify if there are any gaps or problems that they should dissect. The Business Model Canvas has been wildly successful, and the creators, Steve Blank and Alex Osterwalder, are working with partners to build variations for other organizational structures including non-profits and governments.
During week one, the students also learned about Value Propositions (VPs), which are statements that illustrate why a customer need a business’s services or products. We believe it is important for students to think about their Value Propositions early in the class because it forces them to think about if their idea solves a pain point for their customer and if the pain point is so severe that they would be willing to pay for a solution.
Prior to the Week 2 Class, the students were required to record one of their first interviews and then analyze how they did. We have actually done this exercise as part of PowerBridgeNY, the cleantech accelerator that we run for our day jobs. Every time we have asked our accelerator participants do this, they find the exercise incredibly helpful, as they are able to get outside of their own heads and observe their own behavior. It is also helpful for the instructors, as we can really see who is getting the methodology and who needs more assistance.
In addition to the interview analysis, we also asked the students learn more about customer segments. Customer Segmentation is the process dividing your customers into different groups based on similar, matching characteristics. It is important to understand that different customer segments have different needs (i.e. value propositions) associated with them. Though teams usually start off with a wide variety of customer segments, they quickly learn that it is impossible to service them all at once as a startup, so refining customer segments down to an early adopter will be a key task in the coming weeks.
Prior to this week, we had the students continue to focus on the customer, but we now asked them to create a diagram for each customer segment relevant to their project, visualizing how they work and make decisions. You can see the results of this exercise in the student presentations below.
Some fun highlights from the past couple of weeks:
One team initial had trouble even starting:
Student “So, we have a problem about the problem…….”
When the virtual world and the real world merge in solution building:
“They want something like a SimCity for their plan”
Drawing customer diagrams can bring to light challenges that you didn't realize were there:
Student: “So now we are asking: who is going to pay for this? The Government does want to pay, the real estate developers don’t want to pay, and the residents don’t want to pay!”
Here are the Week 3 presentations:
PowerTab is helping the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) think of different battery revenue models for electric vehicles. This week, for the Customer Diagrams exercise, the team presented a customer diagram for a fleet owning organization. The students did a nice job on this, and the instructors commented that they were able to back up info in the diagram with evidence from their interviews. Based on their interviews, this team is starting to think that their target customer is Fleet Operation Managers. That is not necessarily who they have been targeting in interviews (this week they spoke mostly to sustainability officers and a finance officer), so they will need to confirm this target customer hypothesis by interviewing fleet managers. The instructors also pointed out that, although they know their target customer, the students need to investigate who might be stopgaps or influencers to that customer. In most cases, even if a fleet manager wants the car, someone else (usually a CEO or financial officer) needs to approve the purchase, and that can stall a possible sale.
Next, we had Residential Potential, who are working with the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to build a cost-effective, accurate, and simple energy meter transmission device for distributed energy resources. This team put together a customer ecosystem, but it was missing one vital piece: people! Many times our students will forget that they are not selling to the companies, corporations, or agencies; they are selling to a specific person who works at those entities. Those people have the power to say “yes” or “no” to whether they want your product or service, so it is important to construct your pitch with all of their needs and challenges in mind. Even though they did not exactly follow the assignment, this presentation was a big improvement from the week before. We could see the students were motivated to learn and took feedback seriously. Determination, drive, and willingness to learn are as important in entrepreneurship as having talent and a great idea.
The third presentation was DemoDogs, who are working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with new transportation options for low-density cities in order to reduce GHG emissions. The team struggled this week, in part because they are still trying to wrap their heads around the scope of their project. Their problem, building new transportation options for smaller, less dense cities, is an overarching societal one, and so it has been a challenge for them to break it down and devise a good business model to help solve a piece of the issue rather than trying to tackle the whole issue all at once. Not pinning down a discrete problem to tackle has an effect on how you think about everything related to your business idea, including who your true customers are. The instructors suggested that all is not lost, as they had the right instinct to narrow the problem first before trying to decide on a solution. The team should continue conducting interviews, as that first-person data will give them more insight in the industry, and help them determine if there was a solution out there that they could build.
Second to last was Aquathots, who are working to make a water-saving device for buildings. Since we last saw the team, they pivoted from having their solution be used in commercial buildings and are considering designing it for residential (including multifamily residential) use. The instructors were not able to provide much feedback to this team because they ended devoting a lot of time to the fact that the students used a survey to gather data. Surveys are a terrible way of getting honest customer data compared to interviewing. When you conduct interviews, you can detect interviewees’ opinions or reactions to something not just by their answer, but by observing their speech patterns, body language, and other visual and aural clues. All of that is lost in a survey, and you have little context to someone’s answer.
