The last edition of ACCIONA’s open innovation program began in 2021 and ended in January 2023, with the celebration of Demo Day, where all the startups presented the project developed with the business units. Hobeen was the startup selected to work together with ACCIONA Real Estate business. Today we interviewed those responsible for co-creating the new service that provided a solution to the challenge of this business unit.
“The opportunity to be able to participate and transmit what we have been working on in front of all the managers of a large company, for me is a very motivating and exciting challenge, and it is something that I take away super valuable.” Mario Fernández, CEO of Hobeen.
Mario Fernández, CEO of Hobeen commented that, if ACCIONA launches a challenge, it is not because he simply wants to innovate, but because there is a real business need to be solved. He also says that the I’MNOVATION program has offered him the opportunity to get in front of the top management of a company listed on the Ibex 35, which has demanded self-confidence, commitment, tranquility, in addition to giving him great motivation.
To put us in context, tell us a little bit about yourselves, who are you and what do you do?
Jackelyn: I am Jackelyn Gonçalves and I am a Project and Innovation Technician at ACCIONA Real Estate. I’m an architect and I’m on the Sustainability and Innovation team. What we do here is to look for the most innovative solutions to provide our homes with those solutions, which help us to create greener developments, applying the technology that is most useful to us.
Mario: I’m Mario Fernández, CEO and Founder of Hobeen, a startup that was born in 2019 at the University of Navarra, which is where I was studying. What we realized is that, in general, in society there was a major problem because we do not make a conscious use of energy resources nor do we have knowledge of how to take our home towards a higher level of savings. Analyzing the market, we realized that the housing stock is quite obsolete, only 1% of homes have the maximum energy certification and there is a large part of them that have the letters E and F, which are the worst energy certificates. There was an opportunity to help these users and homes, to have a higher level of energy knowledge and for that we developed a platform that allows to manage energy resources in the home. I started as a solo founder and currently there are 14 of us in the team, working from Valencia in Lanzadera. It has been fantastic to participate in the I’MNOVATION Program with ACCIONA because we have been able to discover a very interesting market niche, which is new construction, new homes and developments, which for the moment we had left out of our initial focus.
We would like to know when and in which challenge you participated in ACCIONA’s I’MNOVATION program.
J: The challenge arose after some challenge identification sessions in which we prioritized the challenges that were in our landscape and on a large scale. The titles that emerged were: home automation, digitalization, circular economy and the most relevant was energy efficiency. From there we defined a first challenge, which was pivoting to a need we had at the time, which was intelligent control system of energy consumption in energy communities. Initially it was focused on energy communities, because at that time we were interested in giving our users the possibility of creating these communities, but then it mutated into a much more specific need, which was the compliance with the Breeam “Very Good” certification in our developments. Breeam is a sustainable certification, with which we certify all our promotions, and in their new manual they included a mandatory requirement, which urged you to control the consumption in the houses in real time through an application or display. In addition to monitoring the indoor and outdoor temperature and having access to the internet.
M: Regarding the challenge, it was very exciting to be able to participate. We went in with a different mentality, with the issue of energy communities in mind, which we saw was going to have a great reaction in the coming months, but then the reality is that when the need arose to be able to work to achieve this certification, we saw that we were very close or that we had many of the functionalities that were required and we got down to work. We did all the necessary studies to be able to integrate all these elements that were necessary. That is, in order to be able to provide real-time data on light, water, outside temperature and climate control, we had to carry out some scenarios and analyses. This was probably the most complex part of the challenge, because there were reports and documents with a lot of information to then make a decision, which meant discarding the rest of the options and for us, almost starting from scratch. But well, it has been interesting and it has been a very important part to be able to continue working.
How was the development of the pilot? That is to say, how did you find the process?
J: I would say it has been a success. All the objectives we set at the beginning were met. The work and the whole organization of the program have gone very well. I think the result is very positive.
M: Above all, what I would like to add to what Jackelyn said is the process. It is very well thought out and structured from the beginning, beyond the face-to-face sessions with the whole team during the Demo Day, intermediate evaluation, which is fantastic, to highlight the initial Kick off meeting, the initial part until you find the product you want (conceptualization), seemed to me key, and also the insistence of getting everything down to earth in a roadmap, some sprints, in a few specific weeks, is also quite key because if not it can make the times take a long time. The methodology of the Program also seems to me that it is very important that it continues to be maintained, which is that every week we had a checkpoint with the person who managed the pilot and every two weeks with the ACCIONA team to tell what was happening. Also important were the meetings with Jackelyn, in which the progress was presented and she gave us all the feedback from ACCIONA, especially in order to reach a solution that was in line with the market and did not remain just an investigation. The Intermediate Evaluation also puts extra pressure on the participants to not leave everything to the end, with a break in between, and makes it necessary to demonstrate that you are really going to develop or can develop technology. The final part of the program, where the value proposition that has been worked on during the previous months is transferred in a presentation, I also consider it a positive factor because we as a startup have to be able to transfer our value proposition to our target audience.
What has I’MNOVATION meant for you, that is to say, what has it given you?
