Mike Zimmerman

25 January 2013 – In building technology, there’s a new word entering the lexicon. It’s co-opetition. It signifies a position somewhere between co-operation and competition, and it’s bred not from some hot-shot spin merchant working in the technological stratosphere but from a more humble place linked to failed promises of the past.

We couldn’t help but notice that BuildingIQ’s announcement this week that it has bedded down a $9 million venture capital injection involves a string of companies that might otherwise have been seen as competitors: Aster Capital (backed by Schneider Electric, Alstom and Solvay), the Venture Capital unit of Siemens Financial Services (SFS VC) and Paladin Capital.

Chief executive officer Mike Zimmerman explained.

In a quick interview with The Fifth Estate on Wednesday he said that his company, which has turned heads in technology circles (Zimmerman spoke at the Verge conference in San Francisco last year ) along with his industry, was changing.

“We’ve invested a lot in the technology and we’ve been running very lean on the sales and marketing because we wanted the products to be ready for the market, so this round of investment is about scaling up and working with Schneider and Siemens and Johnson Controls in order to enable to take our product with their systems.

“We can sell direct but we also realised that it’s important that success comes from being more “co-opetive”.

“Our system in particular is built to overlay the existing system and if there is not good integration between our system and the BMS [building management system] our product won’t work well.

“You could say we are all competitors but the reality is that in order for the customer to win you have to work collaboratively.

“That’s very much the focus of our business going forward. I don’t know if we’re there yet.”

Some of this is borne of necessity.

“When you have an emerging sector like some of the building technology, when you have a lot of hype about what’s possible then the reality of pilot projects falling over and products don’t do what they’re meant to do …I feel we’ve been through that now.”

Along with a lot of other companies.

According to Zimmerman 2010 and 2011 were characterised by tech companies not exactly delivering on their promises.

“What I think is different now is that in 2012 we delivered really well on our pilots and we are now in a good position to expand and to the market and we’re hoping the market is now ready.”

In one project alone energy savings totaled US$600,000.

“So now the customer has just renewed the contract and this will become a case study for us.”

Is Zimmerman optimistic? With $9 million in the bank, of course he is.

“Having the money helps a lot,” he was quick to say.

“We feel there is quite a big pipeline of opportunities we’re working on both in Australia and the US,” he said.

The company now has its team of just over 30 people split about evenly across the two countries.

This includes chief technical officer Peter Dickinson, who’s moved from Australia to the US, Joel Winegarten who joined from EnerNoc and is now vice president of product management, and Derek Johnson, head of operations whose background includes the rollout of energy management systems at 300 Bank of America premises.

Sydney will remain the headquarters for research. And yes, the company is looking for more software engineers in Sydney and sales and marketing people in the US.