Last but not least was SolarLedger, who are working with EPRI as an Industry Host to build a grid security system using blockchain. Prior to the class, the students’ actually went to the Solar Wake-Up conference in New York City to get some interviews. They not only got a few interviews (though less than we expected considering how large the conference was), but they also got to see the dynamics of the solar industry and what it prioritizes. We always encourage teams to go to conferences, because they can learn through sessions and conversations about what the trends are in the industry. One tip we always give our teams is to look at the attendees list ahead of time and try to set up short interviews during any breaks. Even with the intel from attending the conference, this team still had some trouble with their business thesis, it lacked clarity and did not tell us “why” their solution would be valuable to their customers. We hope that the students will have some time to distill their learnings from going from the conference, and present a more thoughtful business thesis the next time.
Over the next few weeks the teams will continue to refine their understanding of the product and define their product-market fit. However, finding that fit is not the end of their journey. After they know who their customers are and what specifically they need, our teams will need to make sure that they can reach those customers (Customer Relationships), deliver a product to them (Channels), make money from their solution (Revenue Models), and build the actual product (the left-hand side of the Canvas). There is still a lot more work to be done, but we are sure the teams are up for it!
Welcome to 2018! For us, the start of the new year means another semester of teaching Hacking for Energy to grad students in New York City. This year, we have 6 teams participating in the class, four from Columbia University, one from NYU, and our first team ever from CUNY, coming out of City College. Much like last year, in order to apply for the class, these students were required to independently form 4-person teams and propose solutions to the problem statements supplied by our Industry Hosts. These 6 student teams will now have 14 weeks to evolve and build their technical solution through customer discovery. They will be required to interview 100 customers, modify their business idea and potential solution based on what they learn from those interviews.
To help them on their journey, the teams will present their progress every week to our panel of instructors for advice and feedback. This panel of instructors, known as the teaching team, is comprised of two roles: the core faculty, and entrepreneur instructors. The core faculty are the official instructors of the course. They teach weekly lectures on topics related to entrepreneurship, critique the students on their customer discovery progress in class and during office hours, and guide the entrepreneur instructors as they provide feedback during the course. This year, Julia Byrd returns as a member of the core faculty. She is joined by Rebecca Silver, the Assistant Director of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute.
The Core Faculty:
The entrepreneurship instructors have a wide variety of backgrounds including experience teaching entrepreneurship, startup creation, and investing. They also provide feedback to the students, both during the weekly lectures and in regular office hours.
The Entrepreneurship Instructors:
We are also providing each team a mentor. The mentors, who all work in energy, sustainability, and innovation, will touch base with the students on a weekly basis to provide advice, guidance, and even some connections to interview subjects!
Student Team Mentors
Given the size of the class, Hacking for Energy has a high resource to student ratio with 6 entrepreneurship instructors, 6 mentors, and 6 Industry Hosts for the participating teams.
Here are the first week of presentations:
Team Aquathots from Columbia is aiding NYC's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to design an on-site water reuse system for large buildings.
Team DemoDogs from Columbia is working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with new transportation options for low-density cities in order to reduce GHG emissions.
Team Fresh Minds from NYU is working with Bright Power on developing a solution to better organize energy data.
Team PowerTab from Columbia helping the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) think of different battery revenue models for electric vehicles.
Team Residential Potential from City College is working with the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to build a cost-effective, accurate, and simple energy meter transmission for distributed energy resources.
Team Solar Ledger from Columbia is doing our first "Propose Your Own" project, with EPRI as the Industry Host. This team proposed building a grid security system using blockchain.
How to follow along:
This year, our team will not be live blogging every week, as last year's blog provides a great overview of how the Hacking for Energy class operates. We may post periodic updates to this blog, so definitely subscribe to get it sent to your inbox every time there is an update.
If you want to follow along with the Class progress, there are a couple of ways to do it.
Follow the Hashtag: We will also be posting period updates to the PowerBridgeNY twitter feed using the #Hacking4Energy hashtag, You can check out the updates here.
Sit in on a class: If you are a member of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, we welcome to observe the class at our space at Columbia University. Reach out to info[at]powerbridgeny[dot]com if you are interested in stopping by!
Attend the final presentations in late April/early May: The final presentation event is a great opportunity to see how all of the teams evolved throughout the semester and what they developed as their final Minimum Viable Product (MVP). We will send more details about this event as the semester goes along.
We look forward to another great year of Hacking for Energy!