J: It is my first contact with a program of this style and the truth is that the experience is very good. It allows you to be in contact with people with a lot of talent and eager to show their value proposition. Above all, it is an opportunity for the business, to solve challenges we have in a different, disruptive and fresh way. As Mario said, the whole structure of the Program seems to me to be very useful. On the professional side, I had never worked with a company like a startup, which is very focused on a product. I think that this same methodology can be perfectly transferable to my work. In your day-to-day work you can also organize yourself with a roadmap with deadlines, define what the problem is, validate it with the market, etc. The agile methodologies we have been following in the pilot and the path we are following with the startup can be perfectly extrapolated to my work at ACCIONA.
M: From the startup’s point of view, it has been a very good opportunity to work with a large corporation and adapt to their times, their requirements, their perfection, their needs, and this has made us grow not only in number of people, but also in terms of incorporating new tools, such as the work methodology. In order to meet the defined milestones, you have to have defined timeframes, but also allow for delays, with a time backup that allows you to respond in case there are deviations from the initially defined roadmap. At the startup level, it has been an opportunity to improve work processes, methodology, expand the team, etc. On a personal level, I agree a lot with Jackelyn, in one part, which is that it has been an incredible opportunity to meet people who have a lot of talent, both our colleagues from other startups that have participated in the program, as well as the ACCIONA team that is in contact with the innovation ecosystem. The Selection Day was a great day to meet people, and of course it was also an opportunity to get in front of the top management of a company listed on the Ibex 35. This requires self-confidence, commitment, tranquility and then it gives you a certain motivation. The opportunity to be able to participate and transmit what I have been working on in front of all the managers of a large company is a very motivating and exciting challenge for me, and it is something I take with me that is very valuable.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the I’MNOVATION program?
J: The main challenge was to adjust the business model, because developers are a different scenario. We sell the homes and then the user would decide if they want to continue with Hobeen or not. With that intermediate step, it was a bit complicated to establish a business model that would bring value to all involved. Another challenge is that the issue of energy efficiency, which is constantly evolving and that is a bit complicated because marketers and systems are evolving and there is a growing awareness that the user has to actively manage energy. As the solution was developed during the pilot, the electricity sector has also been pivoting, so the challenge was to keep up with what was coming out, as it is a somewhat effervescent scenario nowadays.
M: We were focused on a few slightly different use cases: one was for marketers and then we had had some approaches with insurance companies and banks to link it to a service that was already being provided, i.e. sustainable home insurance or, for example, the sustainable green mortgage. In the case of real estate as such, we had always seen the opportunity in energy rehabilitations, even renovations, but we had not yet put the focus because we understood that new homes could comply or have this already solved. With the solution that we have developed during this pilot, a very large and interesting market has appeared that we can attack from Hobeen.
What have been the lessons learned during the program?
J: I would emphasize the issue of flexibility to adapt to a market that is constantly evolving and then personally I had an exponential growth in terms of meters (all the technical part) and I think that understanding a little of how consumption works, how we can have it in real time has been very useful.
How has ACCIONA helped you grow as a startup? Do you think ACCIONA’s experts have provided you with a differential value during the development of the program?
M: It has been a master value. In the end, we have adapted the solution that you need on a day-to-day basis. That is to say, we have developed an ad hoc solution for the needs that exist in the real market. If it hadn’t been for ACCIONA’s concerns and needs, we would not have developed this technology, or at least not in this way. The part of the experts is fundamental: if these pilots were carried out and there were no internal experts providing support, it would be very difficult to carry them out because they are needed on a day-to-day basis. Being able to say that you have worked on an innovation project with ACCIONA opens many doors. ACCIONA also invited us to participate in Al Ándalus Ventures along with another startup that participated in a previous edition, where we were able to have our own stand at no cost and network, which always brings you potential investors or relationships.
How do you see your solution impacting the market?
J: Before launching this challenge, we did a market study and what we had were individual solutions that responded to one or another requirement, but there was no integrated solution, which is what we were looking for. Those individual solutions made the promotion very expensive, so the best decision was to launch it directly as an open innovation challenge and we could meet the established objectives. I believe that the solution has an impact on the market in that sense, as an integral solution, and also the customization, which allows us to make it known that ACCIONA promotes energy efficiency.
M: What differentiates us is that in addition to the raw data, which can be provided by any manufacturer, we try to think of extra services to be able to continue providing value to the user over time and to ensure that the solution does not become obsolete.
What are your future projections for the solution developed during the program?
J: The goal we have now is to implement it in a real promotion and quantify it with real users. Also something very positive about Hobeen is the flexibility it has and that it is constantly evolving.
What recommendations would you make to startups that want to participate in I’MNOVATION?
J: It is important to emphasize that this program does not prioritize a company that is 100% consolidated, no matter if you have an interesting value proposition, we consider you perfectly well as any other, in fact, so it will be easier to adapt to our challenges.
M: One thing that happened to me is that at the beginning I couldn’t believe it, because we would go for any program, but I knew I’MNOVATION since it started and when they wrote to us, I didn’t quite focus it correctly, because perhaps we are not a typical startup, since there are people who are born from a spinoff or have a certain trajectory. We had not participated in this type of program, so we did not fully realize the real opportunity to participate in an ambitious project that can allow you to split and reach the market in 6 months with a product. It is something they tell you and you do not imagine that it is real. From the beginning you must be clear that, if ACCIONA launches a challenge, it is not because it wants to innovate, but because there really is a business need that needs to be solved and it is important that when focusing on the pilot you go with the market approach and the possibility of working afterwards, because it is not just a pilot.