Small Buildings Can Be Smart Too: An Interview With Soner Haci

Smart buildings are becoming prevalent as real estate markets strive to go green. The owners of small and medium-sized buildings have found it challenging, however, to jump on the bandwagon. Soner from INESS, however, feels they have a solution on their hands.

Smart buildings – imagine sprawling skyscrapers lined up along the central business districts, packed with cutting-edge technologies that operate at an unfettering pace to optimise the operational efficiency of their systems. Technological advancements have made them a reality, with just one exception: small and medium-sized buildings.

Energy savings must be top-of-mind for property and real estate owners these days. As COP26 draws close, the pressure they face to transform their portfolio into smarter, greener buildings mounts ever stronger amid calls by the United Nations (UN) for the need to make tangible progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

For those with beef in the game, many have welcomed such calls, and for good reason. Building owners and managers are cognisant of the great deal of money being spent on heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, and lighting within their facilities – energy expenditures they can cut back on by assuming more control over usage. Climate change was simply the last straw.

Indeed, the smart buildings market has grown quickly in line with the hike in demand. In the US alone, revenue from smart building projects is predicted to rise from $731.9M in 2018 to $6.78B in 2023. As such, most building owners and managers can now look to a hefty pool of vendors and integrate a customisable, off-the-shelf solution to good effect, without much difficulty. But this remains a luxury not yet available to a sizeable number of their counterparts – those who operate predominantly small and medium-sized buildings.

As in-market solutions are primarily built for large-scale, complex buildings (read: sprawling skyscrapers), they do not adapt well to the use cases presented by small and medium-sized buildings, which often comes with a different set of considerations. One of these will not surprise you: costs.

More importantly, it is easy to forget that smaller buildings – in macro terms – comprise the majority of existing commercial real estate. In fact, a US study conducted in 2017 estimated that 98% of commercial buildings belong in the small-medium category (100,000 square feet or smaller), comprising 65% of cumulative floor area.

To get a clearer sense of the market gap in question, we had the opportunity to speak with and garner insights from Soner Hacıhaliloğlu, the co-founder and CEO of INESS, a US-based startup currently participating in our Deeptech Accelerator programme.

 


INESS

INESS is building the first enterprise platform that creates data twins of buildings. It continuously monitors people’s movements, occupancy patterns, temperature, humidity and other indoor conditions inside commercial buildings. These digital twins use data to improve operational efficiency while eliminating inefficiencies such as excess heating or cooling, unnecessary floor space, and overstaffing.


 

1. First of all, Soner, thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this interview! Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your backstory as an entrepreneur?

Thank you for having me.

I started my professional career as a Project Manager at Siemens Technologies. After spending eight years to build new technologies, I was appointed as the Business Development Manager for the MENA region at E-on Ista Holding. During this period, I was responsible for the company’s operations in five countries across three different continents. I set up operations from scratch and achieved 50M€ in revenue within a span of two years.

I’m honoured to have been chosen as one of the best Innovators under 40 and Best Young Energy Professional in MENA Region in 2018 and 2019. As of 2020, I am the CEO of INESS Technologies, and I am proud to share that we are a company which has been awarded by the UN, European Union and various sustainable management associations for our best-in-class innovation.

2. Running your own startup or venture is no mean feat and a daunting experience for most, yet you’ve seemingly gone above and beyond – starting off with BEAD Technology, and now with INESS and PONS. Tell us what inspired you to begin this amazing journey, and what has kept you going.

Resilience is the key factor to success. I have survived two coup attempts in two different countries, and a financial crisis that destroyed 50% of the economy in a developing country. I never gave up and managed to keep my teams afloat in these countries by adapting to the situation and refusing to surrender. So here I am today, first founding PONS with my twin brother, then INESS with my close friends and my learning journey continues on.

I’m always trying new things and failing many times more. But what you will not see me doing is to give up. Because we know that if we give up, we will never get up.

I like to dream – that my dreams will become my goals. My goals form a reason to wake up in the morning before the sun comes up. And if I wake up before the sun comes up, it is difficult to stop me from making my dreams a reality.

Gandhi once said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. And Abraham Lincoln mentioned, I quote: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle”. I cannot agree more.

3. INESS is described as a simplified, after-market, adaptive building management system (BMS). For the benefit of our readers who may not possess any prior knowledge, could you briefly explain what are the core functions and/or purpose behind the BMS developed by INESS?

INESS stands for Intelligent Navigation for Efficient Sustainable Structures and our mission is to bring affordable, simple and elegant energy efficiency to every commercial building.

We accomplish this through a behavioural occupancy analysis system that serves commercial properties. Our proprietary sensor-based technology converts commercial buildings into data sources and creates data twins of buildings – continuously monitoring people’s movement, occupancy patterns, temperature, humidity, and other indoor circumstances inside commercial buildings to improve operational, space, and energy efficiency.

4. The 2021 UN IPCC Report has highlighted the indisputable link between climate change and human activity, and the need for transformational changes to resolve our climate crisis. How can INESS help to address our current plight on this frontier?

INESS will provide an easy-to-use and affordable BMS that will convert every type of building into sustainable and intelligently operated adaptive buildings without requiring exorbitant amounts of capital.

