Michael Hanratty, CEO and co-founder of BERWOW, shares his life and business lessons.
BERWOW Ltd. was formed in Dublin, Ireland in 2017 with a mission to disrupt the building energy rating process through the use of smart technology and AI. The company’s first product is BERWOW-Home, an online tool to guide homeowners through the options, costs and benefits from different retrofit home improvement decisions.
He has been working as a Building Energy Rating (BER) assessor and part-time trainer since 2007 and has worked on related EU research programmes since 2005 including TABULA, EPISCOPE, NZEB Open Doors and ENERFUND. He has an extensive knowledge of the building energy performance of the Irish Housing stock and the BER calculation process. Up until recently he had been chair of the Heat Pump Association of Ireland.
“Every company and home has sustainable goals to meet. It’s no longer just the energy efficiency sector that is focusing on this, but every sector across all markets”
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
My journey began with an Engineering degree from UCD. Once I completed that, I joined ESB where I spent 20 years working in both the networks and energy supply fields. Since 2003, I’ve been working in the energy efficiency performance of buildings sector.
I’ve worked in this field a long time and have learned so much. It’s brought me to where I am now: CEO of BERWOW, a cloud-based technology platform developed to provide retrofit dashboards and calculators to homeowners and managing director of IHER Energy Services, a leading building energy rating training and consultancy company. Through these, I’ve been involved in many projects like EPISCOPE and TABULA, which were responsible for the development of national building typologies to represent the residential building stock of countries and make it easier to calculate the energy efficiency of same.
I have just (as of June 2022) stepped down from a three-year term as chair of the Heat Pump Association of Ireland. In this role, I developed a greater awareness of the benefits and advances in heat pump technology and how heat pumps will make a significant contribution towards Ireland’s 2030 CO2 reduction targets.
Why are you doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
Every company and home has sustainable goals to meet. It’s no longer just the energy efficiency sector that is focusing on this, but every sector across all markets. And it’s every person too. That was part of the inspiration behind the BERWOW tool – it gives people access to live BER data
and provides the whole package when it comes to calculating the cost of retrofitting your home. Not only does it display the improvements in BER and available grants, it shows the resulting reduction in terms of your carbon footprint.
Together with Gamma, we were the first in Ireland to create and open this resource up to Irish homeowners. It’s a smart and simple solution that supports sustainability in the retrofit industry and provides practical advice on how to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
Meanwhile, IHER Energy Services is my consultancy business and sits on the other side of the fence – providing training services, BER surveying and auditing services, and research services to the energy sector.
Particularly now with the energy crisis and pressure on homes and businesses, knowing your energy consumption and ways to reduce it is an absolute necessity. At BERWOW and IHER, we work to deliver this information in a concise format that homeowners can understand. In turn, this assists them when planning home retrofits.
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
BERWOW is self-funded and we have also received research funding support from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). We built on experience gained from EU research projects and our own BER knowledge to initially develop the tool and we were lucky to have formed a partnership with Gamma, a locational intelligence provider, headed up by CEO Feargal O’Neill. Their expertise helped us to enhance our product development and overall strategy.
In terms of growth, we are seeing strong interest in the BER application among other industries such as finance and insurance, as well as other markets like the UK. We’re seeing more and more organisations needing help with their energy efficiency and sustainability goals, and we hope to tap into that.
“Success is getting satisfaction from your working day and seeing good results materialise”
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
With a career spanning 40 years, 20 of which have been spent in this field, I’ve managed to gather extensive knowledge of the energy performance of buildings and all that comes with that. I’ve built up a super network and firmly believe in picking up the phone and talking to people who are experts in niche areas like building regulations, climate change goals, heat pumps, insulation, air tightness and software. The network of people that I have around me is invaluable. And you really do find that when you talk to people, ideas form – and I’m all for that.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
The most important thing for me is learning as I go and learning from mistakes. I also think my engineering background has stood me in good stead. I believe engineering is a great discipline and encourages you to consider the helicopter view of things. You can see challenges from all sides and then use that knowledge to progress. It’s vital to remember that everything is an iteration too. You’ll do draft after draft and will constantly refine strategies and solutions. There’s always more to be done but that’s what drives you forward and drives innovation.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
There’s no single piece of advice that I live by. However, I have learned a lot from friends and family and recognise that taking time out of your day away from business is crucial. In general, I also abide by the rule of listening. Listen to people, especially those closest to you.
