Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

As if by Magic, Green Entrepreneur Adam Bernholz Conjures Up a New Venture, as GreenWizard Draws a Huge Audience for Green Product Research and Procurement.

With its Interactive Database, Bernholz’s New Company Offers a Web-based Tool That’s Sweeping the Environmental Construction Sector…

And Caught The Attention of Top VCs.

Adam Bernholz, the Founder and CEO of GreenWizard, started his career in green building underwater.

Underwater?

Well, as a scuba diving instructor.

That’s when Adam was shocked to witness coral-reef bleaching and ocean decline, and he decided going green was as worthwhile an occupation as he could imagine. Indeed, back in 2005 and 2006, Adam had sold his first company, a start-up, after wrapping up a JD degree and an MBA from the University of North Carolina. (He’d also worked a stint in Venture Capital.) To take some time off, he moved to an island off the coast of South Carolina that is only accessible by boat. There he began to live out a dream by building a “dark-green,” off-the-grid, net-zero-energy home. That’s when he realized the profound difficulty the building industry faced in researching, evaluating, and documenting green building products. The company that resulted from Adam’s frustration is a VC-funded start-up, called GreenWizard, which has met with such immediate success that it’s caught the eyes of top building industry professionals…and leading green VCs.

GreenWizard is a web-based, expert system that allows architects, engineers, and contractors (“AECs”) to cross-search, compare, and document building products for LEED and green construction. By far, LEED is the dominant green-building standard in North America. It has swept the construction industry and seen wide adoption. By even conservative estimates, 25% (and as much as 40%) of new and renovated structures in the US will be LEED certified by 2015. But therein lies the problem…and the solution that GreenWizard offers: Complying with LEED – which is often required by municipalities and building code authorities – is notoriously cumbersome. Indeed, there are demanding requirements to document the green properties and third-party certifications of the construction materials in order to qualify for the LEED points that achieve various levels of certification, which top-out at LEED Platinum.

In 2006, with a view toward starting a green-product search company, Adam engaged focus groups of architects, engineers, and contractors who were trying to go green. He discovered that the process of researching and documenting the products was nothing short of painful for them. And it was even more difficult to procure the product.

“It occurred to me that the easiest part of the building process should be the research, followed by ordering the products,” Adam said. “It’s just common sense that a manufacturer who put so much effort into making a product qualified for LEED points would want to get the word out, including all documentation, and allow people to order it online. Not so.”

The more Adam looked around, the more he saw an opportunity to offer GreenWizard’s service, which he initially called Green Analyzer.

“There were other green product databases, but there were just glorified versions of Google,” Adam recalls. “If you searched ‘caulk,’ and you’d get a list of caulk, but the results would have no semblance of importance or priority, supporting documents or third-party certifications (both of which are necessary for LEED application), and certainly no way to issue an RFP (request for price) or an RPI (request for information).”

In October, 2008, Adam took his idea to Sand Hill Road. The infamous Palo Alto, California area where the world’s top VCs cluster.

“Unfortunately, the very week that we presented in nine meetings to VCs, the DOW fell 20%,” Adam explains with a laugh. “And all of those VC groups retrenched to funding existing companies – not startups – and certainly no pre-revenue companies.”

Undaunted, Adam assembled an A-list team of managers, including GreenWizard’s current President, Jerry Lepore, who has deep experience with Aetna, Cigna, Microsoft, and Benefitfocus.

“I subscribe to the maxim that you can get farther with an A-list team and a B-concept than you can with an A-concept and B-list team. Turns out we have an A-team and an A-concept,” Adam said.

GreenWizard’s breakthrough came when the Company was selected for the CleanTech Forum investor’s conference in San Francisco. GreenWizard was just one of 15 companies to present, and one of just five pre-revenue companies invited; that was in February 2009. GreenWizard caught the attention of a success “angel” investor, Jerry Fiddler. Fiddler and Adam put together a series of private investments from a syndicate of venture capital funds and angel investors that totaled more than $1.15 million, over two rounds. (The syndicated investment was led by Zygote Ventures, which is based in San Rafael, CA. www.zygoteventures.com)

With that funding, Adam and his team were off and running. They staffed up and took the GreenWizard online search-and-procurement tool to BETA in 2009, and formally launched in March 2010.

As for the product’s success to date, the proof is in the pudding. By the end of the summer of 2010, there were 870 manufacturers loaded into GreenWizard’s database. Those manufacturers may present their products for free, but they may also choose to pay a slight premium (based on the value of a purchase) to receive RFPs and RFIs from GreenWizard’s buying-users. Those GreenWizard users already include nearly 300 architect, engineering and construction firms. Combined, they represent more than $500 million in LEED project value, and another $300 in non-LEED green projects.

Those numbers are impressive, but they are obsolete as soon as the ink is dry, because manufacturers and AECs are flocking to GreenWizard. To understand the attraction, here are more specifics about GreenWizard’s capabilities.

GreenWizard is an interactive “expert system” that allows AEC to cross-search, compare, and document products for LEED and green construction, with a special focus on commercial construction, where LEED is so pervasive. The manufacturers that offer products eligible for LEED credits are invited to load their products themselves, or have GreenWizard do it for them, and to use the GreenWizard database-assembly tool to associate any third-party ratings and approvals with their product profiles. Then GreenWizard users can search for products through multiple user-defined parameters, whether its third-party rating certifications, LEED credit eligibility, or performance specs.

GreenWizard allows product specifiers to search and view green products at no charge, but users can also access a low-priced premium tool called Workflow Pro ($9.99/month) to access really top-shelf capabilities. Workflow Pro can digitally build and document construction projects. Once a project is started, users can search for building products in the GreenWizard database based on product category, region, green attributes, and GreenRank. Then, the user can save the identified products to specific projects, as well as add and save supplemental products. Workflow Pro can also view product documentation, e.g. Building Information Modeling (BMI), product specs, cutsheets. Upon completion of the project, users will be able to automatically generate LEED documentation and LEED Credit Templates for submission to LEED online.

The biggest differentiator for GreenWizard in the landscape of online green-product search tools is that it is a true workflow solution, allowing for product research-procurement-documentation all under one roof. Users who find a green product in other green product databases have to cut and paste the product data into an email to request prices and availability. That’s awkward, and it’s even more cumbersome to get that data into their procurement computer software. With GreenWizard, that procurement process can all be managed right from the product search results, without leaving the GreenWizard platform.

There will surely be competitors to GreenWizard, but the Company has a massive head start in terms of assembling product data, in addition to their Intellectual Property (Patents and Trademarks). Any competing company would have a daunting, expensive data-management task to come even close to where GreenWizard is today.

As for Adam Bernholz, he’s looking at a future of pure opportunity, as LEED and green construction more firmly entrenches itself in the practices of the architects, engineers, and contractors who are building the future of America.

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