During the fall semester, our Net Impact group worked with Virimodo, an energy analytics, carbon analytics, and emissions reductions start-up originally founded in New York by Columbia Business School alumna Donna Sanders. Virimodo has been successfully helping individual customers understand their energy usage, reduce their emissions, and sign up for clean energy plans. Following this success, the company is hoping to expand their services to provide energy intelligence and emissions information for entire buildings or portfolios of properties by signing up property management companies and partnering with proptechs. Our project involved market research and customer discovery for proptechs and property management companies, as well as helping to develop relevant marketing material and online content tailored to these groups.

From the beginning our project had two main focuses: proptechs and property management companies. In order to make efficient progress in researching both of these areas, we split the team into two groups to focus on each target separately. Both groups began with broad research, and then identified key criteria for narrowing down large lists of prospects to companies that would be potential customers or partners for Virimodo. Once the research was completed, the team reorganised into smaller groups to work on online content and marketing materials. 

A key challenge experienced by the whole group during this project was adapting to the online format. Our team spanned multiple time zones and work schedules, which made it practically impossible for the whole team to meet together. This resulted in communication difficulties, as well as a lack of team cohesion at times. When the team rearranged into new groups for the second phase of the project, we considered which time zones and schedules would work best together to form the new groups. This helped ease some communication issues to some extent.

Another challenge that we faced early on was that many of us were unfamiliar with the real estate world. It took time for us to understand the industry we were researching, which made it difficult to organize our research efficiently. The research phase of the project took more time than initially planned, as we faced issues with resources we had hoped to rely on. In order to work with our lack of familiarity, we started the project by keeping our research very broad, and only narrowing our search for prospects once we had a greater understanding of the wider market. We also had to remain flexible and adapt our plans as we explored which resources and information were available in the public domain.

Despite these challenges, we were able to produce several meaningful, useful deliverables for the client. The team identified and profiled the most promising proptechs and property management companies for Virimodo to approach. We also created a list of key terms for the property management portal on Virimodo’s website, descriptions of several low-cost and no-cost emission reductions measures that building owners and property managers can take to reduce their buildings’ carbon footprints, and a marketing document targeting potential proptech partnerships.

Our main takeaways from an unusual, challenging, but engaging semester were the importance of effective communication, both within the team and with the client, as well as a valuable experience of working with start-ups. While initially daunting, working with a dynamic young company like Virimodo gave us a unique opportunity for creativity. Their innovative solutions and sense of excitement inspired us all, and by the end of the project we all had a renewed sense of hope for the future of energy efficiency.

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