The building data analytics field is chock-full of startups. Most of them are crunching information from commercial buildings. Another set of companies is figuring out how to crack the residential market. A few brave souls are trying to parse the small commercial market.
And then there’s WegoWise.
The Boston-based startup already has data on more than 125 million square feet of space in the multi-family housing market. The slice of the market is attractive for many of the same reasons as commercial: many owners control several buildings and potential savings are usually larger than with a single family home.
Like any building, one of the large drivers is who pays the utility bill, said Andrew Chen, CEO of WegoWise. “We have a strong base with housing authorities across Massachusetts,” he noted. “The reason is pretty simple, which is the owner pays for all of the bills.”
The public housing authority market has been a rich source of clients for the six-year-old company, which has been selling its software for two years. There are about two million multi-family buildings in the U.S., which comprise about 30 million units. Many of those, especially in the Northeast, are old building stock that is often performing particularly poorly. Although WegoWise works with many housing authorities, it also works with the private and institutional sectors.
The company’s approach is based on an 80/20 rule. It wants to deliver at least 80 percent of the analytical detail the customer would like, at 20 percent of the cost. Currently it’s a subscription model of $5 per building per month. At that rate, the firm has nearly a 100 percent renewal rate, said Chen. The company, which essentially sees its service as a way to monitor utility expenditures, is adding about 500 new buildings per month.
The software is similar to many other packages available in the commercial space, merging utility and building data to produce a snapshot of how the building is performing, with corrections for weather and other factors.
The results show customers how the buildings are performing compared to similar buildings and also to other buildings in the portfolio. Because the customers might not be facilities managers, the product is intended to be intuitive for anyone who is using it. “The trick is to not limit the platform to the high priests of building efficiency,” said Chen. The company's customers might be building managers, but WegoWise also works with a lot of auditors, who use the software as a tool to help customers evaluate retrofit options, state agencies, finance agencies, energy efficiency project managers and property managers, all of who might need the analytics for a different reason.
For some customers, the service helps with compliance, rather than as a means to attain substantial energy savings. Lenders are using the system to track the returns on investment in green underwriting.
Although the company can use Green Button data, Barun Singh, CTO of WegoWise, said that the firm's focus was not on how they get the data, but what they do with it. “For us, design is a major factor,” he said. Singh said that interfaces and design have been a priority for residential-facing platforms, but often less so on the commercial side.
Energy bills are becoming a more important issue for all building owners, but especially for states and cities, where emaciated budgets mean every dollar counts. Money saved, especially in low-income housing, can go into needed repairs or other programs.
WegoWise, which has funding from Boston Community Capital (Chen is a managing director of BCC’s subsidiary, Boston Community Venture Fund, which supports businesses with sustainable community goals), feels as though there is plenty of space to grow in the multi-family market, but some customers are already asking to expand the product towards single family residential and small commercial.
“We proved out some really powerful approaches to looking at efficiency but the results we’re seeing are broadly applicable,” said Chen.
There could also be an opportunity to partner with major building management firms, like Honeywell and Johnson Controls. Chen said that some firms had come knocking to talk about potential partnerships to use WegoWise’s platform for measurement and verification.
In the immediate future, the platform will just expand on the market it serves, adding in more detailed reports that can be put out monthly, quarterly or annually depending on a client’s needs. Chen said WegoWise will also release a scoring scheme this year.
The company feels that its value proposition comes by operating within the building performance ecosystem. And so far, that proposition seems to be working. “All WegoWise will tell you is how bad your building is,” said Chen. “We certainly are not a standalone tool.”