We are now in the second machine age and the impact in terms of climate change is huge. We want to create a real positive impact on people’s lives by developing sustainable and innovative technologies that can save energy by helping buildings operate more intelligently and efficiently.

An interesting use case where we have successfully done so was a project performed with a major fitness chain. We were asked to address our clients’ problems with their energy costs across 40 different locations, which was steadily rising and at an unpredictable rate. We analysed data from one of their locations in Istanbul, which was consuming 22K€ worth of energy per month. Our analyses uncovered a complete disconnect between their automation system and building. Our client had installed a system with a proxy that assumed occupancy was maxed out and without any intelligence to adapt. In other words, their system had catered for service levels assumed to be necessary for up to 1,000 people, when actual occupancy rates averaged between 20% to 35% in reality. A lot of energy was redundantly consumed.

We identified the following energy consumption patterns and installed measures that allowed the system to react dynamically to optimise energy efficiency:

  • Occupancy levels started to rise only from 10am onwards. Dynamic adaptations to real-time occupancy rates using our technology helped save up to 10% of the location’s energy costs.
  • The legacy system had registered energy consumed during night hours due to cleaning and maintenance purposes, which we helped rectify by enabling dynamic adaptations to reflect actual use times.
  • As the location featured windows on its roof, daylight was present indoors for significant periods on most days. By taking into consideration the amount of natural daylight present, we updated the real-time schedule of the building’s lighting system, yielding a further 8% reduction in energy costs.

Overall, we estimate that our interventions helped save more than 20% of the location’s original energy costs, effective immediately. These savings were achieved simply by analysing and connecting the building’s energy consumption protocols with the people within on a real-time basis. We believe the same can be achieved across a variety of other use cases.

5. A major deterrence towards the adoption and usage of building management systems has been the costs involved, particularly for owners of small and medium-sized buildings. Could you share with us how INESS has dealt with this issue?

We developed INESS in response to the challenges of achieving energy efficiency in small to medium-sized commercial real estate. Such facilities are traditionally overlooked by major building automation and management technology companies that prefer to serve larger corporate customers. These businesses therefore have trouble justifying any sort of investment in expensive building automation systems, not to mention the relative lack of human resources to operate and maintain such complex systems.

INESS improves operational efficiency in these buildings without needing to invest in expensive systems by first prioritising reductions in lighting and HVAC usage based on analyses of human behaviour, occupancy patterns as well as indoor circumstances. We built INESS as a next-generation building automation solution that can mirror or even surpass the efficiencies of adaptive building automation and control system (BACS), and to do so at the fraction of the costs required.

System BMS Cost (Per Sensor Unit) Licensing Costs (Per Sensor Unit) Average Units Required Estimated Budget Required
Market Standard $1.5 – $2.0 $0.2 – $0.3 ~100,000 $170K – $230K
INESS $0.2 – $0.3 $0.1 ~100,000 $25K – $35K (~70% Savings)

6. More and more startups appear to be entering the market, each with their own take on the BMS model. If you could highlight one aspect of INESS which differentiates its solution from the rest, what would it be?

INESS specialises in the creation of real-time data from buildings which reflect how the inhabitants are interacting within, and how the indoor circumstances change throughout the day. The information is not only used to produce run-of-the-mill reports or to monitor energy consumption rates, but also used to operate the buildings’ lighting and HVAC without the need for a traditional automation system. This is made possible using our AI-based solution which does not require any human interaction as is required with most automation systems to alter their set points and schedules.

INESS is not focused on making smart buildings smarter – we are focused on making regular buildings intelligent and adaptively operated.

7. INESS has recently joined the third cohort of IoT Tribe’s Deeptech Accelerator programme. How has your experience been so far, and what sort of development and/or expansion plans have you put in place for INESS over the next 6 to 12 months?

We are very excited to be a part of IoT Tribe’s Deeptech Accelerator programme, and surrounding ourselves with great people and startups focused on sustainability as well as making a change in our world is great. We are looking forward to our expansion into Southeast Asia (SEA) and the Asia Pacific (APAC) with INESS through our participation in this programme.

IoT Tribe is one of the best communities that offers us direct connections to the right profiles in the region, and that is very important for us as we look to finish the programme with a permanent presence across the SEA and APAC markets.

8. You are actively involved as a member of 2hearts, a business community of high potentials with immigration backgrounds who work in the technology space. What does cultural diversity mean to you, and how does it influence the way you conduct yourself and your businesses?

Cultural and gender diversity are some of the biggest priorities for INESS. Last year, we decided to start an internship programme that prioritised applications from female engineering students and scientists, and our company bylaws state that we will strive to have women constitute a minimum of 50% of the overall headcount across our key departments.

The 2hearts community was built to foster stronger ties across immigration communities and connect them with local communities. Immigrants encounter numerous problems as they embark on their new lives and our goal is to support them in assimilating into society through the creation of new ventures and innovations.

9. For those who are interested to partner or support INESS, how can they do so?

We are positioning INESS as a data-as-a-source company that is creating data twins of commercial buildings, and we hope to develop strategic partnerships with companies that require datasets generated by commercial buildings.

If you hail from the energy, transportation, insurance or finance industry, or have a potential use case for the real-time datasets we can build at INESS, reach out to me.