Norway-based tech start-up Futurehome has developed an innovative Smart Home system which allows the user to control, automate and monitor their household appliances remotely via a simple, user-friendly app.
In July 2016 Futurehome announced a strategic partnership with element14 and our subsidiary companies Embest and Avid Technologies. Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength. We caught up with Business Development Manager Enikő Weisz to find out what they’ve been up to...
What has Futurehome been up to since last summer?
One of our major achievements last year was signing a nationwide deal with Bravida, one of the largest suppliers of installation and repair services for electrical, heating, plumbing and ventilation systems in Scandinavia. They are now our preferred partner in Norway, and this partnership has allowed us to really spread our wings on the domestic market. We’ve also been helping to train their existing workforce on Smart Homes in general and the Futurehome system specifically.
We have also embarked on an international project called Blue Lab, an accelerator program run by EDF Energy in the UK. Over a ten-week period, we’ll be working together with EDF Energy on developing a proof of concept, meeting potential investors and hopefully establishing a more long-term partnership.
How does the Blue Lab program work?
Blue Lab is EDF Energy’s innovation accelerator, collaborating with selected start-ups to help them to develop new energy services and ideas into reality. Participants receive access to coaching support and potential investment opportunities, expert mentoring, real consumer insight and the opportunity to win a grand prize of £30,000 to take their business ideas to the next level.
How did you become involved with the Blue Lab program?
We applied for the program last September after being approached by a third party company called Lmarks – which specialises in connecting start-ups with large corporations. After an extensive screening process, we were invited to London where our CEO Erik had the opportunity to present our model. We were very pleased to be accepted into the final five finalists who were invited to attend the full program in Brighton.
What were you hoping to gain when you applied for the Blue Lab program?
Our main goal was to gain more insight into the UK market, and to get some hands-on experience of how things work over there, what’s important to UK customers etc. We also wanted to learn about how the major UK energy companies view smart technology and the future of home energy.
We were pleased to learn that EDF energy is very open minded in terms of how they see the home developing over the next few years. They realise that the energy market is likely to evolve into more of a shared economy than it is now – with providers actually buying electricity from their customers as well as selling to them. They’re actively planning for these changes and embracing forward-thinking projects like our own, which is very heartening. The opportunity to potentially form a partnership with a company like EDF Energy - to grow with them and to teach them our model - was definitely a major priority for us.
We have ten weeks to work together with EDF Energy on finalising a proof of concept for our business model. We’re in the middle of this now, so I’ve been travelling back and forth between Oslo and Brighton. It’s been very exciting exploring a completely new country with a very different energy market compared to Norway. At home we almost exclusively use electricity, whereas the UK is much more reliant on gas electricity and fossil fuels. We’ve had a lot of support from EDF Energy in terms of making market information available to us and putting us in touch with their existing partners.
On February 17th we took part in Pitch Day, during which we pitched to an international panel from EDF Energy, including the UK management team and representatives from the French leadership. This was followed by an open innovation afternoon attended by many specially invited guests, including potential partners, fellow start-ups, representatives from the energy industry and the media. It was a very successful day and we made a lot of valuable connections. We are currently in discussion with EDF Energy about the next steps.
Outside the Blue Lab Program, what else have you been working on?
On the engineering side of things we’ve been working on the next iteration of our Smart Hub. This update will include ZigBee support in addition to our existing features.
Our engineering team is also working on a complete revamp of our current Smart Home application software to make it more user-friendly and intuitive, with more of a focus on the user experience.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
We opened our Workshop in April 2016, and by the end of the year we’d sold close to 10,000 of our devices. Given the size of the Norwegian market, that was a major milestone for us.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced over the past six months?
You probably hear this a lot, but we have so many projects in the pipeline that sometimes it’s difficult for us to identify which ones have the potential to be the most important to us. In Norway we’re actively educating the market as well as developing the company, so deciding which projects to dedicate our time and resources to has definitely been a challenge.
Why is the UK an important market for Futurehome to break into?
In Norway we have a population of around five million in total. EDF Energy alone has over four million UK customers, so the market size is already a significant step up. Multiple studies have suggested that the UK smart home market is at a tipping point right now, with users getting more and more comfortable with using smart technology.
It’s our feeling that the biggest obstacle to mass market adoption of smart technology is that companies are too focused on features, rather than explaining how a smart device might look and feel in your home. By providing customer-centred solutions rather than just another piece of hardware, we think we’re in an excellent position to help address that issue.
How important has your strategic partnership with element14 been to your development over the past year?
Since the market launch of our first product we have continued working with element14's subsidiary companies Embest and Avid in further manufacturing of our Smarthub units, as well as in development of new revisions. Maintaining this strong relationship is vital to the continuity of our manufacturing efforts as well as for us to further develop and expand our product portfolio.
Right from the start of our first project we got to know both Embest and Avid as serious players in their respective fields, with vast knowledge and experience in all aspects of product development and manufacturing. During the last six months of scaling up manufacturing, this impression has only strengthened further. They have proven to be an essential and indispensable part of our success.
What’s next for Futurehome?
Our main goal for this year is to launch onto the mass market and find a way to reach those customers more effectively. We’re currently redesigning our web shop experience to provide more learning resources and solutions in addition to our physical products. By the end of 2017 we’d also like to have a new version of our Smart Hub ready.
We’re also continuing to work on breaking into the UK market. Our participation on the EDF Energy Blue Lab Program is a great opportunity for us to get a head start and to test and iterate very quickly. This is going to be where most of our energies are devoted over the next six months or so.
Do you have any plans to relocate to the UK full time?
It’s no secret that our goal is to establish a long term partnership with EDF Energy. For the moment we’re travelling back and forth between Norway and the UK, but should we see a realistic possibility of this partnership, we will have at least one team member permanently based in the UK.
To find out more about our strategic alliance with Futurehome, read our original case study here.