Household energy conservation is getting a whole lot smarter thanks to Vancouver-based clean-tech company Uplight (formerly Ecotagious). It provides SaaS-based energy analytics and home energy management primarily to electric and natural gas utility companies who are mandated to motivate customers to spend less on energy. Uplight’s simple, personalized content allows consumers to access consumption insights by leveraging meter data – without the need for expensive hardware. It is driving some of the best behavioral energy savings in the industry in both Canada and the U.S.
An excellent track record for generating savings with marquee utility clients, a collaborative approach and the offering of innovative solutions for its customers has resulted in significant growth for the company. In 2018 Uplight tripled its revenue and staff over the previous year, and its growth trajectory is set to continue. Having recently won several large contracts, it needed to ensure the business could deliver at the same standard its clients had come to expect. It was also time to leverage its success to capitalize off the traction they were seeing.
“We needed to invest in sales, marketing and people to meet the demands of our growing business. We have eight new clients and we quickly realised we needed the right capital in place to ensure we could fire on all cylinders,” shares Vice-President of Business Development, Salim Popatia.
A challenge for Uplight is managing cash flow around customer paying cycles and schedules. To simultaneously fulfill contracts and grow the business, access to working capital became paramount. “There is a spread between when we need to deliver and when we receive payment – and that’s just the nature of the utility industry,” Popatia explains
Previously, Uplight hadn’t entertained junior capital financing. “As we began to talk to First West Capital, we were surprised at how quickly they understood our business model and what we wanted to achieve. As it turned out, the solution from First West Capital was much better suited to our measured approach to growth and our desire to keep equity in the business,” says Popatia.
“We see this situation often with technology clients,” says First West Capital Managing Director, David Hastie. “Like Uplight, they have a strong revenue model, capable management and healthy growth, but require access to capital that doesn’t dilute too much equity. Junior capital can be more flexible and patient for growing businesses that want to remain in control.”
He continues, “We were able to provide financing to Uplight based on its impressive growth, which has allowed it to continue to scale up. Uplight has a unique and highly-scalable clean-tech business and we are thrilled to support its growth and mission to make a positive impact on the environment.”
In addition to junior capital from First West Capital, Uplight also received financing from EDC and BMO, an excellent example of Canadian financial intuitions working together to support dynamic technology companies as they expand globally.
Popatia says its story has really resonated within the utility industry and the strategy will be to amplify the brand to a wider audience. The funds from First West Capital will support an increase in digital marketing, content, events and sponsorships.
“There are thousands of utility companies looking for innovative energy reduction solutions, and we’re looking to double down on our efforts to reach them. The key is to get our message in front of the right people, faster, to capitalize on multi-year contracts as they come up,” says Popatia. “The magic really happens when we’re able to demonstrate our capabilities face-to-face with our audience, and that requires significant investment to achieve.”
In addition to a robust marketing strategy, the Uplight team will also be using the funds to hire developers, production, program managers and marketing positions – although not at the expense of its culture and vision.
“Cultural fit is really important to us. Our shared commitment to reducing greenhouse gases is at the core of our business,” says Popatia. “We’re committed to finding a good mix of talent and alignment of values. We’re selectively growing the team, even if that means it takes a little longer.”
When it comes to financing growth, Popatia says it all about timing and finding the right financial partner, “There is a fine balance between the right time and the right amount to avoid missing opportunities for your business. A good partner will be responsive to your needs, offer an effective solution and guide you through the processes. That’s why we like working with First West Capital.”