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Interview with greenbird’s CEO Thorsten Heller

We recently had the chance to interview Thorsten Heller, the Co-Founder and CEO of greenbird Integration Technology.

greenbird is an Oslo based startup providing open source based integration technology for smart metering and smart grid applications. The young company, which was founded in 2010, builds its products and services around the “revolution” that is going on right now within utilities and energy companies as many countries in the world have decided that smart metering has to be implemented.

With smart metering and smart grid, utilities and energy companies will become digital. End users will get more and more advanced internet based and mobile services on top of “standard utility” or “standard energy” services. greenbird does develop the required integration technology which helps energy companies to connect metering devices with the endusers and to use metering data for building a smart grid. Find out more about greenbird and check out the interview we just did with its CEO Thorsten Heller:

EU-Startups.com: greenbird Integration Technology AS provides open source based integration technology for smart metering and smart grid applications. What exactly does this mean?

Thorsten Heller: With smart metering, energy companies and utilities will deploy a communication network which connects metering devices and the end customers premise with the grid companies applications. With rollout and operations of smart metering, utilities will face huge integration challenges.

During rollout, utilities have to handle the installation of communication network and a mass replacement of existing metering devices with the new smart meters. As an example: In Oslo, 550.000 meters have to be replaced before 01.01.2017. Utilities need therefore effective work order handling which requires automated process integrations between entrepreneurs and utilities. greenbird is providing an open source based integration middleware with preconfigured process integration templates for the mass installation process.

During operations, metering devices will send hourly based meter readings. In addition to that, the smart metering infrastructure is used to transfer events (such as power off message) to the grid operator. greenbird provides the integration middleware which handles both huge volumes of metering data and fulfills the realtime requirements for event handling.

Utilities want to use information from the smart metering infrastructure (metering values and events) to generate Smart Grid benefits. That means metering values will be used to optimize the grids’ capacity, reduce peak loads, optimize re- investments reduce downtime due proactive and effective error handling. For that metering data and events have to be distributed to various operation support systems and business support systems. greenbird is providing the integration middleware to distribute smart metering data.

With smart metering, one of the goals is to get the end customer more engaged and more “consumption aware” / “environment aware”. For that end customers and their preferred applications and channels (i.e. mobil apps, Facebook apps, etc) will need access to metering data. greenbird provides the integration middleware to handle end user interaction.

In short: greenbird provides an open source based integration middleware platform where the most typical smart metering integration usage scenarios are preconfigured and predeveloped as “ready to use” process integration templates. greenbird actual provides “system integration” – which typically is done by system integrators – as a product.

EU-Startups.com: What is your professional background and what led you to the idea to start greenbird?

Thorsten Heller: The founding members of greenbird were working together for several years in another consultancy. During 20007-2009 we had several system integration projects for various customer and smart metering project. For each customer case we’d start again from the scratch to do “nearly the same” system integrations. That’s where the idea was born to build a platform, a product or a process integration library which simplifies integration challenges and to provide “best practice” integration processes.

For my personal work experience: LinkedIn

EU-Startups.com: What makes greenbird’s integration middleware platform and the related services unique or better than the solutions of other software companies out there?

Thorsten Heller: There are 2 types of competitors.

1.  Infrastructure suppliers such as Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, etc.: These companies do provide integration platform technology. Normally system integrators such as Accenture, etc., would implement integration solutions on top of these infrastructure platform. greenbird provides – in addition to the technical infrastructure – ready to use and pre configured integration processes, data models for energy and smart metering, dashboards, etc. that means, greenbird is providing a “business infrastructure” whereas Oracle, IIBM, Microsof, etc. is providing technical infrastructure.

2. System integrators are typically hired to solve integration challenges. System integrators are mainly interested in hourly based consulting fees and would start each time again and again to implement the same stuff. greenbird provides integration templates which reduces needs / efforts for customizations.

EU-Startups.com: How did you finance the startup-phase of greenbird and who invested?

Thorsten Heller: The startup of greenbird was financed by a private angel investor who put inn the først 3 month. greenbird did already the først month generate positive results as greenbird provides also expert consulting services within integration and smart metering. greenbird is actual a concern with greenbird Integration Technology AS (holding), greenbird consulting AS providing expert services and greenbird solution AS which is the product company. greenbird consulting is financing greenbird solutions.

EU-Startups.com: What were the main stumbling blocks during the development of greenbird and within the first months after the launch?

Thorsten Heller: The biggest challenges is/was not to been eaten up by your own success. In Norway, all utilities have to implement smart meters until 01.01.2017. In UK, in 2020 80% of all meters should be smart meters. The market actually needs a product like greenbird concept and it needs the experience and resources like greenbird has. So the biggest challenge for a startup is to say “NO” to new projects / product ideas. To stay focussed. We did manage that because we’re quite experienced.

Challenge nr. 2 is hiring people. We’ve beed lucky as we have some of the smartest java and integration guys in greenbird and talent attracts talent. But we have to find additional 5-10 developers and consultans to fulfill our plans.

Challenge nr. 3 is window of opportunity: 2017 all meters have to be in place. So, most utilities will start the implementation projects q3/2013. We need to build up ressource pool to support the customers.

EU-Startups.com: How many people are currently working for greenbird and how do you support the corporate culture?

Thorsten Heller: 15 employees. We have every 2. week a whole evening together discussing new technologies, new product ideas, new features. Once a month we’re going for a “fredags-pils” meaning having some beer and pizza together. 4 times a year we take the whole company to a skiing trip or something similar.

EU-Startups.com: What is your impression about greenbird′s market acceptance so far and where do you like to see the company in about 3 years?

Thorsten Heller: In Norway greenbird is a known player within utility sector. As of today greenbird already has 35% of all metering points in Norway on our customer lists, meaning the 4 of the largest utilities in Norway are greenbird customers.

We haven’t got the same attention yet as a software company, meaning people who do not work withing energy / smart metering have not heart that much about us. That will be changed as we started marketing outside energy to get more experienced developers.

Our target is europe. For us norway is just a pilot or a proof of concept. In Oslo, there are 550.000 meter point. Berlin has 5 millions. London has 10 millions. We see Norway as proof of concept or a sandbox for development but we target europe.

In 3 years we will be present in Denmark, Sweden and Germany / Austria.

EU-Startups.com: How is your experience with Oslo as a location to start a company?

Thorsten Heller: There’s no doubt that greenbird would never be greenbird if we had not started in Oslo. Norway is a small country and everything happens and is decided in Oslo. At one single day I can visit 3-4 customers. Everybody knows each other. So – after we started greenbird – other customers did do the sales for us, talked about us, recommended us. And we are known. We know many people. Many people know us.

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Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr is the "Editor in Chief" of EU-Startups.com and started the blog in October 2010. He is excited about Europe's future, passionate about new business ideas and lives in Barcelona (Spain).

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