When we arrived in Paris in mid-April, people congratulated us for arriving just in time for good weather. There was an abundance of sun and the temperature varied between 12 – 25 degrees Celsius, absolutely dissimilar to how the weather had been a week before we arrived. Curious, since historically, temperatures have been between 7 – 16 degrees Celsius in April, so we were quite lucky. Jon, one of my partners at Fluxus Ventures, had travelled from the Western Hemisphere, whereas I had travelled from the Eastern Hemisphere; we both met roughly in the middle in Western Europe with Paris as our base. Our main mission was to have our regular partners meeting together with our Managing Partner, who is based in Paris.
The bit of our trip that is more exciting, however, is that we got to go to Germany to meet several promising startups. We have been scouting companies in Germany for a while now, and we found that startups are primarily concentrated in 3 cities: Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. While we did not get the chance to go to Munich on this trip, we got a handful already from visiting startups during our visits to Berlin and Hamburg (and enjoyed the beautiful cities basked in the summer sun while we were at it!). In Berlin, we met with the teams from 1aim and Zaak Technologies. In Hamburg, we met with the teams from Vilisto and Breeze Technologies.
1aim is a startup that offers a new building access technology intended to solve the problem of access in this 21st century world. The core of the problem is an increasing pressure on traditional access management to keep up with a world of increased mobility and shared spaces. On the other hand, current “modern” access methods are inadequate for the task at hand. PIN and RFID cards are hard to manage and less secure; Bluetooth is tedious to use and less secure; whilst NFC is not ubiquitous. 1aim has managed to solve this problem by creating a technology that they call “Lightaccess” which allows any smartphone with a colour display and connection to the internet to become a key to unlock 1aim’s lock. We got to capture how the key and lock works during the visit which you can see in the video below.
The second company in Berlin we visited was Zaak Technologies. Zaak is a company founded by Dr. Abbas Khan that aims to bring to the market an eco-friendly alternative to sand, called LyporsTM, which is produced from fly ash. Fly ash is a waste product of coal combustion consisting of fine particles ejected out of the combustion chamber along with other exhaust gases. Currently, only 50-60% of fly ash produced in Europe and the US is re-used in construction applications.,
Lypors is up to 50% lighter than normal sand, allowing for reduced deadweight of buildings. Its use in concrete also increases the thermal insulation characteristics of said concrete by 2x, reducing building heating and cooling costs. Other benefits include higher durability and increased workability (due to consistency of shape and size compared to normal sand).
After concluding the day in Berlin, we went to Hamburg to meet the team from Vilisto and Breeze. Both were based in the same building, the Tutech Innovation & Startup Campus at Harburger Schloßstraße 6-12, 21079 Hamburg, which made the trip logistically easy.
Vilisto makes smart radiator controllers for office use. Its main pitch is that heating accounts for the largest energy cost in office buildings, yet the energy used for heating is wasted 80% of the time because spaces are often heated while unoccupied. Its smart radiator controller, called Ovis, promises to significantly reduce that waste by combining data (temperature, occupancy, etc) gathered from its sensors with weather data to intelligently control heating.
The last company we visited was Breeze Technologies. Breeze specialises in air quality sensing for indoor and outdoor settings. The company is currently iterating its sensor devices, constantly improving them with each accumulated experience. Hardware aside, Breeze is also working on improving its software with machine learning and big data to allow its solution to provide meaningful and actionable insights.
Air quality is an important yet often neglected aspect of a building. People operate under the assumption that the HVAC system installed in a building will ensure a high indoor air quality, an assumption that is often inadequate. Take CO2 for instance; at best some HVAC systems measure CO2 levels at a system level and use the data to slightly adjust ventilation rates. However, more granular control is needed as people are not distributed evenly throughout a building—some spaces will require more air flow than others.
The economic benefit is also significant as multiple researches have linked good air quality with improved productivity. Productivity matters because labour costs are much higher than rent or energy costs in developed economies and are gaining significance in less developed economies. Indeed, in one of its reports, Jones Lang Lasalle describes a 3-30-300 rule of thumb, which states that only USD 3 psqft p.a. is spent on energy, USD 30 psqft p.a. is spent on rent vs. USD 300 psqft p.a. is spent on human capital.
The visit to Breeze Technologies concluded our brief-yet-meaningful two days in Germany. Surely, being one of the technology centres in Europe, there are many more interesting property tech (proptech) startups in Germany to be explored. Jon and I hope to return to get to know (and invest in) more hardcore technology startups solving longstanding real estate problems. And, if possible, to enjoy some delicious Wiener Schnitzels under the warm sun while we are at it.