Culture, Community and Content: Hygge Power’s Experience at Boulder Startup Week

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Boulder certainly has a unique startup ecosystem, and at Hygge Power, we are proud to play our part in helping it become the incredible community it has blossomed into today.

In celebration of this awesome community, Boulder Startup Week (BSW) recently provided all walks of the local startup world with an event-filled five-day week, including late-May hail! The week-long event typically draws a 10,000-person crowd and is spread across multiple venues in Boulder, featuring 1,000 speakers and 350 different events — all free and open to the public. Celebrating its 10th year, BSW’s goal is to bring the community together in an inclusive, educational and engaging way, celebrating entrepreneurship and the process of imagining and breathing life into exciting, valuable and successful companies that truly make a difference in the world.


The Power of the People When Talking Products

Our chief product officer, Max Lewin, participated in a pair of sessions as a speaker on the various panels. The first panel, “From Cardboard and Glue to a Snappy Prototype,” emphasized early user testing and an iterative feedback loop to dial in the product as quickly as possible. Max joined speakers from Sphero and other organizations to share stories about how they used various random items — from LEGOs to cardboard and pipe cleaners — to create a rapid prototype and ultimately get their products off the ground.


During the first panel, Max enjoyed listening to Steven Dourmashkin’s incredible journey on the path to creating Specdrums, which are app-connected rings that turn the world's colors into a personal sound machine, before ultimately being acquired by Sphero.


“He started from a breadboard that someone wanted him to make into a wearable device, then moved into black-and-white detection before finally advancing to the excitement offered by different colors when a user wanted to bang on some, well, colors. It was all very consumer demand driven — friends and sometimes even strangers finding out about this interesting toy and wanting to try it.”


The notion that user feedback is vital to a modern product was cemented throughout Hygge Power’s UX lead Ashton Smith’s BSW experience. But Ashton’s expertise in creating user experiences revealed an insightful takeaway.


“Tech products have always been spoken about in terms of influencing people's emotions, moods, behaviors, etc., but now that we have AI and a plethora of IoT sensors, the devices that we choose to have around can be influenced by us! Products can be optimized to work better for us by behaving differently based on our different emotions.”


And that’s exactly the experience we’re cultivating with our OPO line of products — own your power. We want consumers to be in charge of their power and have peace of mind about the power they are consuming because they’re able to leverage OPO’s smart capabilities and Wi-Fi connectivity to easily do more with their outlet — based on how they feel and what’s most important to them.


Complications Surrounding Connected Hardware

As a company developing connected smart power storage devices, conversations surrounding connected hardware devices caught our attention — and a lot of the chatter centered around how complex the space can be. During the second panel that Max was a part of, “Navigating the IoT Ecosystem with Solderworks,” he highlighted some of the early challenges we face at Hygge Power, discussing the tools available to us throughout our development lifecycle as well as how much further along the product might have been had the team known about certain tools earlier.


“For example, I believe if we had the Solderworks lab space available to us a year ago, we would have been farther along in development,” Max said. “Simply having the space to bring the team together and the different pieces is very important.”


Another complicated challenge specific to Hygge is the industry we operate in. “Providing value to both consumers and utilities while helping solve major challenges in the energy and environmental space is not something many companies are doing,” Ashton said.


He further discussed attending a FitTech meetup in an attempt to keep tabs on health and fitness technology because of its strong focus on haptic sensors, miniaturizing sensors, AI and machine learning. “Monitoring, recording, relaying and predicting the complex patterns of a human body requires a very similar approach to what we use in the complex grid and energy environment.”


Giving Back to the Boulder Startup Community

Attending events like BSW are crucially important for Hygge Power because it provides us the opportunity to contribute our two cents and give back to the community that was so instrumental in the early stages of our goal to bring power to the people — a notion that was cemented throughout both Ashton and Max’s experiences both as speakers and participants.


“Events like this allow us to learn, expand our minds and meet people who can learn from us or meet people who can help us out,” Ashton revealed. “Participating in BSW lets us be a part of something bigger and then bring that conversation back to the team. A company will only grow as much as the people within it, and every time I approach an event like this, I find that the more I try to contribute, the more I end up taking away.”


“My experience on both panels was fantastic. To be considered someone with something to share and to offer others is a testament to how far I've come over the past few years, and I wanted to participate because it honestly feels great to give back to the community that propped Hygge Power and myself up so much throughout the years,” Max said. “We've had countless favors performed for us by innumerable people in this community, so there's no way to pay back all the personal debt that is owed. But by doing panels like these, I hope to pass on the knowledge that I've gained — that we've gained.”


