enerGQ: pioneer in artificial intelligence for many years
Well before CO2 reduction became a hot topic, enerGQ, together with partners, had already developed a smart way to measure and interpret energy consumption. Their software connects different data sets, making consumption not only insightful, but also related to internal and external factors through artificial intelligence.
This gives companies and organizations a grip on their consumption and clues for reducing it without compromising performance. But that's not all: the system can also predict device failure, weigh aircraft and, in the future, perhaps warn diabetics of impending hypoglycaemia. Rob Burghard is founder and managing director at enerGQ and talks about their pioneering work in artificial intelligence .
"Now things like big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence are very popular. Congress after congress and meeting after meeting are spent on it, companies feel they have to do something with it. But that was absolutely not the case when we started. So selling our self-learning monitoring system was quite a challenge. People had a hard time believing that what we were telling them was actually possible." It is 2009 when Burghard sells the measurement system a few times, including to an Albert Heijn branch. "Even then, we were able to provide great insight into what the major energy consumers were within a building, as well as what weather conditions affected them. And thus also advise on how companies could reduce their consumption.
However, Albert Heijn wanted more and actually gave us the idea for the current software, because we were going to compare data. So: comparing power consumption with power consumption measured at similar times and similar weather conditions. That gives valuable insights in the search for causes of higher or lower power consumption of refrigerators, for example. If products were placed against the back wall of the cooler, they consumed more power under the same conditions. And is simple to solve." enerGQ therefore enriched their system with a self-learning algorithm that incorporates specific factors into the measurements and results." Meanwhile, customers in industry, utilities and infrastructure save between 5% and 30% energy without making major investments.
Find customers as soon as possible
Software is not built "for a moment." Especially when it has an innovative nature. That is why enerGQ turned to Flinc for guidance in the funding process. Flinc advised on the most promising form of business plan and rapidly mediated between enerGQ and interested entrepreneurs. "It helped us tremendously that we already had a number of paying customers. There was revenue, there was just no budget to have the software as we envisioned it built."
The process resulted in a subordinated loan from NOM and a loan from Rabobank. "We then really started developing in consultation with our customers. That's what I would urge all tech entrepreneurs to do: seek out customers as soon as possible, ask, listen and process what you hear. What do customers want to know? In what way do they want that information presented? We had a number of early adopters who helped get our product ready for a larger group. Make sure you get paid right away, by the way. It doesn't have to be free; you're helping them, too."
Starting a tech company at the heart of a crisis was daring, but it worked. Along the way, Burghard made some important discoveries that were implemented into the system: "We saw that we could predict that a machine or mechanism was going to fail.
Energy consumption under similar conditions then increases. That signaling is very valuable in factories; if a machine breaks down it costs money immediately. Rijkswaterstaat also uses our system. They have it running at a number of locks. Lock operators receive an alarm if the energy consumption deviates and this indicates an upcoming breakdown. That saves a lot of hassle, time and money."
Aircraft weighing saves fuel
This functionality is proving valuable on multiple levels. Meanwhile, sister company enerGQmobility is in fact active in aviation. We can determine the actual departure weight so that the pilot can enter this data into the flight management system. For now, an estimated average is taken from the weight of the passengers and their hand luggage. Only hold baggage and cargo are actually weighed. But if the actual weight is even half a percent lighter or heavier than the estimated weight, that means unnecessary extra fuel is used in both cases. For one flight that doesn't make much of a difference, but on an annual basis that's a substantial savings, and that's important in a market where price is quite a competitive factor."
People had a hard time believing that what we told them could actually be
Opportunities in healthcare
Plenty of developments to be proud of. But they are far from finished. The company has almost paid off the loans and is now investing in the 2.0 version of their technology themselves. Meanwhile, energGQ's other sister company, enerGQcare, is now orienting itself toward a whole new development: a trial in healthcare. During an informal conversation with a pediatrician, their daughters are in class together, an idea for a new application of the system was born by chance: a self-learning and signaling heart rate analysis. "Our heart rate is the energy consumption indicator of the human body. With sensors, we can measure it very precisely. Our system then monitors and signals when something abnormal happens, but in an individual context, not based on a general benchmark. The system gets to know the body and behaviors so well that it can respond to, for example, an increased heart rate without an environmental cause such as exertion. Our experiment focuses on alerts to impending hypo in diabetic patients. This is a dangerous drop in blood sugar that is betrayed, among other things, by a sudden increased heart rate. The system goes off, the patient can then take a blood sample themselves to check if sugars are still within the range. And this is just a pilot, we believe we can come up with many more applications in the healthcare sector with our software."
Use adversity for good
enerGQ has been operating for almost a decade now and looks back on many successes. But of course, not everything always went well. Burghard: "It's a clue, but I really believe that setbacks should be used for good. Entrepreneurship involves risks and sometimes things go wrong, but then you learn from them and move on with that new knowledge as baggage. We heard a lot of 'no' in the beginning. We always used that rejection as an invitation to ask questions. Why the no? That gives valuable information about your product. And about where the real pain is with a company. Very instructive, because focusing on that gets you a 'yes' faster."
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