On April 27th 2017, we hosted the finale of Hacking for Energy at the famed World Room at the Columbia Journalism School. The event was the culmination of our landmark class where graduate students from Columbia, NYU, and CUNY were given the opportunity to spend 14 weeks developing solutions to some of the hardest energy problems facing major organizations. Each week the student gave updates on their development in class to a set of six instructors experienced with the Lean Launchpad methodology. They also received regular guidance from their team mentor as well as their Industry Host. The five student teams combined completed 500+ interviews in the 14 weeks, and at least two are planning to continue working on their projects after class to turn their projects into companies.
We kicked things off with some opening remarks from PowerBridgeNY’s Jim Alosie and Julia Byrd, who welcomed the audience attending both in-person and via livestream. They spoke about how all the student groups applied for the course in the Fall of 2016, and the teams sitting in the rooms got to participate in the course, beating out 23 other applications. After Jim and Julia spoke, Travis Bradford, Director of the energy concentration at Columbia SIPA and founder of the Prometheus Institute who also gave the weekly energy lectures throughout the semester, spoke about his experience with the students. He said, “For the students to be able to work through the ideas very quickly, adapt in turn to the changing conditions as they understood the problems, and the circumstances that they found themselves to innovate in...I am just really really proud of how much progress they made in 13-14 weeks.”
Travis’s remarks were followed by three individuals who played important roles in the success of the class: PowYorker’s Industry Host Andrew Reid from Con Ed, EVE’s Industry Host Daniel Hullah from GE, and SunToWheels’ Mentor Joel Ndreu from Related. All three spoke about how they interacted with the teams over the course of the semester, including providing guidance and introducing them to potential interviewees. ConEd even introduced PowYorker to other device manufacturers that they work with, and the team ended up taking a tour of the facility! Joel Ndreu, who also is a serial entrepreneur, noted that the class is unique because it “teaches people a rigorous framework on how to approach problems and how to try solving them. I am excited to see where these students go, we will probably see cool things from them in a few years.”
After the Industry Host remarks, we dove right into the presentations. Each team was given 15 minutes to present their findings to the audience and the five members of the teaching team. After each presentation, the teaching team gave comments and feedback to the students on both the presentation and their work in the course. Below is a brief overview of each project.
Industry Host: IBM
Challenge: Transactive energy is an emerging approach for integrating and coordinating Distributed Energy Resources (DER) in electric systems. A major challenge is understanding how to assign value to the contribution of individual DER assets that provide services to the electric system.
Proposed Solution: An energy data aggregation tool that collects and analyzes data beneficial to energy project valuation and analysis
Industry Host: GE
Challenge: The penetration of electric vehicles in the passenger fleet is currently extremely low but is expected to increase rapidly over the next 10+ years. There is limited public (i.e. non-residential) charging infrastructure in place today and the economic models for build out are unclear. Are there ways to use technology to develop new business models to speed up the roll out of infrastructure in advance of market expansion?
Proposed Solution: A platform that helps multifamily EV owners quickly find and schedule reliable EV charging at fast DC chargers
Industry Host: NYU Office of Sustainability
Challenge: NYU's Capital Projects & Facilities Department, which includes the plumbing, electric, recycling and paint shop, uses a variety of vehicle types that are powered by gasoline. Develop a system to switch all of NYU's gasoline based vehicles to electric vehicles.
Proposed Solution: Helping universities achieve sustainability goals by providing an electric vehicle leasing service.
Industry Host: ConEdison
Challenge: Underground infrastructure is difficult to access but critically important to monitor and maintain. Each year, there are a number of incidents of smoking and even exploding manholes. There are sensors in the manholes, but battery life is a constant challenge. Power harvesting technologies are needed, but due to the wide variety of offerings, it is difficult to identify which solution would be best.
Proposed Solution: EMF power harvesting solutions for monitoring utilities' infrastructure networks to increase safety
Industry Host: SolarCity
Challenge: Individuals with energy resources such as solar, batteries and flexible loads (i.e. appliances, EVs) can shift between being a consumer and supplier of energy. Sometimes they have excess capacity, but other potential consumers do not know about or cannot access that excess capacity. If providers could connect with potential users, they would be able to generate revenues for sharing their excess capacity or by shifting their consumptions while users would have access to the required energy resources at a potentially lower cost. However, currently there is no easy way of connecting these two groups.
Proposed Solution: A distributed energy resource IoT platform for EV users
After the student presentations, we closed out the event and the students networked with the attendees from the energy industry. Head here check out photos of the event and the full livestream.
We could not be happier about the outcome of the class and would like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank all the individuals who played a role in getting Hacking for Energy off the ground.
Hacking for Energy will be taking a break for a couple weeks, but will be back in the summer to start planning Spring 2018. To stay update and learn how get involved, sign up for our mailing list.
