Q&A - Nati Freiberg, founder and CEO at SmartGreen

October 22, 2018 by John Hatcher
  • Share on LinkedIn
  • Smart Buildings RSS
  • Email this page
Q&A - Nati Freiberg, founder and CEO at SmartGreen

Nati Freiberg has 30 years experience in the high-tech industry, active in private and public companies, working in a range of fields including video, telecom, semiconductors and cleantech. SmartGreen, under Nati’s leadership, has developed OptiNergy, a system that specializes in managing the energy and operations of commercial and industrial buildings. Nati is skilled in developing and implementing marketing strategies, business plans, work methods and protocols; conducting market analysis, optimizing processes, with extensive business management and project execution experience. Nati is an electronic engineer with an MBA in Finance and Financial Engineering & MA in Philosophy.

How did you become involved in the Smart Buildings industry?
Throughout my 30 years in the high-tech industry, I have been active in private and public companies, working in a range of fields – video, telecom and semiconductors. I felt that the mobile industry has become very competitive in recent years and realized that it has become almost impossible for startups to succeed, due to the huge investments required to reach the market.
Tech giants like Apple, Broadcom and Samsung control the entire mobile value chain, ranging from phone device components to operating systems and even parts of the content, and it is very difficult, I'd say even virtually impossible, to compete with them.  I came to the conclusion that the most intriguing markets are those where advanced technology combines with traditional industries or markets. This combination creates marvelous synergy and disrupts any market where the mix occurs, and there are many examples – Airbnb, WeWork, Uber, and more.
In my previous company, I noticed major variations in energy consumption in buildings of the same size. After more rigorously examining the matter I found that it all has to do with the way the building is managed, the type of systems that have been installed, and the technological knowhow that exists (or does not exist) within the organization.
In many buildings, the condition of the electro-mechanical systems requires improvement. Energy management is barely practiced and there is no genuine understanding of the entire concept of building energy management and maintenance. There is a complete market failure because the details are too complex - building managers are overloaded with too much raw data and in many situations the control systems either don't work or don't exist. The systems are becoming more and more complex and there is a need for new types of systems that provide a solution to all building energy management and maintenance issues.  This awareness set me on a new path and I developed OptiNergy, an expert system that specializes in managing, monitoring and optimizing the energy and operations of commercial and industrial buildings.

What excites you about the Smart Buildings industry?
It is a market with huge potential, which is still in its infancy! There are 40 million buildings around the world, consuming $1 trillion of energy every year and the savings potential is simply massive, with far reaching environmental repercussions. Thousands of power plants could be done away with if the energy in buildings was managed properly. There wouldn't be any losers here. It's a win-win situation.  What is also very exciting is that now is the right time – both from a technological and socio-cultural point of view – for the smart building revolution.

Are there any particular technologies that we should be aware of, but are currently under the radar?
I don’t think so.  You can find a wide and sophisticated range of technologies being used in solutions for smart buildings: artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, cloud computing, advanced wireless networks, block-chain and many more technologies are integral in smart buildings solutions.  When I show development professionals OptiNergy’s architecture systems, even I sometimes find it hard to believe the amount of technology that we use.  We recently rolled out an advanced battery-operated wireless sensors application with a 10 kilometres range and the ability to monitor 5 different environmental conditions, including CO2.  At small cost. a team of only 2 engineers installed 300 such sensors within 48 hours.  This kind of solution was like science fiction just two years ago.  The situation will continue to improve, because the technologies relevant to smart buildings are improving by leaps and bounds, both in terms of performance and price.

What services does your company offer?
SmartGreen offers an advanced software platform that lets buildings be managed in an optimal manner, in terms of energy, maintenance, tenant convenience and productivity.  The software currently controls hundreds of LABS workspaces in London (https://labs.com/), ensuring that their air conditioning and heating systems operate optimally and with no technical hitches. This generates major energy savings, reduces maintenance costs, allows equipment to last longer, and dramatically improves employees’ comfort and productivity. Air quality, temperature, humidity and lighting levels are monitored in each and every room.  All the chillers, boilers and electric meters are connected to the system and monitored 24/7. Every fault and problem is pinpointed clearly and concisely at the earliest possible moment and the building manager is alerted. All McDonalds’ branches in Israel are monitored and optimized by the OptiNergy platform including automatic thermal comfort calibration of its spaces, refrigeration monitoring and advanced fault detection of its electro-mechanical equipment.

Are people aware of the regulations that they will need to comply with in the near future?
In countries where regulation is developed, most of the players are up to date in the market requirements and trends. The problem is in the many countries where regulation is less developed, and where penetration by energy efficiency solutions into the smart buildings market is much slower than in countries like the UK and USA, which are broadly regulated. It is not a coincidence that the Smart Buildings Show is taking place in London.

What are the benefits of a smart building?
There are lots!  Every building has a functional purpose. An office building, for example, must provide a comfortable and safe environment for people to work productively. A smart building provides just such an environment in the best possible way – continuous comfort, safety and enhanced productivity, all at a lower cost.

Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
I switched to cleantech after studying for my master’s degree in philosophy. That was where I first came across the issue of environmental economics.  Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded convinced me that the cure for all environmental ills is mainly technological and so I decided to delve more deeply into the topic. I was very surprised to discover that the facility management market is lagging far behind on all matters regarding high-tech adoption and most buildings have been managed the same way for decades.

What is the question you are most often asked in your business life?
What is the business model for what you are doing?

What are the best/worst things about your job?
The best and worst things stem from the same issue – the enormous uncertainty that is familiar to anybody who has founded a startup.  The technological uncertainty of the business model, educating the market, etc. The trick is to see and understand exactly where you went wrong and how to avoid repeating the same mistake, so that a setback becomes a success.  Uncertainty requires me and the entire organization to be open to new ideas, to assume nothing and for sure not to become infatuated by this or that technological solution.  Since it is a new market, customer feedback is also very limited, and that only puts further uncertainty into the equation.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Be highly skeptical when results seem too positive. There are no miracle solutions, or single technology that answers every problem and need.  5G, for example will be superseded by 6G and then subsequent generations. Things will get a lot more complex.
In addition, be patient, because everything takes much longer than you think and the market can develop in completely unexpected directions (and it probably will).

What living person do you admire and why?
Vishay founder Dr. Felix Zandman, who died 7 years ago. If I must choose a living person, it would be Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba. His incredible story is an inspiration to every entrepreneur, wherever he may be. Against all the odds and obstacles, he founded an empire that has changed and continues to change the lives of hundreds of millions around the world.

Where would you most like to live?
I live where I most want to live.

What is your favourite book?    
Robert Maynard Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

How do you relax?
Spending time with my family.

What sports team do you support?
Golden State (NBA)

What is your desert island disc?
Classical tunes

What is your ideal holiday?    
My ideal holiday is to combine classic and ancient cities, and natural landscapes.

 

SmartGreen are exhibiting at Smart Buildings Show. To register for free go to www.smartbuildingsshow.com

Most popular this week.

Featured Video