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
Success is getting satisfaction from your working day and seeing good results materialise. To be successful, it helps to have a great team around you and I’m very fortunate in that regard. You can’t always see the finishing line or the winner’s podium, but if you enjoy what you are doing and persevere, you might just find that success.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
The introduction of GDPR legislation in 2018 was a huge challenge for us and delayed the progress of the BERWOW tool. We needed access to actual BER records to make it more effective for homeowners and clients. However, access to BER data was delayed considerably to ensure compliance with the new regulations. We got over this challenge by working with SEAI. We had two and a half years of back and forth and then finally in August of 2020, we signed a Trusted Party Agreement with SEAI which allowed homeowners to access their own BER record through BERWOW and plan their energy retrofit projects.
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
There was no loss of impetus for us in BERWOW as both market and software development were not hindered. In fact, we probably witnessed greater demand for what we do as the pandemic saw people being more conscious of energy consumption and investing in their homes given that most were based there for work too.
So, what I’ve learned from all of this is that the business is resilient because of the use of technology and the support of a great team.
“Often, it can come down to luck. But the main thing is to support people and encourage them”
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
Without a doubt, digital transformation has been crucial for us and it’s at the heart of what we do as an organisation. Just look at the BERWOW online calculator! I think Irish firms are certainly embracing, or starting to embrace, digital technologies but perhaps more is needed to realise their full potential and put them into practice to drive business outcomes and objectives. That requires identifying the right applications and understanding data. By doing this, digital transformation can have a real impact on companies and their customers.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would definitely get into business development at an earlier age and start building on those skills. I think this would have allowed me to make better judgement calls, especially on the SME side of things. The sooner you get going, the better.
Who inspires you in business today?
I would have to say Michael O’Leary. His drive and ambition are almost unmatched. If you were to go back and listen to him when he said he was going to create an Irish airline, you would have thought it was an insane idea. However, look at what it has achieved today on a global scale. It’s unbelievable really. I also appreciate how he supports Ireland and promotes it as a place to do business.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
Often, it can come down to luck. But the main thing is to support people and encourage them. Everyone has different expertise and opinions, which can prove useful if you listen to them. Look into training and further education too. I’ve done that in the past and while the courses might not even be exactly relevant to the role, it helps with the employee’s personal development and they appreciate the support.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I often find I’m too busy to read books, so I don’t even have one to recommend!
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
I like a good old-fashioned sheet of paper with my work mapped out for me. It’s what keeps me on track and I’ve brought that with me from early on in my career. The outlook calendar also helps, but it’s usually the traditional approach that keeps me right. I often find that the simplest things can be the most effective.
“If you believe in yourself and have confidence in your ability, it’ll build up that professional esteem and enable you to thrive”
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
I would give myself a 1/10 for social media use. I think LinkedIn is great for business purposes and connecting with people, as well as interacting with potential colleagues and those you can learn from. In terms of my own social networking, I prefer to meet people in person or pick up the phone.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
Technology is only going to get sharper and sharper. For us, the BERWOW tool will evolve as circumstances evolve. We’re ready for that, and we’re excited by the prospects. Houses, businesses and buildings in general need to improve their energy efficiency and carbon reduction. In the future, we may well see the incorporation of billing data in the BER world, which means people will have further visibility when it comes to their energy usage costs, along with embodied carbon and building passports. As these innovations emerge, we’ll incorporate them into the tool. More broadly, electricity energy monitoring from smart meters and new Internet of Things (IoT) innovations in systems will enable heat pumps, solar panels, storage batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) to speak to each other to optimise energy performance. These upcoming innovations will be transformative for Irish homes.
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
I think it’s good to get career experience in blocks, like three to five years, and really focus on learning from each company and section you’re in. Take everything on board and also back it up with some self-belief. If you believe in yourself and have confidence in your ability, it’ll build up that professional esteem and enable you to thrive.