The students are more than halfway through the course, and we are starting to see more sophistication in the teams’ understandings of their customers, business theses, and minimum viable products. As we have seen in PowerBridgeNY and I-Corps, the Lean Startup Methodology is an efficient and effective way for a startup to understand what the true problems are in any industry. Many of these students are Masters students in policy, engineering, and business with an energy concentration, so they have read case studies about the energy sector from afar. We have seen that by taking this class, the students are getting a more nuanced view of how the energy sector functions, including how the companies work and what influences the programmatic and buying decisions of different employees. This type of thinking will not only make their solutions stronger, but if the students decide not to pursue the startup, they will now know a significant amount about the sector and a have new way of looking at problem solving that they can apply to any of their future ventures.
Team Presentations - Week 8
This week, we had the teams again thinking about their revenue model and pricing strategy. We wanted to see, given their more sophisticated understanding of their market, if they could make a first attempt at figuring out how they will make money on their product.
Some highlights from this week:
Students will go to any lengths to determine data from their competitors:…….
Student: We know that our competitors are not making money on similar products, so we think that we can actually do what they cannot do.
Instructor: Can you talk to one of the [the competitors]?
Student: Yes, I have a stealthy plan.
They are starting to really understand their customer archetypes….
“Every time you talk about contracts, the engineer’s face goes pale!”
We think everyone is having too much fun?
One of the instructors said “I know we all love DER. We are all getting tattoos about it after graduation, right?”
Here are this week’s presentations:
We started off with Team EVE, who conducted eleven interviews this week. As you might remember from last week, this team pivoted their customer focus away from commercial property owners to multifamily residents. They learned that selling the chargers to this customer base and providing maintenance may not be feasible because the cost to purchase a DC charger is 10 times more expensive than what they previously thought. This team is now thinking of having a shared ownership model where residents would jointly lease the infrastructure in order to reduce upfront costs.
This team continues to find challenges with their target customer segments, but we are always impressed with their doggedness and positivity. As one team member said during the presentation, “EVs are now getting cheaper, so people without single family homes will be able to afford them and need this infrastructure. Someone has to solve this problem. We would rather it be us.” Great entrepreneurial spirit!
If you are having trouble viewing the presentation - check it out here.
Second up was AggregEn, who had 10 interviews this week. The team continues to stay laser focused on the financial sector, and this week they determined what specific verticals would be most interested in their customized DER data. From their interviews this week, they learned that equity researchers would most likely not be a customer because they are interested in wholesale market research as opposed to the retail market research that this team would provide. We look forward to seeing if the team is able to hone in on which specific investors would be interested in their data.
If you are having trouble viewing the presentation - check it out here.
Next we had Sustainable Catalyst Group present, who had 10 interviews. This team modified their business thesis from last week, changing from an energy marketplace between PV owners and EV users to a “network” that connects EV users to local energy. When asked by the teaching team about their business model, the team clarified that it is like a “AAA Buying Club for Solar.” This team also presented their revenue model, which anticipates revenue from many sources, including partners, PV owners, EV Users, and other potential auxiliary operations. The teaching team expressed that the payment flow diagram seemed overly complicated, and the team should consider simplifying.
If you are having trouble viewing the presentation - check it out here.
Li-ionNYU was next, completing 12 interviews this week. This was definitely a rebuilding week for the team, as the insights from previous interviews caused them to re-examine their customers and business model. They learned that their Week 7 business idea, to create a database of electric vehicle information, was less viable than expected because many databases already exist in the market which are not well used by customers. They also learned from vendors that they would not be interested in leads from Li-ionNYU because they are already backlogged with orders from other sources. This was definitely a learning week for this team, and we are looking forward to seeing how the team plans on delivering the EVs that universities like NYU want.
If you are having trouble viewing the presentation - check it out here.
Our final team to present was PowYorker, who had 10 interviews this week. This team learned a lot about what project managers and utility workers need in the field from an underground sensor. They learned that the utility service workers really want a better understanding of the physical and environmental conditions of ConEd’s underground structures so that their team can safely go into a situation and fix problems. The field workers hate getting manhole calls because a lot of times they have to go out to the site, send sensors down themselves and wait for the results. Depending on what results they get, they may have to wait hours for the appropriate equipment to arrive. If they had more information ahead of time, they could gather all the resources that they need to do their jobs more efficiently and safely. This was a great piece of intel, because it gives the team a more profound understanding of what is vitally important to their potential client. This team also continues to get good pricing information, this time learning that the client would be willing to pay no more than $200 per harvesting unit.
If you are having trouble viewing the presentation - check it out here.
