Over the six-year history of concept3D, the Boulder-based software studio has especially picked up the pace over the past year or so - in large part due to strategic government and commercial partnerships. Other startups also seeking a game-changer in their company history should head down the same path, CEO and co-founder Oliver Davis said: “find the right partnerships and the rest will come.”
Davis’s mantra has certainly rang true for concept3D: since partnering with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (a lab of the U.S. Department of Energy) two years ago, the studio has launched the simuwatt product suite - including simuwatt Energy Auditor, which offers to cut the cost of auditing a commercial building for energy efficiency by up to 75 percent, and simuwatt Solar, which allows salespeople and engineers to create fast and accurate 3D rooftop designs.
simuwatt is a big jump for concept3D, whose other products include CampusBird and Atlas both focused on interactive mapping. Under the leadership of Rushton McGarr, COO and President, concept3D’s mapping business works with clients such as Disney, Harvard and Google, allowing them to support the development of the simuwatt product suite.
“We are fortunate to have a viable business and great clients in 3D and mapping which allow us to fund new enterprises such as simuwatt,” Davis said. “CampusBird has grown at a nice clip over the past year and, with the addition of Rushton McGarr, the company is allowed to focus on growing its two business lines in 2014.”
It is in this second line of work that concept3D has developed simuwatt Energy Auditor, which turns out to be an extremely relevant product for the energy auditing field due to the multi-billion dollar market opportunity for building retrofits and the 2007 mandate to make all government buildings more energy efficient (EISA 2007). This has created a demand for energy efficiency audits that outweighs the supply of auditors available and has carved out some room in the market for simuwatt to make big waves since its October beta launch.
The concept3D team has been able to develop the Energy Auditor software to replace the “clipboard-and-pencil approach” of building audits because it gained exclusive license rights with NREL in 2012. In addition to NREL rights, the Department of Energy SunShot program awarded concept3D $1.3 million last year.
Even though simuwatt Energy Auditor boasts 3D drawing tools, comprehensive computer modeling and cloud architecture, Davis said it wasn’t made just to “meet the buzzwords” of what quality software package should be, but it really was developed so that energy service companies can find more energy savings. He said users can crosscheck against energy bills after making simuwatt’s recommended changes, ultimately saving companies money and time.
But simuwatt is doing more than just helping energy service companies: it is helping to change the world by improving the environmental friendliness of our nation’s buildings and providing a “real societal impact” overall, Davis said.
This change-the-world mindset is a nice change of pace for Davis, who worked in marketing and business development in telecommunications and software. Since relocating from San Francisco in 2004, the Colorado tech community has given Davis a breath of fresh (mountain) air because of its diversification of wealth and industry, compared to the concentrated wealth in the Bay area. Also, Boulder’s small startup community encourages a healthier work-life balance with no more than two degrees of separation vis-a-vis the Bay area, Davis said: “The Boulder tech community is a place where your relationships are paramount; its closely-knit community and you will be working with people over and over again.”
Through his tech experience in both Colorado and the Bay area, Davis is fortunate to experience startup successes and challenges. However, he said he has learned the importance of a well-framed business model by seeing products that never caught on and were never profitable because their margins were too low. The key though, he said, is to get a product out on the market for users to judge, which is exactly what concept3D with simuwatt Energy Auditor this year.
“Getting early pre-market trials in place is key to the success of new products, especially when solving complicated tasks like in energy analysis,” Davis said. “That user feedback is what you need to get to the next level.”
With six Department of Defense sites currently testing the simuwatt Energy Auditor beta (expect a full launch sometime over the next six months), the partnership between concept3d and NREL is allowing for disruption of the energy industry. And even though Davis said working with the government can have its challenges, the partnership has allowed the Colorado team of a dozen to jump into the energy software world where they can truly impact society worldwide.