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Craig Storey on innovation and climate change

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Above: Craig Storey, CEO of Saint John-based SHIFT Energy.

Sitting down with Craig Storey, the Chief Executive of Saint John-based SHIFT Energy, you immediately get the impression that the company and its energy-saving product is more than just a great idea – it’s a meaningful solution to the global problem of climate change.

SHIFT was created by a group of entrepreneurs with years of experience in ICT, engineering and environmental science. In fact, the idea for SHIFT was born from Xvu, a product owned by Mariner Partners. Xvu was a Big Data tool, before the days when Big Data was actually a thing. The technology was used to capture and analyzes information elements across an IP video network. This would allow for real-time monitoring across millions, if not tens of millions, of devices.

At the same time, there was a shift happening in the energy industry. It was becoming clear that the  planet is facing real challenges with regard to climate change and energy consumption. It was becoming clear that if corporations didn’t start thinking differently about energy consumption and efficiency, the costs for large-scale development and growth were going to be outpaced by the costs associated with supporting that development.

Enter innovation: the team within Mariner that would become SHIFT began asking – how can we take this real-time data monitoring and apply it to energy consumption, to make people change their behaviour? How do we get them to shift their energy use and demand patterns?

In those initial phases, it became apparent that consumers weren’t as focused on this issue as possible. That’s when the company decided it needed to pivot the product to focus on small-to-medium sized enterprises. According to Storey, the ability to pivot a good idea to recapture the value proposition is a very important part of any start-up.

“I liken it a bit to Guy Kawasaki’s ‘let 100 flowers blossom’ principle. In his context he was talking about sales and consumers, but if you think about it as not shutting out opportunity – but rather embracing it to find the real value, that’s what we did with SHIFT,” says Storey. “We knew we were onto something with transforming the idea behind Xvu, and transitioning it to energy. We just needed to find the right market.”

This pivot to the SME market was just what they needed. SHIFT quickly acquired 50 customers on what was then just an energy dashboard that allowed customers to know where they were spending their energy. But the team at SHIFT wasn’t satisfied. They again began to ask “what if?”

This “what if” was a big deal. The team started investigating a shift away from offering customers Big Data information, and instead started moving toward offering Big Data action. They asked themselves, “what if we could automate energy savings?” That shift from passively harnessing information to leaping into action was the biggest pivot for the team, becoming SHIFT’s latest product EOS™.

“We reinvested in our technology – taking the Big Data, pulling in cloud computing and the Internet of things, and developing some proprietary tools and techniques to optimize energy use,” says Storey. “This innovation, along with some other data sources, allowed us to automate energy optimization for large buildings. And that’s how, in very plain language, we took EOS™ to market. Big Data without Big Action just doesn’t cut it anymore. The value is in the action.”

To Storey, each of those actions are steps in the right direction, addressing the real threat of climate change. At its heart, that’s what SHIFT Energy is doing. It’s not just about the technology, or the cost savings, or the energy management. It’s about making real progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s about truly understanding the legacy that corporations in North America, Europe and Asia will leave the next generation.

SHIFT is starting down that road by working with key accounts in North America to demonstrate the real value and benefit in energy savings. Over the next two to five years, it is their goal to expand their client list.

“We’ve got some very key accounts that have transitioned to our EOS™ product, and see it as a real asset to their business model in terms of energy and cost savings,” says Storey. “Some great examples are Rogers Arena in Vancouver, and the University Health Network (UHN) in Ontario. In the case of UHN, an engineering firm and Toronto Hydro have analyzed and verified the energy savings they have realized. That’s proof-positive that our product can make a real difference.”

And that energy (pardon the pun) is what is driving the growth at SHIFT. Arenas, convention centres and stadiums are coming on board. From the original idea of speaking directly to consumers, the company made the right pivots to find its target market.

According to Storey, over the next five years SHIFT aims to have 10,000 buildings across North America and Europe under its management, which will make them a $75 – $100 million company.

Reducing greenhouse emissions and creating great tech jobs here in Brick Park: that’s the best kind of win win.

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