In spring of 2019, Saint-Gobain and Greentown Labs announced the InNOVAte 2019 Challenge, a six-month accelerator focused on innovations that could disrupt the built environment and enable new value within the residential (single and multi-family homes) and commercial building value chains across North America.
Four recipients were awarded—Hyperframe, INOVUES, Pre Framing Corp and Techstyle Materials. In addition to a partnership and investment from Saint-Gobain of $25,000 in non-dilutive grant funding and desk space at Greentown Labs, the largest climatetech startup incubator in North America, the awardees also obtained exclusive access to Saint-Gobain networks and select Saint-Gobain testing capabilities, technical facilities, and expertise.
Since they were recognized with the InNOVAte award, the world as we knew it has changed dramatically. As a result, some of the companies pivoted their processes to help their community’s respond to the pandemic, while others continued in earnest to reach milestones and grow their portfolio.
Hyperframe thinks of itself as “the mixed reality business for construction.” Its founders saw how the electronics industry relied on pre-manufactured parts that fit together intuitively and decided to bring that approach to construction. Hyperframe’s building components are designed to fit together without tools and require no training to assemble, therefore reducing labor and improving the time to construct a building.
Jay Cady, co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Hyperframe, said Saint-Gobain has been extremely helpful over the past year as Hyperframe continued to move forward with pilot projects. “Saint-Gobain provides a holistic perspective in learning about the process and how they approach issues, testing support and product improvements,” said Cady. “Their partnership is truly invaluable to us.”
In March, Hyperframe moved out of its business location on San Francisco’s Pier 9, and the staff have been working in-person at Hyperframe’s warehouse in Point Richmond, CA. Despite the pandemic, the business has experienced tremendous response from the construction market.
“We’ve built a full-scale, one bedroom, one bath, 280 linear ft. of wall, condominium unit in our warehouse to test the speed of Hyperframe compared to traditional framing,” said Cady. “Our results showed Hyperframe is 15 times faster than traditional framing.”
Since the InNOVAte challenge, Hyperframe has obtained letters of intent for several projects, including a housing complex. They are also completing smaller jobs within San Francisco and have recently completed two jobs. “Our biggest priority is to fill smaller jobs while we fundraise to ramp up manufacturing for larger jobs and achieve higher margins on our products,” added Cady.
As Hyperframe looks to the future, Cady said it plans to expand its catalog of products, including augmented reality device software to provide contractors with a real-time installation process using a hologram to outline the framing of a room. In fact, its mixed reality headset was used on a jobsite in October, so it’s clear that Hyperframe is continuing to grow—and innovate!
As one of four winners in the InNOVAte 2019 Challenge, INOVUES developed a non-intrusive glazing retrofit system which enables the facades and windows of existing buildings to be upgraded and incorporate the latest energy-saving and smart glass products without removing, replacing, drilling, or altering anything at all. As a result, the system can increase window insulation by up to 10 times and can save up to 40 percent on energy consumption at a fraction of the cost of window replacement—it also avoids disrupting building operation or occupants.
Shortly after the InNOVAte challenge, INOVUES completed a successful pilot installation at Saint-Gobain’s North America Research Center in greater Boston, which enabled INOVUES to kickstart the commercialization process. “Saint-Gobain drives innovation in the building industry and we feel InNOVAte was one of the best things that happened to our startup,” said Anas Al Kassas, Founder & CEO/CTO of INOVUES. “With this award, we obtained the validation of a global industry leader which goes a long way for potential customers and also investors because Saint-Gobain decided to invest in us.”
Despite the pandemic, INOVUES experienced a great year, which included multiple installs, strategic partnerships, and surpassing projections. “We sold and executed our first actual project in 2020 in Seattle and also introduced the world’s first smart window retrofit product in Los Angeles,” added Al Kassas. “We’ve also partnered with an alliance of 140 energy utilities to retrofit multiple buildings in the Northwest as a pilot.” INOVUES also hired a Director of Projects & Engineering and filed several new patents in the U.S. and abroad.
For future entrepreneurs, especially first-time founders, and those in the cleantech and hardtech space, Al Kassas encourages start-ups to join a specialized accelerator program or incubator, like InNOVAte with Greentown Labs. “When you start a company alone, you’ll spend more time and money figuring everything out. But, when you have connections with strategic partners like Saint-Gobain and Greentown Labs, you’ll obtain advisement from knowledgeable experts who can help accelerate your path to success.”
