Novo, a Berlin-based proptech, has announced a €1 million pre-seed investment. The renovation startup provides automated services that speed up the decarbonisation of homes at a time the EU and Germany are setting challenging targets to make property more efficient. The round was led by French impact fund Citizen Capital, German urbantech fund 2bX, zero-day investor Antler and several angel investors.
TFN asked Novo co-founder Mona Hornung about Novo and her, and co-founder Julia Wadehn’s, journey.
A startup to decarbonise for the next generation
The need to reduce carbon emissions is increasingly leading to more regulation in the property sector, which has been identified as a major source of emissions. The EU has set a target of renovating 15% of buildings by 2030, and the German parliament has passed legislation to support improvement and make the efficiency of buildings more transparent. Novo helps by providing a clear assessment for those that want, or need, to renovate.
“It is about understanding where a building stands today in its energy efficiency, and how it could be brought into a better future,” says Hornung. “Our results not only state the measures that need or could be taken in detail, but also the costs involved, the energy savings and all subsidies available. In short: the full return-on-investment – not only for the planet, but also for the owner.” Hornung believes this is especially important for homeowners and small landlords who, previously, had to navigate everything on their own.
Both Hornung and Wadehn have a background in energy and startups, with careers that included a decade at Siemens Energy and energy startup Timber. They met whilst steering the platform PaulCamper and started to work together on Novo. As well as being an all-too-rare example of a female founding team, they were both pregnant when they started, giving birth on the same day, just weeks before they began fundraising. An experience Hornung believes shouldn’t be unusual.
“Occasionally, you see ‘groundbreaking’ articles covering female entrepreneurs with children. This cannot stay a topic that produces ground-breaking articles,” Hornung told us. “As a female founder, ‘family’ seems still to be more threatening to some than recession. Why so? The only important question for female entrepreneurs should be: are you building a successful business?”
Hornung talks about the attitudes that often surround pregnancy, revealing that experienced mentors warned them that some would see it as a problem. “This part of the reality is still there for female founders. But we chose actively to ignore it. You don’t change a system by playing by its rules. And the system needs to change. So we talk openly about both: starting a business and family at the same time,” she told us. “It demanded a lot from us and our families. But we are also here to tell others: it’s possible.”
Partnerships to cut complexity and carbon
Novo seeks not just to improve the energy efficiency of homes, but also to solve practical problems for their owners. “The practical problems of retrofitting start with a totally fragmented user experience,” Hornung says. “Homeowners provide data about their building up to five times.” It reflects the complexity as homeowners navigate finance, energy advisors, and installation. Novo simplifies through its partnerships with banks and energy companies, helping to identify and prioritise the properties that will benefit most.
When talking to homeowners, Hornung found that many regretted their choices because, as their renovation progressed, they learned more than they wished they had known at the start. “Energy renovation needs to be as transparent and clear as possible,” says Hornung. But Novo finds many are pleasantly shocked by their reports, “most owners are surprised about the amount of energy costs they can save. In most projects, we see savings in energy costs between 70-90%.” And while owners have to factor in the upfront costs of renovation, Hornung points out that a 90% saving is a clear message, “this is not only energy costs saved, but the reduction of significant levels of CO₂ at the same time.”
The clarity of the platform, and the benefits it offers to both homeowners and the environment, were part of the attraction to investors. Citizen Capital partner, Olivier Mougenot said, “we’re thrilled to back NOVO’s mission to provide simpler and faster access to much-needed home energy renovation. The drive of the founding team to speed up real estate’s climate action across Europe struck us and made supporting Novo an obvious choice.”
Christoph Klink, a partner at Antler, echoed that sentiment, “Novo sits at the intersection between proptech and climatetech and is building technology that could transform the way homeowners manage their energy renovation to reduce emissions. This is one of the biggest challenges faced by homeowners, developers, and policymakers, and Novo is offering a solution that is fast and scalable.”
Some estimate that funding in the sector reached around €2.2 billion in 2022, and as the political drive increases, that funding, and also the rate of renovation will increase too.
“We cannot approach this challenge — the most massive one we will have in this century — by manual and individual solutions,” Hornung said. “Speed is urgently needed here. And Novo will play its part.”