In the end, it’s important to acknowledge that these events are people powered and wouldn’t be possible without awesome sponsors like Techstars, Glider, the City of Boulder, the Downtown Boulder partnership, Solderworks, UpRamp and many others. So, thanks to the sponsors and people that make BSW possible — your commitment is unmatched and helps to make our community as special as it is.


Hygge Power at NREL’s 2019 Industry Growth Forum

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Hygge Power presented at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)’s Industry Growth Forum (IGF)— and we couldn’t be more humbled by the recognition. 

 IGF is the premier event for cleantech entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts to build relationships, showcase innovative technologies and explore disruptive business solutions. For companies like Hygge Power, IGF is a great event, not only because it’s heavy on the energy side, but also because it provides up-and-coming enterprises the unique opportunity to spend one-on-one time with industry heavyweights who can help take our business to the next level.  

 At IGF, attendees get access to some of the world’s biggest cleantech investors and industry experts. With the unmatched opportunity to build relationships and connect capital with the attending innovators, IGF aims to create significant impact on the world of energy. And as you’re making the right connections, the trusted NREL “stamp of approval” is a significant benefit as well. The impact of the relationship-building that has occurred at IGF since 2003 is staggering — companies that have presented at the IGF have gone on to raise a collective $6.3 billion in follow-on funding.

 Designed to connect the cleantech community, IGF brings innovative research, entrepreneurship and investor money together in one place. Beyond organized networking opportunities and one-on-one meetings, this year’s event, which took place this week in Denver, featured compelling panel conversations and presentations from 30 emerging clean energy companies. And, for the first time at IGF, Hygge Power will be onstage as a presenter! 

 Proactive Engagement

But we weren’t simply invited just because. It required proactive engagement, solid relationship-building prowess and applying the expert advice we received from IGF last year to get to the point we are at today — and it will take more of the same to deliver on our goal of Better Energy. Better Lives.  

 Similar to speed-dating, the One-on-One Networking Session provided investors a venue to quickly host numerous 1:1 meetings, forge new connections with cleantech entrepreneurs and hear some pitches before moving on. Because time is limited in these rapid-fire discussions, it’s crucially important to proactively reach out to investors and strategic partners ahead of time.

 Fortunately, NREL provides the tools to do so. There’s a portal set up allowing companies to immediately engage with investors and other important people to ensure the alignment is right ahead of the meeting. This allows companies and the individuals they are meeting with to get on the same page and immediately establish goals so that time isn’t wasted during the brief one-on-one session. NREL provides the tools to effectively engage with the experts, investors, accelerators, incubators and other cleantech industry leaders who matter most to cleantech innovation. 

 Expert Advice

One of the most significant takeaways from attending last year was the amount of expert advice companies receive at IGF. From manufacturing and working capital to the risks and mitigations seen by experts in the energy space, attendees receive unsurpassed expert advice and get a "big picture" overview of the emerging industry and the issues affecting technological innovation, capitalization and commercialization.

 While some advice is just noise that needs to be filtered out, the expert feedback received at IGF can be incredibly accurate and useful, better aligning companies to provide additional value moving forward. Experts, startups, technologists and thought leaders with experience navigating the clean energy industry provide feedback as a pro bono service, and they allow attendees to be better prepared for the next stage of growth after learning about best practices and successful strategies.

 Next-Level Presentation

We’ve heard that every year at IGF, the quality of the presenters goes up. As such, we were honored and excited to present our company and technology to an audience of hundreds of potential investors at this year’s event. Every time a company presents at an industry event, it typically invites questions from industry-related individuals, scientists and investors, and we believe that provided us an opportunity to show the investors we’ve already connected with what our story is from a more general perspective.

 It’s exciting to be talking about products and services that we can execute into the marketplace to provide value to customers. Our presentation answered specific questions about the company, our technology, financials and end-customers, before we opened the floor for a question-and-answer session focused on accelerating how Hygge Power will be able to provide value.  

 At Hygge Power, we have a track record of doing something once and then going back and doing it better the next time. Since last year’s IGF, we’ve in many ways repositioned ourselves to better define how we’re communicating our story to the people who matter most. The Forum was an excellent opportunity to collaborate and explore partnerships with the cleantech community and being selected to present is a significant milestone. It’s wonderful to have the support of NRELand leading partners and their expertise.