Energy Lecture - Week 8
This week, as the students figured out if they could make money off of solutions, Professor Bradford talked about microgrids and New York REV, a new potential revenue generator for the New York energy industry.
Some highlights from his lecture:
Lessons Learned - Week 8
Energy Lecture - Class 7
This week, Prof Bradford went first and spoke to the students about Distributed Generation, including how it is structured in the US might influence certain business models and market decisions.
Some highlights from the lecture:
Student Presentations - Week 7
We introduced the students to the Get-Keep-Grow funnel, a diagram developed by Steve Blank to help startups visualize to how to find, keep, and grow your customer base. We also asked the teams to spend some time focusing on how much it would cost them to acquire and keep customers. It was an opportunity to take their assumption of how they plan to build their customer base and determine if it is economically feasible.
We noticed that overall this week’s exercises were challenging, and the student teams struggled to estimate the cost of customer acquisition (CaC) and lifetime value (LV) of their solutions. We saw one instance where backup data for assumptions was difficult to track down, and another where they were too optimistic about how quickly they could acquire customers. We also noticed that many of the Get/Keep/Grow funnels were fairly generic and lacked specificity.
Building a startup is different from a class because it is not linear or predictable and the teaching team does not have the answers. Founders need to think outside the box to track down the relevant data they need to better understand their customers and how to sell to them. It was definitely another rude awakening.
Here are this week’s presentations:
Our first presentation this week was Li-ionNYU, who had 9 interviews this week. Li-ionNYU has been hyperfocused on university officials as their primary customer. The team learned that, when shopping for electric vehicles, most of the sustainability officers do their research online, and they find it difficult to find relevant information. This team also discovered that service providers rarely have relationships directly with universities and other large organizations, but instead use a distribution channel to sell their products. With this information, this team now thinks they can be a great intermediary between university and EV manufacturers, providing both services to help universities better buy EVs, and direct connections to manufacturers.
When we moved on to discuss this team’s cost of customer acquisition (CAC), we mentioned that they should consider the implication of those numbers, as it looked like they will not be profitable for a few years as a company.
Next up was Sustainable Catalyst Group, who had a good number of interviews this week with 10. This team decided to experiment with getting customers by setting up a Google AdWords campaign to target geographies with EV incentives. They saw some traffic, with 200 unique visitors in 48 hours, but the teaching team cautioned that those numbers do not tell them about who their customer is and if they can or will buy the product. The instructors emphasized that they should use the customer interviews to better understand who their customer is, and that will help them build a targeted strategy to acquire them. The instructors also noted that the CAC seemed low, advising them to go back and see if they can find more data to help form a more accurate estimate.
PowYorker was the next team to present, with 10 interviews this week. This team had a unique week and actually got the chance to visit the factory of one of ConEd’s equipment providers. It was an eye-opening experience for them, as they learned how large and rugged equipment for utilities needs to be and how much testing is required before something is installed. This team discovered previous unforeseen costs, including materials and testing time, that forced them to reconsider how much they need to sell to make a profit. They also learned this week that the problem they’re trying to solve might only be applicable to their Industry Host. ConEd is unique in that they have a lot of infrastructure underground, it is older than most other infrastructure in other comparable cities, and they operate in a climate with cold winters where salt from the roads can get into the manholes and corrode the infrastructure That being said, they believe that, since ConEd’s need is so high, one customer might be all they need. They may be able to apply the same solution to other problems as well. We look forward to seeing if that is the case.
Next up was Team EVE, who had 10 interviews this week. This team had a BIG pivot. They learned through their interviews that commercial property owners and store owners do not see value in owning EV charging stations. As a result, EVE has pivoted their primary customer from commercial property owners to residents of multifamily buildings. These owners may be interested in buying EV cars, but the lack of charging prevents them from doing that. They may also own an EV already and not have a place to charge their vehicle while at home. Because of the high density of people and low density of EV charging stations, owners could pool resources to pay for a fast charger provided and maintained by EVE. We stressed the importance of talking to customers that fit this new business model before fully pivoting into this new market.
The final presentation for this week came from AggregEn, who had a great week with 11 interviews. This team is starting to do a nice job of formulating their hypotheses so that they are testable and lead to usable insights. They continued to validate that their primary customer is the investment community, learning from their interviews that many of the subscription services out there do not provide enough data for investors to get key insights into the energy market. Recognizing the importance of exploring customer segments, this team also interviewed energy aggregators this week who did not express interest in their solution, believing they had everything they need. When presenting their GKG diagram, the teaching team could see that AggregEn knew who their customer was, and tailored the customer acquisition plan to them. They also took Travis Braford’s advice last week and increased their solution’s subscription price based on what they learned about similar services.
