KTN interviews Agnes Czako, Co-Founder & MD of AirEx, and Women in Innovation Award Winner, on how she tackled fuel poverty and climate change.
“Our company was born from our passion for fighting Fuel Poverty and Climate Change. Ultimately, our mission is to end Fuel Poverty by bringing comfort to everyone and to protect people’s health, and the planet. We would like to see AirEx be deployed in millions of homes in the UK and beyond in the future.” – Agnes Czako
Airex is a London-based technology start-up focusing on the development and rapid scale-up of efficiency technologies in the domestic retrofit sector, to tackle fuel poverty and climate change. Cold, draughty, poorly insulated homes contribute to 26% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions and recent research demonstrated that up to 15% of this energy waste can be caused by air-bricks. At the same time, if residents block these air vents permanently, it can cause damp and condensation, with associated health risks. The NHS currently spends £1bn/yr on treating asthma, a lot of which could be avoided by fixing damp problems in homes.
“To address this challenge, we developed Airex, an IoT-enabled smart ventilation control (“intelligent air brick”) to reduce fabric heat loss without compromising damp and indoor air quality. The Airex vent units replace the home’s existing air bricks to help reduce energy demand whilst controlling moisture in the building. Its in-built smart sensors monitor and analyse environmental conditions (e.g. temperature, humidity, air quality), while its cloud-based algorithms responsively regulate the airflow by adjusting the aperture of the vent.”
How did Women in Innovation help?
“I previously ran Innovate UK funded R&D projects – in fact, the very first funding opportunity for our Airex product was an Innovate UK Energy Game Changer programme in 2016, which allowed us to build the first prototypes and validate our hypothesis. Since then I have been closely following the funding opportunities from Innovate UK and I felt that the Women in Innovation programme would be an amazing opportunity. The lack of female representation in founding members of tech companies (especially in my sector: construction!) is an enormous, pressing issue and this is a cause I truly care about. I thought by going through this programme, it could not only help me and our business, but I could (hopefully) help contribute to make a change: attracting more women in the sector.”
Agnes talks about how important it has been to meet like-minded women in business:
“It has been a fascinating experience overall, I am in a cohort amongst such inspiring, smart, driven, passionate women – it is really refreshing to learn about each other’s experiences, to know that ‘we are not alone’ with our problems. The publicity that Women in Innovation provides to the awardees is also incredibly helpful.”
Impact / Outcomes
Currently, Agnes and her team are focusing on project delivery: installing the AirEx system into 400 properties as part of a large-scale demonstration programme, paid by their partner, EDF Energy. Next step is to secure another fundraising round which will help them grow the team and undertake a redesign of the manufacturing process to prepare for volume sales.
“Since the start of the Women in Innovation programme we have made significant progress in the following areas: We have secured approval from energy regulator, Ofgem, for our Airex product as one of only a handful of companies under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO3) Innovation scheme, triggering significant commercial traction with utilities. We have managed to close a successful seed funding round in August 2019 through angel investors (£520k EIS investment). The Women in Innovation award was incredibly helpful to mention to private investors, it increased their confidence in our team and the business. Following our funding round in the summer we have grown our core team by 50%! – We recruited 2 full time employees: Head of Business Development and Operations Manager.”
For more information on Women in Innovation, visit the Programme page here.