Reducing energy waste is big business: $33.28 billion in 2022, according to Fortune Business Insights.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are used to measure a company’s positive human impact in addition to the shareholder value it creates. It is clear that everything in the waste-to-energy sector has environmental benefits, but not social benefits and good governance.
For SaLisa Berrien, founder and CEO of COI Energy, ensuring her company delivers benefits to all three areas has been a personal priority.
AI and machine learning drive COI Energy’s digital platform. It detects and eliminates wasted energy in buildings in real time – as well as having a portion of every kilowatt saved to be allocated to low-income communities.
Introducing ESG to energy waste management
Berrien’s North Star is meant to eliminate wasted energy and reuse it for good. For her:
- The E of ESG is about protecting the environment. “Businesses waste about a third of the energy they use – that’s 300 million tonnes of carbon that goes into the environment every year and goes unused,” Berrien exclaimed.
- With ESG, it is supposed to promote energy equality. “I knew what it was like to be in the dark,” Berrien sighed. She grew up in Allentown, PA and experienced energy poverty. Her parents could not afford to pay the electricity bill every month. COI customers can pass on some of their energy savings to people who are energy hungry. Donations are tax deductible. The program is called E2X Exchange (Exchange of Excess Energy).
- The G of ESG is for governance. If you can’t measure the savings and show people how your company is saving money, you have no accountability.
Listening to customers: How COI prioritizes user needs and feedback
Berrien has 25 years of experience in the energy industry, including work for utilities, corporations and startups. She graduated as an engineer, but her career focused on business development.
Over the years, time after time, Berrien’s customers have said they want to improve energy efficiency and the bottom line with complete transparency. Instead, they were told how complicated and expensive it was. “It’s really not that complicated,” she declared.
In January 2018, it launched COI Energy.
“We’ve developed a solution that simplifies the entire process and is as easy to use as flipping a switch,” said Berrien. COI has a hardware software platform that facilitates waste identification and resolution. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop predictive analytics so customers know how they’re using their energy in real time, where they’re potentially wasting it, and how they can eliminate it. For every kilowatt saved, a portion can be allocated to low-income communities.
When the company started, Berrien thought it could serve all businesses from the smallest to the largest. During a beta test of the platform, it found that COI’s sweet spot is companies with multiple locations, such as healthcare, grocery, commercial office space and multi-family units.
For example, during the pandemic, COIs helped companies understand why the energy bill in a building with only 10% was reduced by only 16%. “The platform gave them a clear view to correct inefficiencies,” Berrien said.
Allies open doors to investors, customers and talent
When Berrien started the company, she got it off the ground, but to reach its full potential, she needed to raise venture capital. Unsurprisingly, as a black woman founder, fundraising has been her biggest challenge. “Founders who had no experience and diverse backgrounds were receiving funding,” she said. “We’ve been generating revenue since the beginning.”
In 2021, the founders of black women got a measly 0.34% of total venture capital according to Crunchbase. “It was hard to get the investment,” Berrien said. Nevertheless, she raised a seed round and is currently raising a Series A.
Berrien has participated in several accelerator programs, including Google for Startups, SAPiO, and the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Lab. These programs opened doors not only to investors, but also to customers. Individuals, like Lynn Loacker, did too. She is the founder and executive director of Davis Wright Tremaine Project W, a women’s law firm accelerator. Berrien didn’t go through his program, but she spoke at one of their events.
These programs helped Berrin develop as a CEO. “When I first started, I wasn’t confident as a CEO,” she said. “I had impostor syndrome. Advisors at Morgan Stanley helped her understand that she had the street cred to have a seat at the table. After all, she was selling COI to multi-billion dollar companies. “They strengthened my spine.
When Berrien began hiring the team, she used headhunters and posted on job search sites. “I found that word of mouth was the best source of top talent.”
COI stands for Circle of Influence, a term coined by management guru Stephen Covey. Using the Circle of Influence can guide you in determining where you need to get allies.
Berrien’s circle included customers, funding, top talent and leadership, among other things. People helped her with everything. “To solve any problem, an individual cannot do it alone; it takes a group of people,” Berrien said.
This is alliance at its best!
Who is in your circle of influence?