This week we asked the students to think about channels. This was a change in focus, because for the past few weeks we have encouraged the students to determine the relevancy of their product to their customer, and this week we asked how they would actually reach their customer.
Student Presentations - Week 6
Here are some highlights from Week 6:
Student: “I woke up and dressed nice today because I had a feeling I would present!” #Iwokeuplikethis.
Here are this week’s presentations:
We kicked things off with Sustainable Catalyst Group. They had 8 interviews this week with 6 of them in person. We were happy to see that this team refined this Business Thesis since last week, but instructors noted that it was not addressing an important point: what the value of their solution is to their customer. When looking at their channel diagram, the instructors noted that it was a good start, but they felt like the team devised the numbers and percentages without any data. The instructors were happy to see a long MVP timeline, it means that the team recognizes that, since the EV market has not fully developed, it may take quite some time for their business to see any success.
Next up was Team EVE, who had 10 interviews this week but only one in person. This team has a bit of a pivot this week in their business model, experimenting with moving into EV maintenance and installation. With this change in mind, the instructors wanted to know how they would plan on interacting with their customers. They responded that they would have a mobile platform that customers can use to interact with them, and EVE would partner with contractors to provide the O&M. One of the mentors astutely pointed out that with this new business model, they should reframe the type of solution that they are providing: they are not selling the charger, but in fact a turnkey solution. As a result, they might consider that their customer is not a big box store who would install the charger, but rather a charger provider who subcontracts the EVE service to their clients.
This team also had an “aha” moment about their market: They learned that Level 1 chargers, the charger that you mostly see, are so cheap that it is actually less expensive to buy a new charger versus paying an O&M contract to maintain them. This revelation taught them the individuals purchasing Level 1 chargers are not their market, and they need to see if the purchasers of Level 2 chargers would be interested in their solution.
The third team to present was Li-ionNYU. This team completed nine interviews this week and began to see a trend. Most of their interviews have been with university officials - their anticipated customer - and they noticed that almost everyone they spoke to wants to buy electric vehicles but are not equipped with the necessary information to actually purchase them. This was a major revelation for this team, and they responded by re-positioning their business model to be a comparison product with consulting on the side. The teaching team was happy to see them modify their business model based on the data they picked up from customer interviews, but they stressed the importance of getting more data to see if their hypothesis is correct. We also noted that their current business model requires 40 customers to break even, which seemed high.
Next up was AggregEn, who had a strong week with 12 interviews. This week’s interviews further validated their hypothesis that the financial industry might be their primary customer. The investors can find the DER data AggregEn would supply, but current methods are cumbersome. This team’s major learning is that their value proposition is convenience and saving time, something they need to prove is worth money to their customers.
For their channel diagram, this team investigated how much other subscription based financial data packages charge. They learned that this data can be very hard to find (it is not regularly published), and so they estimate charging $1,000/year for their service. Travis Bradford, the professor who teaches our energy systems lecture, provided this team some inside information. As one of the founders of Greentech Media, he knows that GTM Research has to keep tabs on this pricing information because they sell to lots of organizations that track clean energy data, including investors. He said that because investors have money allocated in their budgets to purchase market reports, AggregEn could probably charge more.
The final team to present today was PowYorker, who also had a solid week with 11 interviews. This week, PowYorker learned more about their market’s supply chain by interviewing both utilities and their vendors. They learned that although utilities are the final user of their technology, they most likely will not be selling to them. Selling directly to a vendor could potentially direct them to multiple utilities at once. Some of the vendors have been offering energy harvesting technology with a sensor, but the vendors have mixed opinions on whether that market will take off. They also know that Con Edison is only interested in the harvester, not the harvester-sensor combination, but the team learned that the sensor aggregators would not be willing to change their design to remove the sensor for only one customer.
The team’s interviews with utilities also gave them some useful intel. They learned that ConEd may be willing to pay $1,000/unit for a good energy harvesting sensor technology, and they used this number to build out their channel diagram. We were happy to see that this team found a real data point that they could use to build their channel diagram, because it grounds their assumptions in the real world.
Energy Lecture - Week 6
As the student’s learned about how to use distribution channels to sell their products, Prof. Bradford lectured on how demand side management and smart grid better distribute energy.
Some highlights from his lecture:
Side note: Prof. Bradford had a great definition for energy efficiency: reducing the amount of energy used to provide the same level of energy services.
Lessons Learned - Week 6
Class was canceled on 2/9/17 on account of a blizzard in New York City. Given that we were requiring students to complete more than the 100 interviews that are usually required for a Lean LaunchPad course, we didn’t require any work the week of 2/9/17 and allowed them to enjoy the snow!
