After its release in 2006, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth documentary prompted an upsurge in climate conversations and action across the world.
It also helped to inspire and steer the work of the founders of Finnish company Kapacity – a start-up with a tech solution that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to save energy by changing the way it’s used, stored and managed in buildings.
In turn, new ideas and ambitions from talented companies like Kapacity make an impact on the climate specialists in Deloitte who play a role in mentoring them.
“The start-ups we work with by definition have entrepreneurial spirit and the drive to do things differently – alongside huge potential to make progress on global climate ambitions,” said Deloitte Ventures Climate and Sustainability Studio consultant Jess O’Neal.
“So firms like ours have an important role to play in supporting them - listening, learning and guiding new products and ideas to market.”
Programmes like Conception X can really make a difference in bringing solutions to market and enable our mentors to keep learning about the best ways to support innovation.
Deloitte Ventures Climate and Sustainability Studio consultant
Turning buildings into batteries
Kapacity’s solution turns buildings into thermal batteries. Bringing existing energy storage technology up to date, its cloud-based AI tool optimises and controls energy systems.
In simple terms, it collects and monitors data on indoor air conditions, heating and cooling demand, weather forecasts and electricity prices. It then uses this data to help cut energy consumption, emissions and – for customers – cost.
“We were seeing others who had started their own company and been successful in the field they had chosen,” said company CEO Jaakko Rauhala, “and wanted to apply our skill in a useful way.”
“We called on our friends in the energy industry in Finland – and nobody said our idea was stupid.”
That shot of confidence set Kapacity on its way.
From concept to company
While investors and customers are paying more attention to climate change solutions than ever before, it’s still tricky to make a start-up stand out from the competition.
In this case, advice and business support from Conception X, a programme which helps to transform PhD researchers into venture scientists, provided an essential boost. As a programme sponsor, we provided mentors with the experience to help to turn talent and a great idea into marketable, real-world solutions.
“Kapacity’s potential caught our attention soon after they joined Conception X in 2020,” continued Jess. “We worked with its founders for six months, to help them test their idea with industry experts, shape their offering and articulate it.”
“Programmes like Conception X can really make a difference in bringing solutions to market,” Jess continued “and enable our mentors to keep learning about the best ways to support innovation.”
Important messages from Kapacity include the need for companies and investors to act quickly when they believe in an idea.
“Early-stage start-ups are betting on themselves,” said Jaakko. “They have to make quick progress - and don’t always have six months to wait.”
5 tips to get a climate start-up off the ground
The advice for new start-ups and businesses doesn’t end there – read on for insight from Jess and the Kapacity team on what start-ups with their own climate-related ambitions need to know...
1. Create your own road map
“When working on a start-up there is no road map – you have to create your own,” said Jaakko. “With so many different options for how to build your business, taking a systematic approach to analysing them is the best way to advance. Conception X helped us to ask the right questions and work out what options we could scratch off. It’s really important. For a start-up, some of the easiest things can be the toughest to do.”
2. Seek expert feedback - and listen to it
“Successful start-ups are open to adapting their offer to deliver what people want,” said Jess, “rather than sticking to an idea that’s less marketable.” Expert input from a firm like ours can challenge a start-up’s assumptions, with the intention of solving new problems and disrupting and the market. “Friendly exposure is intrinsically valuable,” agreed Kapacity co-founder and CTO Rami El Geneidy. “It’s hard to be genuinely self-critical. If someone is offering expert help, take it.”
3. Remember you are in the driving seat
“Even with expert help, start-ups themselves are the only ones who can do the heavy lifting – which takes discipline, engagement and enthusiasm,” said Jess. “If the idea is good, this kind of approach will encourage others to be inspired and buy into a start-up’s vision.”
“Nobody can tell you what to do,” agreed Rami. “They can help you ask the right questions, but you won’t get the solution handed on a silver platter.”
4. Know your market
Even with deep subject knowledge, a vital step in any start-up’s journey is testing ideas with customers. “Take every opportunity to learn about your market in detail,” said Jess, “it’s the only way to really meet demand.” In Kapacity’s case, conversations with real estate owners and new buildings investors were crucial in shaping its offer. “Our lightbulb moment only came after we talked to potential customers about our idea and they said it made sense,” said Jaakko.
5. Practice your pitch
“However good your idea,” said Jess, “you’ll need a clear way of articulating it to customers.” To help them make the right impression and gain a competitive edge, pitch practice is one way that the team in Ventures supports start-ups. “Especially if you’re not ‘a salesman’,” said Rami “building confidence in your sales pitch helps you to become an expert on what your company does.”