As an architect from Syria, Anas da Kassas, Founder and CEO of INOVUES, has come a long way. His journey into green techpreneurship took him from Damascus to Dubai where he worked in architectural facade engineering and manufacturing before moving to Boston to get a Masters degree in architecture.
Along the way, Anas caught the entrepreneurial bug. He wanted to create scaleable solutions for buildings that could help tackle the climate crisis: “the problem for me was that you invest several years in every project, but it’s a one-off prototype. You go to the next project and you face the same challenges again.
He was staring out the window of his apartment, brainstorming ideas that could have a big impact, when the window itself became his source of inspiration: “I thought, ‘what if there was a way to transform these windows into smart systems without having to remove or replace anything at all? I was thinking about ideas from my multidisciplinary experience in architecture and facade engineering.”
That was the day INOVUES – innovative views – was born. Anas’ idea has since grown into a multiple-award winning startup that has already participated in several accelerators and been recognised by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Climate Action Playbook. It’s now ready to take on a global $9.5 trillion market opportunity for more energy-efficient buildings.
It’s the only patented solution in its class that can transform building facades with the latest energy-saving and smart glass innovations without rebuilding or replacing any parts. INOVUES retrofits a second window pane to existing windows using adhesive structural material, creating a 10x cost reduction compared to existing methods while reducing energy inefficiency of buildings by up to 40%.
And with the push of the energy crisis and inflation putting pressure on energy costs and the strong pull of incentives from the US’ Inflation Reduction Act or the European Green Deal’s energy efficiency directive which requires EU countries to collectively reduce energy consumption by 9% by 2030. Anas is bringing a right place, right time solution to conquer a real estate retrofit market that’s largely untapped.
How does your solution work?
We use 70% fewer materials compared to existing methods and prefabricate the system off-site so installation costs are cut by up to 80%, reducing the total cost of window upgrades buy up to 10 times.
We’re pushing the boundaries of facade engineering on many aspects…transparent photovoltaic or dynamic tinting or vacuum insulated glass. All of these now can be available for existing buildings at a fraction of the usual cost. There’s no disruption, and no need to replace anything.
How big is the market opportunity?
Experts estimate that about 40% of all US buildings still have single pane windows and a lot more have low performing double pane windows, so 70% of existing building stock is in need of an upgrade. Globally, there are estimates that this is a $9.5 trillion market opportunity. The potential impact on the climate and carbon reduction is huge because windows account for up to 40% of the energy loss in buildings.
Through our installations, we’re reducing carbon emissions by 100 tonnes annually, and the potential impact, at scale, is close to half a giga tonne to a giga tonne of reduced emissions.
These efficiencies means we can disrupt the built environment which has been painfully slow to retrofit ageing infrastructure in commercial real estate. INOVUES has already installed upgrades for leading industry players like Saint-Gobain, 3M and the University of Minnesota.
2022 was our breakout year. We finished some major pilots and got $50 million of potential projects in our pipeline.
What were the make or break moments you faced in getting started?
I had quite my job in Boston and moved to Houston so spend 1 year doing my architectural Master thesis on the INOVUES idea. That got me a year to devote full-time to it, but I was not making any money. We moved in with family to cut costs to almost nothing. But after a year, I told my wife: ‘if by the end of the next month, we don’t secure any funding, I’ll stop and put this on the back burner and find a job.’ At that point, I was ready to give up, although it’s not part of my personality or nature to do that, but it was too challenging to continue alone without any sort of funding.
My wife was fully supportive of this, it made me able to push through these tough moments. She acted as my co-founder in the early days, she was the primary person I would talk to about any challenges or pain points.
The first 2-3 years was purely R&D on a shoestring budget
There was literally blood, sweat and tears at almost every step of the process of the R&D phase. It was on a very, very tight budget, almost bootstrapping. There where moments where you spend a year or more of work then know that everything could fall apart because the next few tests are very important. And if I failed in the test, I didn’t have the money to repeat the tests. And that would’ve been a kill switch to the entire thing.
Imagine devoting time, resources and everything you have for two years, and then there’s this key test that you’re waiting for. And if it passes and succeeds, we’re moving forward, if not, I’m going back to finding a job in the industry and starting over. There were a lot of these moments.
How did you first secure funding?
Being a foreigner who came to the US, I didn’t have the network here. My English is much better now than it was a few years ago, but imagine trying to explain what you’re trying to do as a foreigner asking people to trust you and give you money. It was very hard and we started small. I went through the Cleantech Open accelerator programme and one of the advisors wrote our first check and then more people followed him. He’s on our board of directors now and has invested five times.
I tell him ‘you’re a true angel investor in the literal meaning of the word.’
Because without that first check, there would be no interview today. It was a $50,000 check that enabled me to fund the next few months and build the first system and pass the first test and then get the funding from other angel investors. And then we won the International Award from Cleantech Open which gave us more validation.
How do you keep your team engaged and focused on the mission as you grow?
It’s very important to keep everyone involved in everything that is happening in the company and tell them where we are, what kind of challenges we have and how everyone’s role makes a significant impact on the overall mission.
Trusting people to be leaders in their roles and giving them authority and ownership of what they’re doing.
What’s ahead for INOVUES?
We’re looking to raise a $10 million Series A in the next few months to scale up our team and operations so we can execute on multimillion dollar projects in our pipeline. We’re excited about 2023 and 2024.
What’s your mantra or life philosophy?
I’m an eternal optimist. I believe in the Law of Attraction, so I’m always positive. I belief that with hard work and dedication anything is possible.
What daily rituals help to keep you grounded?
Meditation and exercise. These are very, very important to me on a daily basis. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to push forward.
Is there a mentor or role model who has been highly influential?
My Dad was a true entrepreneur and I watched him push forward on new ideas and new solutions and new businesses throughout his life. And I worked with him in multiple phases, so I experienced exactly what it takes to bring ideas to fruition.
If you could teleport yourself into the future and be anywhere, doing anything, where would you be and why?
I want to leave an impact on the built environment world and have the resources to work on a few things related to my home country, improving education and improving the situation in Syria to make things better for future generations.
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