Between, this class and last class, we also saw Team ReAct disband due to some of the members needing to drop the class. Fortunately, the team members that wanted to continue to participate in the course were able to join Team AggregEn. We now have five teams participating in this course.
We started class by discussing the concept of Minimum Viable Product. In PowerBridgeNY and I-Corps, we encounter many entrepreneurs that feel they need a finished product to show their customer to determine if it is viable. The students in the Hacking for Energy class are no exception. Many of them have discussed the need to develop their prototype before or during the interview process. We stressed to the students that the Minimum Viable Product does not need to be perfect. If an entrepreneur develops a final product before customers see it, they could discover that they have wasted unnecessary man-hours by building a product no one wants. A Minimum Viable Product should intentionally be sparse, with just enough features so that the customer understands what you are trying to create, and can provide feedback on its relevancy to them. Through an MVP, the students should be able to gather whether their proposed solution has value with their intended customer, and whether that customer is willing to pay for it.
Student Presentations - Week 5
This week, we asked the teams to delve into their customer archetypes and identify each archetype on separate slides of their presentation.
Here are some highlights from week 5:
Some of the teams struggled with the customer archetypes. A teaching team member stressed that the students should “remember that you are always looking to make your customer archetype as specific as possible.” The more specific the archetypes, the easier it will be to map out the value drivers.
One team kept mentioning that reducing emissions would save money for their potential customer. An entrepreneur instructor pushed on that, asking multiple times, “How are they saving money on emissions?”. After a back and forth, the student clarified that the clients would save money due to fuel economy and that emissions reduction was a positive (non-monetary) side benefit. The exchange was a great example of how instructive this course can be, because the entrepreneur instructor, through the back and forth questioning, guided the student to more to more accurately describe the value propositions for their solution.
Here are this week’s presentations:
First on deck was Team Li-ionNYU. They had eight interviews this week, and defined two customer archetypes: universities and big delivery companies. It was nice to see the team expand beyond universities, and they did a nice job of outlining how universities and big delivery companies differ in their buying decisions. However, the customer archetypes they presented were still too broad. Customer archetypes need to be individuals (i.e. CFO, facilities manager, etc.) who have specific jobs to accomplish and not (as this team presented) organizations.
This team also had a revelation this week by figuring out that they might not be selling their product directly to a university but an intermediary that sells to universities. Their plan for next week is to interview green vehicle vendors to see if their solution would be of value to them. We were happy to see this team think outside the box beyond their original Industry Host and perceived customer. It is a sign that they are taking the LLP methodology to heart.
Next up was Team AggregEn. As we reported last week, this team did a major pivot with their customer segment, deciding to see if their solution would be of value for the financial industry. This week, they dove into testing this hypothesis by interviewing individuals who look at energy pricing data, including investors and pricing professionals at utilities. They learned that much of the pricing data that exists is not segmented by location, and they have a potential opportunity to provide more granular data for investors. What they are still determining is what segment of the financial industry would find their data most valuable (they learned this week that it would not be useful for equity traders) and they will continue conducting interviews to narrow their customer archetypes. We were impressed with how much they have learned from their interviews, but still felt like their Business Thesis was still not quite there.
Next was PowYorker. They did 8 interviews this week. Last week, this team figured out that they needed to expand their original perceived single customer, utilities, to include other contractors that sell to utilities, such as sensor aggregators. They presented engineers and electric utilities, water utilities, and sensor aggregators as potential archetypes, but we felt that they were still throwing lots of ideas on the board and hoping one sticks. We also saw that they are still focusing too much on their technology and we strongly suggested that they think about it less, and spend more time narrowing down who their customers are and understanding their needs.
Next was Sustainable Catalyst Group. They had a strong number of interviews (17 in 2 weeks) giving them the highest interview count for this week. The team presented that their solution would be for a two-sided market - both distributed generation owners and producers. Then they classified their archetypes based on those two markets, identifying 3 archetypes under the EV Users bucket and 3 archetypes in the energy producers. We were impressed with the level of detail they used to describe their archetypes, but we mentioned to them that we still felt like the primary customers (EV Users and energy producers) seemed too narrow and they might not be able to make a profit with such a small number of customers.
The final presentation of the day came from Team EVE. This team did 10 interviews this week, and presented very detailed slides about the customer archetypes, breaking them down into two main categories: Institutional (the installer of an EV charger) and the secondary (the user of an EV charger). Though we were happy to see a lot of detail in these CAs, we could tell that this team is still trying to figure out what their Value Proposition and Business Thesis are. One insight they learned in their interviews is that, when a commercial entity buys and installs an electric vehicle charger, they need to contract with multiple vendors: one to install, one to fix, one to maintain. They learned that this was a definite pain that their solution could potentially help solve.
