Ben Cooper, Geoffrey Lewis and Tom Vladeck were students together at Pomona College when a lightbulb went off, literally. Entranced by making the world a better place through environmental sustainability practices, they learned as much as they could about their replacement options. After experimenting with different technologies, they settled on LEDs. The new bulbs, more like computer chips than traditional options, lasted longer and (in the trio's opinion) were much prettier.
But if LEDs look so good, save so much money and energy, and are such an overall good investment, why aren’t more people using them, the three wondered.
Their evaluation of the market revealed many barriers, which they set about to eliminate through their New York-based startup Building Hero. The company has a simple mission: help small businesses get the most out of their lighting investment by switching to LED, allowing them to save energy and money. Small businesses were the perfect place to start, because unlike larger corporations, most don't have teams of lighting designers, and most could use the extra cash, the three decided.
“We are really passionate about energy efficiency, and saw that there was going to be a huge transition toward LED lighting technology,” Lewis says. “We started Building Hero in 2012 to help customers find the right LEDs to upgrade their lighting.”
The LED market is still fairly small in the United States, approximately $1 billion annually, and still less than 10 percent of lighting sales. But this is expected to change: McKinsey projects that the LED market will grow to $10 billion by 2020, and account for three-quarters of the overall lighting market.
Building Hero is working coast to coast to help small businesses make the switch to LED lighting through a subscription service under which it installs and maintains the bulbs.
Subscribing customers -- like designer Orla Kiely, bakery Bien Cuit, retailer Haute Hippie and Catherine Clark Gallery -- get a three-fold benefit. First, the new LED lights reduce utility costs. An average retail customer of Building Hero saves approximately $5,000 annually on their power bill. LEDs also don’t burn out as fast (most last about five years according to Lewis, and most retailers), and are therefore easier for businesses to maintain. Finally, customers can feel better about their environmental impact, because LEDs use far less electricity than the alternatives.
“LEDs save energy,” Lewis says, “and our average retrofit is the environmental equivalent of taking two cars off the road every year.”
Building Hero's service includes a full lighting retrofit. It calculates energy savings, curates the right kind of lights for the space, and offers financing and ongoing maintenance. Most LEDs are installed in existing fixtures, but if the space requires a more comprehensive makeover, Building Hero can help with that too.
It’s no mistake that Building Hero’s initial clients are galleries, salons, showrooms and boutiques, all spaces where light quality really makes a difference to the business. “In one gallery, our LEDs are lighting works by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst,” Lewis says, “and the gallery owner says the colors look much truer now. If we can help an art gallery improve their lighting and save money with LEDs, we can help anyone.”
No money is exchanged upfront. Instead, a performance-based contract is drawn up allowing Building Hero to take a percentage of the customer's energy savings over time. How much a customer saves is directly proportional to the number of lights it has, and how often they’re used.
According to Lewis, the business world is in the middle of a lighting revolution, and he figures that within 10 years, all lighting will go LED. But, Building Hero's service is needed because the transition can be difficult, he says. For one, LEDs are expensive, and the large variation in quality makes it difficult for potential buyers to know what to choose. Building Hero can help navigate the options.
Electricians and other companies can provide similar services, mostly at a local level. Building Hero differentiates itself, however, with its pricing model, by providing financing and installation, and because customized style and design are a core part of its service.
And it’s not just small businesses that stand to benefit. Building Hero is making its software and financing tools available to contractors and energy auditors so they can help their own customers power the LED transition.