Imagining the Utility of the Future

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Traditionally asset-focused and utility-driven, the energy sector is undergoing an important evolution. Driven by the digital revolution and disruptive new technologies, electricity consumers are increasingly more informed, connected and demanding than ever before. 

Recent advances in renewable energy accessibility and policies supporting distributed energy resources like battery storage technologies have left me thinking about one big question, “What will the utility of the future will look like?”. Given the uncertain timing of these changes, future-ready power utilities have to think ahead to meet the challenges this evolution poses.

 Electric Utilities Today

Whether powering appliances, leaving a light on at night or connecting to the internet, many of modern life’s most basic functions require electricity. For decades, electric utilities have been paramount to the United States’ energy grid. By engaging in the generation and distribution of electricity for sale, utilities serve as the primary energy providers around the world. 

In the U.S., many states have historically required consumers to sign up through their local utilities to keep the power on in their homes and businesses, and even states with so-called deregulated energy markets continue to rely on local utilities for power delivery and grid maintenance.

When we pay for the energy that we consume, we typically pay for the kilowatt hours (kWh) used, transmission and distribution, customer service and various fees. When you pay your electric utility bill, that payment is not just for the electricity you consume, but it also contributes to helping the utility maintain the grid and pay its workers’ salaries. 

The price you pay can also depend on a number of factors, including your location, what time of year it is, consumption, market changes/disruptions and more. As of March 2019, the average electricity price is 13.31 cents per kWh for a residential customer in the United States. 

Historically, utilities take a one-size-fits-all rate structure, but some forward-thinking utilities are searching for better ways to engage their customers, introducing new rate plans. 

New Rate Options: Xcel Energy

Take Xcel Energy’s residential rate plans for the state of Colorado as an example. Xcel Energy has deployed two additional pricing plans that enable its customers to control their costs based on how and when they use energy. 

Both plans give consumers an opportunity to pay less for the energy used, and if customers are flexible in how they consume energy during on-peak hours (weekdays from 2-6 p.m.), their bills can drop even lower.

 Time-of-Use Pricing Plan

•  Charges different rates based on the time of day electricity is consumed. This plan allows customers to take control and save money by shifting optional usage to off-peak hours.

 Peak Demand Pricing Plan

•  Gives consumers the ability to control the rate they’re charged even further. It requires that consumers understand their energy demand, which is measured during on-peak hours. The peak demand charge is determined by the highest hours of usage during that peak period, allowing customers to save money by consistently shifting and staggering energy usage. 

 While electricity bill payments today are based on customer usage, at Hygge Power, we don’t believe that’s going to be the way it plays out in the future.

The Utility of the Future

As the electricity utility sector shifts away from a centralized, usage-focused past to a more distributed, renewable-focused future, forward-thinking utilities are searching for better ways to engage their customers. Experts are wondering whether the current utility model is sustainable — or even necessary — for the future of energy. 

 Consider Google and Amazon’s foray into the space. With increasing investments in the energy space, the two tech giants could play a significant role in determining the future of utilities. Amazon recently partnered with Arcadia Power in an attempt to make it easier to lower a consumer’s power bill. Their idea is that “home efficiency” bundles—including a smart thermostat, smart plugs and smart LED light bulbs—can help homeowners reduce energy costs. Additionally, both Amazon and Google are leveraging voice-assistant device platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to provide utilities the opportunity to better engage their customers by answering questions about energy use and bills with real, personalized data.

 From energy storage to advanced power electronics and control devices, a variety of emerging distributed technologies are creating new options for consumers and utilities alike. With consumers gaining more insight into usage, they’re also gaining significant bargaining power, and utilities need to re-examine their business models in order to remain relevant, meet the heightened consumer expectations, and continue creating value. 

What Do Customers Want?

Uninterrupted Power

-    In demanding more continuous connectivity with everyday devices, consumers will increasingly aspire for reliable power supply. 

 Access to Renewable Energy

-    Climate-conscious consumers expect energy from low carbon energy resources, helping to speed the growth of renewables.

 Control and Convenience

-    With the ubiquity of smartphones and connected devices, consumers expect more control over how much and when they consume energy so that they can optimize their energy usage.

-    Additionally, consumers have come to expect more real-time information on services, outages, consumption, etc.  

Imagining the ways that utilities of the future can provide enhanced value to consumers is something that we do everyday at Hygge Power. What’s your vision for the utilities of the future?

We’d love to hear your ideas!

Written by Caleb Scalf.