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Building an Industry Catalyst: How Uplight Plans to Accelerate the Clean Energy Ecosystem

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In just a matter of months, an accomplished team of energy industry software executives have quickly executed a bold and strategic set of moves by bringing together five innovative companies, leaders in their respective fields—all to accelerate the clean energy ecosystem.

You can read more in the press release about the formation of Uplight. But, I wanted to provide some of the backstory and shine a light (pun intended) on the thinking behind this unique and innovative enterprise.

So I sat down for a candid conversation with Uplight CEO, Adrian Tuck; President and COO, Yoav Lurie; and Chief Strategy Officer, Justin Segall. Here is that conversation.

You’ve all known each other for quite a while. How did your relationship form and how did it get you started on this path to a merger?

Justin: Our relationship goes way back. Yoav and I founded Simple Energy and during our first two weeks at Techstars in 2011, we met with Adrian and Tim Enwall, Tendril’s founder and our lead Techstars mentor. With our companies both based in Boulder and focused on selling software into utilities, we had a long conversation about how you actually get something done in this space and the lessons we had learned up to that point. We’ve been continuing on parallel paths ever since.  

Adrian: Justin and I were independently traveling around talking to utility executives and they were asking me, “Do you know Justin from Simple Energy? Those guys think about the world exactly the same way you do. Aren’t you both based in the same town?”

Yoav: In many ways this is deal not nine months in the making, it’s nine years in the making. We are both very well aligned around mission, culture, ideology and location. It just makes so much sense.

 

You’ve brought together some amazing market leaders in a very short period of time. Why now for the formation of Uplight? Was there a particular idea or moment of inspiration that led to the strategy?

Yoav: It became very clear that we were up against a time crunch with regards to climate change. What we’ve built individually is having real impact, but together we can deliver so much more change than we could individually. There has been duplication of effort by these various companies developing products and investors deploying financial resources—all that duplicative effort was getting us no closer to the incredibly urgent goal of changing the trajectory against climate change.

Adrian: In Tendril’s case, we heard from our Advisory Board that they were seeking a partner that didn’t yet exist. There were lots of small innovative companies they could work with, but they had problems. One was around balance sheet risk and the other was around forcing the utility into the role of a systems integrator. Partnering with smaller, point solution companies required them to stitch these solutions together to meet their needs, which is no simple task. At the other end of the spectrum, you have large enterprise software companies that didn’t have balance sheet risk, but nobody would accuse them of having customer-centricity in their DNA.

Justin: Something else that is particularly relevant is that the market is changing. The nature of demand side management is changing. Today energy efficiency portfolios, demand response initiatives and distributed energy resources have a different set of needs—away from standardized incentives and measures like upstream lighting and into integrated (rates, EE, DR), tailored (to savings, capacity or locational value), and iterative portfolios. In parallel, Chief Customer Officers are emerging in utilities but they have struggled to get full support from the C-suite or IT in accomplishing their strategic priorities.

 

Why are you confident in your ability to bring these companies together so quickly?  

Justin: Together we are building a more sustainable future by motivating and enabling energy consumers and providers to accelerate the clean energy ecosystem. Doing that as quickly as possible is critically important to our teams, to our planet, and to our utility customers.

Yoav: There is so much alignment between these companies. We may be building something new but there is already a tremendous foundation of success and value in place. And by bringing everyone together quickly, rather than over the course of several years, we are establishing new processes and ways of doing business in one big moment. This approach ensures our ability to serve utilities without ongoing disruption.  

Adrian: When starting down this path we agreed it also needed to be fun, productive and constructive. We’re having the time of our lives building Uplight. And we’ve become even better friends in the process. There is a sort of giddy excitement to getting this done quickly so we can get on the other side and deliver on the promises that we’re making to our customers, our shareholders, our employees, and the planet. 

What main opportunities do you see in the utility industry, and how do you see Uplight addressing those? 

Justin: The idea that supporting energy efficiency and demand response and time of use rates and distributed energy resources as part of a single solution for both residential and business customers is a meaningful change. Until now nobody has put these pieces together. Everybody is still treating them as separate things—and these silos aren’t serving utilities or their customers well. 

This isn’t just a theory. We’re doing it with our utilities partners at scale today. For example, Consumers Energy in Michigan has entrusted Simple Energy and Tendril to help reach targets from their latest Integrated Resource Plan that calls for zero coal production and at least 40% from renewables by 2040.

Yoav: Before and totally separately from the merger, we had already been working together to deliver exactly that experience and now we can do so under one roof, with a single team dedicated to the success of our customers. And there are lots of other examples of us doing this type of innovative work with utilities like National Grid and Ameren. We look forward to sharing the success of those efforts in the coming months.

 

Where do you see Uplight in 2 years? 5 years?

Adrian: We’ve made some promises to the market and to our shareholders that we can deliver real value to our customers and deliver a great return on those investments. The three of us believe that in doing so, we can make a case for responsible capitalism. In other words, it’s possible to build a business that satisfies the requirements of a for-profit company, but in a way that is unequivocal in its ability to do good for the planet and deliver on a mission to eliminate carbon from our energy supply.

Yoav: Some may see our focus on reducing carbon and think we’re a bunch of tree huggers. Others might see our focus on shareholder return and think we’re just about the bottom line. The truth is that we see these two things as being highly complementary. The best and most efficient tools that we have at our disposal to achieve the massive social environmental missions are the tools of the capital markets.

Justin: We have some five year metrics around creating a more sustainable planet with the goal of reducing CO2 by more than 100 million metric tons. That would put us on par with what entire countries have committed to as part of the Paris Agreement. And there is a line of sight to us doing that over the next five years. The second is in building sustainable communities, which is helping people save more than $10 billion on their energy bills.

We also want to build a great company where employees can do incredibly fulfilling work. They will see a tangible impact in the line of code they wrote or the work they did to benefit real people. They will see the demonstrative and positive impact they made on the planet.

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