Towards cleaner, greener hotels in Asia and beyond with SensorFlow

Going green is often perceived as being unaffordable and expensive to sustain. 

Singapore-based cleantech start-up SensorFlow’s technology is challenging this perception by making sustainability profitable – allowing any hotel building to optimise their energy consumption and make a difference in a cost-effective manner. 

Till date, its solutions have contributed to 30 to 50 per cent savings on their users’ air-conditioning costs, which amount to 10 to 30 per cent of total energy bills. Their smart solution monitors analyse and automate hotel room environments in order to optimise energy efficiency and enhance guest experience.

“We are also the only ones with a zero upfront cost model that takes less than 15 minutes to install in a room,” shared SensorFlow co-founder and CEO Sai Ranganathan. “This gives us the ability to retrofit our products in existing hotels buildings while many of our competitors can only work with new buildings.” 

SensorFlow co-founder and CEO Sai Ranganathan. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow
SensorFlow co-founder and CEO Sai Ranganathan. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow

Connected to India spoke to Sai on how the company aspires to take the lead in the industry to help hoteliers make better informed decisions through the use of data analytics. 

A cutting edge solution

Leveraging IoT technology and cloud-based systems, SensorFlow’s solution provides hotels with the ease of maintenance at minimal costs, while helping them to advance towards predictive maintenance strategies. 

For example, it is able to automate the room temperatures by monitoring guest behaviour, thereby reducing energy wastage. Real-time data on guest behaviour and energy consumption are monitored and converted into key insights, enabling immediate maintenance alerts to minimise unforeseen equipment failures, avoid guest complaints and safeguard against costly repairs.

Another key component of the solution is edge computing. “Our gateways automate a hotel based on real-time data flowing in from the IoT devices installed in rooms. Edge computing lets us automate the building and control it even if an internet connection to our cloud is unavailable. This is critical as hotels often have weak internet connections due to location, geography or WiFi availability,” Sai said.

SensorFlow's energy meter. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow
SensorFlow's energy meter. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow

Embarking on an entrepreneurial journey

The journey to creating SensorFlow began in the computer science labs of Sai Ranganathan’s school. “I loved the concept of coding and how it allowed anyone to build an entire programme from scratch.”

This eventually led him to pursue a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), which expanded his horizons into the world of entrepreneurship and technology. It was also at NUS that Sai met like-minded folks, studied design, business-modelling and developed novel apps that met the needs of his peers. This included MoneySlate, an app that helps users manage their personal and social expenses with friends. 

“This was the start of my journey of being a problem solver, using my knowledge and skillset to create a larger positive impact on the world”, said Sai. “I started out at Goldman Sachs after graduation, but later joined a local startup company that focused on energy monitoring and smart home automation.”

Working at a startup provided him with a deeper understanding of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well as what goes into building a successful company. 

“I learnt how to find a product-market fit, raise and manage funds, and how to build and grow a strong team. These lessons helped me immensely in building SensorFlow,” Sai added. 

SensorFlow's flow meter. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow
SensorFlow's flow meter. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow

The shared vision behind the setting up of SensorFlow

Sai met SensorFlow’s co-founder Max Pagel at Entrepreneur First, an international talent investor, and bonded over a shared vision to create a positive economic and environmental impact through smart building solutions. 

They partnered up and developed a basic prototype that could make buildings more energy-efficient, productive and sustainable by leveraging AI, IoT and big data. 

“Buildings contribute 40 per cent of the annual greenhouse emissions. Having tested our prototype at a couple of hotels in Singapore and Indonesia, we soon realised that hotels make significant losses due to poor energy efficiency policies and there was a great need for a solution to this. That is when we decided to enter the hotel sector as we set up our company”, Sai shared.

Max and he also observed that going sustainable was a challenge for many hotels. Existing green solutions come with high upfront costs, are disruptive to install and often require manual intervention to operate which disrupts a hotel’s operational productivity. 

“We then set out to develop a unique solution that enables hotels to operate smarter while enabling better energy optimisation and business practices in the long run,” Sai explained. 

SensorFlow founder Sai and co-founder Max Pagel are changing the perceptions about going green and making it affordable to sustain. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow
SensorFlow founder Sai and co-founder Max Pagel are changing the perceptions about going green and making it affordable to sustain. Photo Courtesy: SensorFlow

SensorFlow’s future plans

Moving forward, the company looks to further expand and deepen its presence across Southeast Asia. “In late 2019, we signed sustainability deals worth SGD 3.8 million with hotels across Southeast Asia covering over 7,500 rooms in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong. We will also be expanding into Europe and North America in the second half of 2020.”

SensorFlow has ambitious plans to cover over 100,000 rooms by 2020 and reach their target of 800,000 rooms by 2022 across the region. “This is a very exciting time for us and we are looking forward to what is in store in the years to come”, Sai concluded.