“The mission is to improve the quality of urban life through predictive urban tree maintenance”: Interview with greeHill’s CEO and Co-Founder, Gabor Goertz

According to the United Nations, by 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. With more extreme temperatures, stronger winds, and greater pollution, urban citizens and ecosystems are facing increasing challenges to their health and safety. 

One of the assets cities have to support human health and wellbeing is trees. Trees are vital components of urban metabolism and human health; they improve air quality, enhance CO2 sequestration, and stabilize microclimate. However, obtaining accurate data on a city’s living and non-living infrastructure creates a severe bottleneck for the maintenance and enhancement of public spaces. 

I had the chance to interview Gabor Goertz, a serial entrepreneur about his startup greeHill, which is already an industry leader in predictive urban tree maintenance. Combining remote sensing with machine learning, the company enables cities to manage greenery for increased citizen safety and climate resilience. Their unique solution enables cities to make better management decisions for the health and safety of their citizens and ecosystems.

Gabor, can you tell us about your personal story? Where are you coming from?

I am an internationally experienced serial entrepreneur, who has established and successfully exited multiple market-leading companies in the fields of engineering and technology. I am driven by performance and always strive for my companies to be the best at what they do. I live by the idea that through our imagination and passion we can change the rules and shape the future.

Why did you start greeHill? Where did the idea come from? What is the mission?

The mission of greeHill is to create healthier and safer cities and improve the quality of urban life through predictive urban tree maintenance. 

My business partner, Gyula Fekete, and I started greeHill as the result of a research project with a consortium in Singapore in 2017. We realized the potential of the combination of LiDAR and Machine Learning to both improve urban greenery management and create healthier and safer cities for millions of people worldwide. Since we both have a background in technology and are dedicated to using our skills to improve the world around us, founding greeHill was a logical step. 

You operate in different continents, why have you decided to have Budapest as your operational HQ?

We had two main motivations to set up our operational HQ in Budapest. Firstly, Gyula and I are deeply rooted with our families in Budapest. Gyula was born here, and on my side my wife and I moved to this wonderful city 18 years ago, where our children were born. This is the emotional part. Secondly, from the business perspective, Budapest offers a huge pool of very talented, motivated, and dedicated young tech-and non-tech specialists, and a great ecosystem for tech startups. Even though salaries have been increasing a lot in the last years, we believe in the future of Budapest as a place for great technological development.

What were the most important steps of the journey so far?

I would consider three steps as most important: 1) Signing a large contract with the state of Singapore to create the next generation tree inventory for 3 million trees; 2) Deciding to work exclusively with full-time employees instead of external developers; and 3) Finding the right investors who believe in our project as much as we do. This progression has enabled us to rapidly grow our international presence, and rise to the top of an emerging market.

What is your business model?

We provide a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform for cities and greenery agencies to digitize their greenery management and to create healthier and safer cities. This platform dramatically improves day-to-day operations and, at the same time, provides tools for strategic city planning to improve the microclimate. Our goal is to provide our solution for cities worldwide.

How has COVID been affecting your business and your everyday life?

Regarding our ongoing partnership with Singapore, COVID has not impacted our project too dramatically. The main limitation has been only holding remote meetings, although we highly value having personal meetings periodically. Within Europe, even though everybody speaks about the importance of the environment, digitization, and machine learning (greeHill covers all three aspects), we clearly see that the budgets of municipalities have been cut. As a result, even though interest in our tools and services is very high, closing business is more challenging than before COVID.

What milestones have you had in fundraising and where are you now?

In the first years, our company was mainly self-financed through our research project and our contract with the State of Singapore and NParks (the national greenery agency of Singapore). In order to speed up our go-to-market, we held a small investment round last year with a group of international investors. Their investment strategy is to invest at an early stage in tech startups with the potential to become unicorns and to stay involved from the first day until the IPO. For example, they were the first investors in Trax (an Israeli / Singaporean) company which is valued at 3.5 billion SGD today. In the second part of this year, we plan to hold a larger investment round with the same group of investors.

Are there any competitors out there with your solution? If so, how are you different from them?

As the saying goes, “If there is a market, there is competition.” As new technologies create new opportunities, we are not the only company in the world tapping into the potential of urban trees. That being said, as far as we know we are the only company providing a proven integrated platform, which offers a “turnkey solution” for greenery agencies and cities. This means that we cover the full range of required components and tasks, from data acquisition services to automated feature extraction to an elaborate software toolbox for management.

Where are you today? And what is your long-term vision?

We are currently in the early phase of our go-to-market. We are about to complete the contract in Singapore and are now focusing on building up new clients, primarily in Europe. In the second part of 2021, we will extend our business development activities to Asia and the Americas. Our long-term vision is to become the leading platform for greenery management worldwide.

How do you see the market of sustainability solutions in the coming decades?

Our perception is that each decade has its buzz words and favourite topics. At the beginning of the millennium “.com” was the door-opener. Many companies tried to surf the wave, and only a few, with truly “sustainable” business models that created real added value, survived. We see a similar development for “sustainability solutions.” A few businesses, which create real value, will remain, and grow and “make the world a better place.”