Herbert Dwyer of EMPEQ

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Herbert Dwyer (co-founder and CEO) of EMPEQ, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of EMPEQ – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

America needs to decarbonize over 7,100 buildings every day for the next 27 years if we are going to reach our 2050 climate goals, and the first step in each of these projects is on-site data collection in existing buildings. This is an enormous task and we started EMPEQ to do our part. Specifically, we’re using deep technology to make the engineers and field auditors that perform these initial assessments up to 80% faster.

Making building audits more efficient isn’t just some problem we stumbled into – we have a passion for overcoming this particular challenge because we lived it. My co-founder Derek LaClair and I did over 300 energy audits and built energy models on >$250M commercial energy efficiency projects before starting EMPEQ. All too often, I’d be up on a roof with my pen and legal pad getting sunburned while I was triple checking the 23 character serial number of a Rooftop Unit (RTU). The breaking point came when we needed to send people from our company on four separate trips to the same customer’s building to recapture information. It became clear: if there wasn’t a better solution on the market, we needed to build it.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

Many of our biggest hurdles came from failing to listen to our customers early on. Considering the fact that we came from this industry, Derek and I started the business with a little too much hubris about what people would and wouldn’t value in our product, and this inevitably led to a lot of wasted time, effort, and money. Once we finally realized that our experience didn’t make us qualified to speak for every member of the commercial energy efficiency industry on product development, we turned a big corner. Specifically, participating in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation I-Corps program allowed us to speak with over 120 prospective customers and this process was invaluable in a retooling process that helped to put EMPEQ on the upward trajectory we now enjoy.

What does the future hold for EMPEQ?

We’re coming off of our best year since EMPEQ’s founding – we’re going to 3.5x our performance from 2021. In 2022 alone, we have been able to sign contracts with some of the biggest names in our industry. We also spent much of the past year iterating on our vision for the company long term. I’m thrilled that we’re making the building audit process more efficient, but we’re really looking to help our customers (not to mention building owners across the world) use the insights gained from these audits to make meaningful changes to the way we use energy in the built environment. If we’re going to hit that number of 7,100 building retrofits every day, we need a full complement of new, innovative solutions. My vision is for EMPEQ to play a key role in overcoming this seemingly insurmountable challenge.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Ithaca?

I’ve lived in Ithaca for almost two decades and there’s just no comparing the startup scene of today to what was in place when I first moved here. A ton of credit goes to Cornell and Ithaca College for changing the game, especially over the last ten years or so with their “REV” incubator. We’ve received a ton of invaluable mentorship and support from REV’s all-star lineup of EIRs. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the entrepreneurial “OGs” like Brandon Wright, Brad Treat, Pam Silverstein, and Charlie Mulligan who helped prove Ithaca really could produce excellent tech companies. The bottom line is that this is a city with a reasonable cost of living, an active art and music community, direct access to lakes and trails, relative proximity to all of the east coast’s largest cities, and incredible talent from world-class universities  – what’s not to like!?

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I always like to tell aspiring entrepreneurs to be open to being wrong about everything. We all have our biases, but we have to put those aside if we are going to succeed. Honestly, I wish that Derek and I would’ve had this advice a few years earlier. Remember that your customers’ opinions are the only ones that really matter, so learn as much as you can as often and early as you can. Take it from me, things get a lot easier once you become a company that iterates based on trends in customer feedback rather than constantly going with your gut.

 

For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series