Pre Framing Corp.
Pre Framing Corp. Founder and CEO Mauro Sica realized cost is a major barrier in building green homes and he wanted to do something about it.
With this idea, Pre Framing Corp. was born. “In order to build energy-efficient homes with reduced cost, we created proprietary advanced automation which enables builders to frame a house in a portion of the time, saving money and reducing the lumber wasted during the process,” said Sica. “Those savings will counterbalance the extra cost of green features.”
Pre Framing shouldn’t be confused with “pre-fab” nor is it a new construction method, rather it provides partially pre-fabricated walls—called pre-framed walls—which are pre-cut, and pre-marked studs held together with a collapsible alloy strap fastened on the wood. “In order to create the walls, we use our proprietary automated machinery and software to create walls that are consistently accurate, collapsible for easy shipping and expandable on the construction site,” added Sica. “Pre Framing’s partially prefabricated framing solution is up to 10 times faster than the traditional process, which means fewer trips to construction sites and 45 percent cost savings. Additionally, we estimate that 1 million trees could be saved and up to 2 million tons of CO2 emissions could be eliminated each year when using our product.”
As an InNOVAte 2019 Challenge recipient, Sica said InNOVAte provided Pre Framing Corp. with access to a significant network of industry leaders, and offered Sica, a technical founder, the confidence to step out of his comfort zone in R&D and into the business side of the company.
“Saint-Gobain made me realize the importance to have real customers use our product even before the technology is fully developed,” Sica said. “So, we took action and successfully built the first two projects. Based on the feedback, and the experience accumulated, we further perfected the product and optimized our processes.”
All this happened just before the pandemic, which placed the business in a three month lockdown and limited the company’s ability to raise its next round of funding. At this point Pre Framing Corp. decided to upgrade its first prototype machine, rather than build a new one as originally planned. This upgrade resulted in more speed and reliability. “Think of a prototype like an old car from the 70s that couldn’t be driven long distances,” he explained. “We needed to upgrade some of the parts to make the machine more reliable when intensively used. I like to think of this new upgrade prototype machine as a modern car that is not only more advanced, but also more reliable and can go the distance.”
Furthermore, Pre Framing Corp. diverted resources toward new software features to increase its profitability which offered an even more compelling product to customers, despite the challenges. “We were also able to continue working with our beta customers when the construction industry opened up,” said Sica.
The pandemic also helped the business in a few ways, such as unprecedented demand due to the lag of construction when the industry shut down to a shifting of families who are currently now living in multi-level homes in cities to new, single family homes outside of the city.
“This Saint-Gobain InNOVAte 2019 initiative truly helps the industry because they understand the challenges of a startup and how to connect entrepreneurs to potential investors,” he said. “I am grateful for their support and look forward to many successful years ahead for Pre Framing.”
Founded in 2018, Techstyle Materials develops smart building products for the construction industry based upon a proprietary multifunctional material technology developed by the company’s founder in a physics laboratory at Brown University.
Offering a low-cost solution that can be applied to existing building materials to significantly improve moisture regulation, comfort and energy efficiency, Techstyle’s Founder Derek Stein said the company is doing well following the InNOVAte challenge despite the pandemic.
Although the pandemic forced prototyping to pause for a few weeks, Stein and his team continued progress by adding new advisors and focusing on business development. “We recruited individuals who bring years of experience in the construction industry, specifically in gypsum R&D, and manufacturing and sales, to create value for us and to be successful and viable in the industry,” said Stein.
Techstyle Materials continues to work at Greentown Labs, and Stein is optimistic for the future. “As a physicist, I understand there will always be unknowns, but we are keeping a close eye on developments in the coming months to quickly adjust our strategic plan if things change quickly.”
While Techstyle has experienced a better year than they anticipated, it’s clear the team is continuing the path of success with its team, technology, and developments.
Join Saint-Gobain and Greentown Labs on June 15 at 1:00 p.m. ET for a Fireside Chat to learn more about the InNOVAte 2019 Challenge, its participants, their progress, and plans for a future Greentown Launch program focused on the built environment. Register for the event here.