It is not often that academic projects evolve into innovative companies. Or probably they do when academics take charge and conceptualise them. Amarjeet Singh, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Zenatix Solutions, an energy management start-up, was a faculty member at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), New Delhi, before he became an entrepreneur. Between 2010-13 he was working on an energy efficiency model that would map the power usage patterns of buildings and help reduce energy costs. As part of the research, he deployed sensors across the campus to collect five million data points on a daily basis. Insights from the data helped IIIT reduce its energy consumption by 15-20 per cent.
Singh wanted to launch the model commercially for large energy consumers. The benefits would be manifold, right from huge savings in operating costs to conserving power to aligning organisational goals with green values. He took the plunge along with his IIT-Delhi batchmates Rahul Bhalla and Vishal Bansal, and set up Zenatix Solutions.
The Big Leap
Initially, Zenatix hooked a number of sensors such as energy meters, temperature monitors and controllers (all developed in-house and ruggedised to suit Indian conditions, including voltage fluctuations, power outages and other anomalies) to assets/devices consuming maximum power and monitored their usage patterns via a cloud-based software programme. Then it analysed the data and sent real-time, actionable insights on energy-saving measures.
The company soon realised that a lot depended on the presence of the facilities personnel to turn those suggestions into action, says Bhalla. For instance, the air conditioning was often switched on much earlier than the time suggested. The co-founders decided to step up and incorporate an automated control system so that they could remotely manage their clients' electrical assets.
In July 2015 Zenatix raised $1,61,000 from a bunch of angel investors, including Google India chief Rajan Anandan, Snapdeal co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal, Trifecta Capital's Rahul Khanna and other inpiduals. All of that went into product development.
Automated controls led to greater efficiency, enabling the start-up to focus more on multi-location businesses where headquarters bear the burgeoning power costs. It also meant expansion into fast-food and cold chains, banks and retail chains, points out Singh. The energy consumption patterns for such businesses are quite similar, with most of the load coming from air conditioning, lighting, diesel generators and UPS. So, with a little customisation, they could replicate the product to offer it as a service, he adds.
In March 2016 Zenatix launched its IoT-powered building management system called WattMan. Simply put, WattMan collects data on power usage patterns of each site based on which machine-learning models are developed. These models are used to analyse and determine the optimal power setting for that site, and this setting is maintained remotely, via automation. The product has been received well, and industry bigwigs such as NIIT, Mother Diary, Vodafone and GSK India are now among Zenatix's customers.
As Zenatix worked on WattMan further, several clients approached it with more energy issues. One such client was Mother Dairy, a franchisee-led business. However, the power bills are paid by the company to keep its cold chain running smoothly as the stock must be kept fresh and safe. Earlier, Mother Dairy used to have its teams visiting the outlets to ensure that the branch operators would maintain the right temperature. But with 800-plus booths in Delhi-National Capital Region, physical checks fell short. Zenatix developed a custom solution with sensors and automated controls, which would provide real-time data on cold chain operations. It also installed door sensors, which would trigger an alarm if a door is open and the temperature rises consequently. In addition, there is a desktop dashboard where all recorded data is available so that any anomaly or bypassing of the system is recorded. Zenatix has installed WattMan in 200 booths and does preventive maintenance of its electrical assets.
Mother Dairy says implementing the technology has helped it achieve better governance of booth infrastructure, improve asset management and optimise energy consumption. "We have seen 10 per cent reduction in energy bills in the booths where IoT-based monitoring has been deployed," says CIO Annie John Mathew.
The Mother Dairy project was a turning point. For one, Zenatix transitioned into electrical asset management, making sure all electrical devices are up and running. It is also working with a bank on remote surveillance of its automated teller machine. The enhanced role and growing market helped the company raise `8 crore in a pre-Series A round in February this year, led by pi Ventures and Blume Ventures.
The start-up does not charge for the hardware but earns money from annual subscriptions. The cost depends on the size of the outlet where sensors are installed. Zenatix usually charges 8-12 per cent of the energy bill as a customer manages to save 10-30 per cent energy in the process. Average revenue per site amounts to `30,000 a year. The company has deployed WattMan to 600-plus locations and plans to reach 5,000 locations in the next 12 months. It also collects 50 million data points a day from all its clients.
This year Zenatix has launched a low-cost version of WattMan for educational institutions where the main load is from air conditioning. It also plans to foray in the B2C segment with the launch of a plug-and-play device for homes.