Our tech start-up of the week is FenestraPro, a new cloud-based software solution developed by Dave Palmer and Simon Whelan that’s targeted at helping architects design environmentally efficient large-scale building façades more cost effectively.
FenestraPro is the brainchild of Palmer and Whelan, both of whom have carried out a lot of research in the area of buildings and environmental performance. While Whelan has an MSc in Architecture in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies from the University of East London, Palmer completed his MSc in Façade Engineering from the University of Bath in 2011.
"It was Dave’s research from his master’s that led to the concept of FenestraPro," explains Whelan. As to the meaning behind the company’s name, fenestra is the Latin for window.
"As part of his research Dave spoke to a number of architects and other building designers, such as façade engineers and services engineers, regarding what had developed, and it was at that point that we knew there was a potential for a commercial application," says Whelan.
Things started to take shape for the business when the duo took part in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme at DIT Hothouse between 2012 and early 2013.
Niche design software
According to Palmer, FenestraPro provides a simplified niche design software that focuses on one aspect of the design – the façade – and strips away other more complex aspects of the building design such as heating and air conditioning systems.
"The software is for use at the earliest stages of building design, during concept and sketch stages. It ensures compliance with environmental standards and requirements, and therefore enhances green building design," he says.
At the moment, Palmer claims there is an inefficiency in the building design work flow.
"Building regulation compliance for energy performance requires the use of complex software. This happens late in the design process and typically is not usually carried out by the architect, but usually by a third party such as a mechanical engineer."
He says this analysis typically leads to a need for a redesign of the façade to address issues such as overheating from the sun, or excessive heat loss, in order to achieve compliance.
By using FenestraPro, Whelan and Palmer believe that the design tool could save more than 30pc of time spent designing and redesigning façades for non-domestic buildings.
"The software provides a detailed understanding of how key façade design decisions will affect the building’s performance, and will allow the architect to maintain control over their design," says Whelan.
While architectural practices will be the target customers of FenestraPro, Palmer says the software could also be used by consultants who may be involved at an early stage of a building’s design, particularly façade and services engineers.
So where is FenestraPro at right now?
The two co-founders have deployed a beta version of the software in a number of architectural practices in Ireland and the UK. So far, Whelan says there has been a very positive response.
"We are using the feedback from our early adopter programme to inform the development of our full version one of the software. We intend being market ready later this year."
He says that one of the key issues right now is recruiting the right team, particularly in the area of software development.
"We are looking for people with a good working knowledge of Java, ready to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in and take the product through its earliest iterations and beyond as our development team strengthens," explains Whelan.
While they have bootstrapped FenestraPro to date, Palmer and Whelan recently secured funding under Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund.
"This gave us the capital to step things up, and it is starting to pay off," says Palmer. "We are currently in discussions to secure a first round of funding, which we hope to finalise over the coming months."
As for their plans for the software, Whelan says that they have a robust product development strategy.
"Additional functionality around the increasingly onerous environmental requirements of building performance will be our short- to medium-term objectives, but we also hope to expand to develop offerings for different members of a design team."
He says the key will be to keep the software user-friendly, graphical and simple to use.
"Our initial focus is the Irish and UK market in the first year, moving into mainland Europe and beyond in the following years."
Finally, his advice for other self-starters is to talk to customers early and get a product or service out there so as to open up the opportunity for an informed discussion.
"Customer attitudes and opinions are the best indication on the direction you should be taking. You also need to maintain the flexibility to take on board their feedback, no matter what you know, or think you know yourself," adds Whelan.