Innovation Stories: Build Test Solutions
Build Test Solutions is a Leicestershire-based technology startup focused on discovering and developing testing and verification solutions for the built environment.
The company has received funding from BEIS’s Energy Innovation Programme under both its Energy Entrepreneur Fund (EEF) and, more recently, Thermal Efficiency Innovation (TEI) Fund. The EEF support has funded a project to grow an evidence base that demonstrates the benefits of the company’s PULSE air leakage measurement solution to policy makers and industry.
Here, we speak to Build Test Solutions MD, Luke Smith, to learn more about the company, how BEIS funding has supported its growth, and what the long term vision is.
Build Test Solution provides some crucial solutions to the construction industry. Could you tell us a little more about its beginnings and where the idea for the company came from?
Build Test Solution was established at the start of 2016. It began with me working alone part-time, and today has a team of three full-time building physics experts and product engineers.
The idea for the company came from an increasingly evident gap I noticed when working as an energy consultant to built environment clients.
The industry has always been strong in designing things on paper and setting aspirational performance goals at the beginning of the project. Where it has traditionally been much weaker is when it comes to going back and testing, measuring and verifying building performance attributes against those initial aspirations. And our mantra is if you can’t measure something, you can’t manage or improve it.
Fortunately professionals in the sector are becoming increasingly aware of what is referred to as the ‘performance gap’ between design and as-built and they seek to find ways to address it.
Although this growing awareness is great, with contracts placing increasing emphasis on outcomes based performance, another road blocker is the sheer lack of accessible and affordable tools and technologies for carrying out in-situ testing and verification. So, Build Test Solutions set about taking action.
Tell us a little more about how you did this
The first technology we began developing was the PULSE test method. It’s an innovative air leakage testing method that accurately measures at pressures representative of natural conditions (~4Pa). PULSE is unique in terms of being quick, simple to operate and convenient – it can be used to conduct quality checks right across the construction or refurbishment process.
As a business, we really focus on navigating the technology innovation “valley of death”, working with likeminded partners to see technologies through from innovation to product. For example, with PULSE we worked with a consortium of specialists and academics in the energy efficiency industry, including The University of Nottingham, The National Energy Foundation, Absolute Air and Gas and Elmhurst Energy.
What role did BEIS play?
We knew from the start that securing funding would be crucial to our business model. We started with backing from two investors, but knew that additional external funding was always going to be a necessity to meet our long-term goals.
Gaining BEIS support through EEF was critical in helping us through the research phase for PULSE, allowing us to build the body of evidence necessary to demonstrate its potential and relevance to policy makers and industry.
It’s not just the financial support that BEIS provides that makes it so valuable, however. We’ve benefited greatly from the incubation support and expertise that EEF has allowed us to tap into. We’ve received invaluable support on everything from marketing to legal advice, helping us deal with really specialised considerations such as licencing and IP.
There are lots of more intangible, but hugely important, benefits that come with the funding too. For example, the backing of BEIS gave us confidence and validation that our ideas and thinking are worthwhile and could actually make an impact. It also provided us with some important connections and networking opportunities, alongside the gravitas we needed to open up further opportunities.
Where do you think Test Building Solutions would be without BEIS support?
We’ve undoubtedly progressed at a much faster pace and with a greater ability to manage risk than we could have been able to without BEIS support. Without this speed and safety-net, we would have most likely missed critical milestones in our commercialisation journey.
Thanks to the BEIS funding, for example, we have been able to bring a Mk1 PULSE into the research and academia space within 12 months. From there, we have been able to gain feedback and build the evidence-base we need to gain regulatory acceptance. Without the funding, this process would have taken double the time.
Crucially, that difference in timing has much wider implications in terms of being able to put the new test method forward for the upcoming Building Regulations consultation. Without the extensive testing and third party verification that the EEF funding has enabled, the case for the method becoming an approved procedure would be considerably weakened. And as the consultations only come around every three years or so, missing this one would have had significant repercussions – the difference of aiming to be in the Building Regulations from 2020, as opposed to 2023 or beyond.
How did you initially learn about BEIS and the funding on offer?
We heard about BEIS soon after we started the business.
We were also aware of a couple of other similar-minded innovators that had received funding under the previous funding tranche from BEIS. So we identified early on that accessing BEIS funding could be central to our business strategy.
What was the application process like?
Normally, funding calls are extremely focused and looking for specific projects and innovations to fund. The BEIS EEF is not like that, it is suitably wide in its scope and objectives for us to put our hat in the ring and make a real, comprehensive business case.
It was also very straightforward to apply for and access. That’s really important when you’re working with limited resources as a startup. Time you invest in arduous funding calls means time taken away from doing other things, so you have to pick your battles carefully.
With BEIS, there was only one stage involved in applying for funding, meaning there was no to-ing and fro-ing or indecision. In fact, we submitted our EEF bid early in the new year and by April had the full project up and running.
So, would you recommend BEIS funding?
Yes absolutely. I think it’s really important to stress it’s not just about the funding. The funding obviously helps and enables you to take more risks and realise your innovations faster – but you cannot underestimate the value of BEIS backing itself, in terms of the reputational lift it gives you.
It’s also not like other funding providers who just award the funding and then leave you to it, BEIS really supports in the development of your ideas and realising your vision.
I think the best demonstration of our endorsement of what BEIS offers is the fact that we have recently applied for and received funding under its Thermal Energy Innovations Fund. That was awarded in January last year and is helping us to work with Salford University in looking at how we can incorporate tech alongside smart meters in order to measure and better tackle whole house heat loss.
And what is the long term goal for you?
We want to help foster and enable a culture of regular quality assurance testing and accountability in the construction industry. Our mission within that is to work with likeminded innovators and researchers to deliver world class testing and measurement technologies.
Ideally, long-term success means that our technologies and products outgrow us – with the solutions we help bring to market being rolled out universally and adapted in the mainstream. We want to remain a very agile company that’s able to continue discovering, validating and ultimately transiting novel performance testing technologies through to the marketplace.
Build Test Solutions will be exhibiting as part of the Innovation Zone at Futurebuild 2019. Visitors to the Innovation Zone can learn more about the company and similar innovators, as well as how they can benefit from the funding and support on offer from BEIS, Innovate UK and the wider innovation family.