Energy Lecture: Week 5
This week, as the teams learned about how to build customer archetypes and determine how those customers make decisions, Prof. Bradford taught the students about how some decisions are made by companies in the energy industry. Some highlights from the lecture:
Lessons Learned from Class 5:
We held our 3rd H4E class last week and we can safely call it The Week of the Pivot. Prior to class, the 6 teams conducted 53 interviews and, with this handful of interviews under their belts, a few of the teams modified their business theses and BMCs based on the new intel. In our experience running PowerBridgeNY and teaching NSF I-Corps, we have seen that it is around this time that teams experience their first pivot, and will pivot a few more times before the end of their 100 customer interviews. Pivoting indicates that an entrepreneur is taking seriously the feedback that they are getting from their interviews and is responding to those lessons with an adjustment to their business model.
In addition to the interviews, we asked the students to dive a little deeper into the Customer. We had them read about customer segments and then create a diagram for each customer segment relevant to their project, visualizing how they work and make decisions. To help them think through who their customers are and why they care about their solution, all the teams created a value proposition canvas for each of the identified customer segments. You can see the results of this exercise in the student presentations below.
Student Presentations - Week 3
Some highlights from Week 3:
Here are this week’s presentations:
We kicked things off with Sustainable Catalyst Group. This team did a major pivot this week, based on interviews between last week and this week, deciding to focus on homeowners as a customer and have moved away from utilities. The entrepreneur instructors, though happy this team is learning from their interviews, cautioned that the team may not have enough data to be so confident with their pivot and recommended that the team do more customer discovery to validate the change.
Next up was Li-ionNYU. This team heeded our advice last week and changed their customer segments from organizations to people, but the customer diagrams they developed were simple, and the entrepreneur instructors recommended that the team spend time putting more detail into them. What we do like is that this team is learning a lot from their interviews and taking those learnings seriously. For example, after speaking to sustainability officers for education institutions, public agencies, and private entities, the team started to see how each type of organization may have different priorities when looking for EVs.
After Lion-NYU was Team EVE. Team EVE also did a pivot based on their customer interviews, changing their business model to a service business focused on the O&M of EV charging infrastructure. The teaching team was really impressed with EVE this week. They did a nice job outlining their customer diagram with specifics and showing what hypotheses they were testing in their slides. They now need to test whether their newly identified customer segment, charging infrastructure owners, have as big of a problem maintaining the chargers as they think they do.
Team Re-ACT was up next. This was another team that did a nice job explaining their business thesis. It is great to see the students refine how their solution solves the problem at hand. This team did 10 interviews this week and also made their own pivot, deciding to switch from the residential market to commercial. We thought this was a logical move, since the “smart homes” seemed like a potentially small market, but we are curious to see what challenges they may find in this new segment.
Re-Act also got a tip from another team’s mentor in the room. When describing their desire to make their solution user friendly to the building managers, the mentor interrupted the team to say “Our engineers don’t get bored with the Building Management System because it is their job to monitor the BMS.” This was a great piece of insight - the students need to understand how to find the true motivation and value for a customer to use their product.
Team AggregEn was this week’s penultimate presenter. The first thing we noticed is that they added a Team Slide with photos of the team members, which we were happy about (!) because it made the deck, as well as the company, look more professional.
AggregEn also pivoted from last week by narrowing their focus to the financial industry. They also have a new MVP: a pricing model that investors can use to assess distributed energy resources (DER), We were happy to see them formulate a new MVP and focus on this Customer Segment, but validating this hypothesis will require the team to take a crash course in how the financial industry works and if they will find value with their product.
Our final presentation came from Team PowYorker. This team conducted 8 interviews this week to better understand what role their company and product would play with utilities. Through customer interviews with ConEd, the team learned that any kind of manhole sensor needs to have a battery that will last for 8 years, but the batteries for the sensors would not last if they increased their sampling rate from once a day (what it currently is) to every 15 minutes (what Con Edison wants). However, the team realized that using current power harvesting techniques, providing that much power would be impossible. Therefore their product is not going to be the immediate solution to stop manhole events entirely, but they can reduce their frequency and help workers be better prepared to handle them when they do happen. . However, with some energy harvesting, they might be able to increase the frequency that the sensors report data, which would still be valuable to Con Edison even if it is not ideal. They want to talk to the individuals who are servicing utilities, as they might be a better path to getting their technology into the hands of the utility.
Energy Lecture - Week 3
Professor Bradford provided and overview of electricity regulation in the United States, and how that may influence who might be the “customer” for the student teams’ solutions.
Lessons Learned - Week 3