Interview: How actoVent succeeded in digitizing fresh air

The start-up company actoVent has set itself the goal of helping to ensure that wherever ventilation and air-conditioning systems (AHUs) or extraction systems are in use, people breathe clean air and polluted air is not released into the environment.

The core of the innovative business model is to move away from the sale of purely individual products and to launch a simple as well as holistic solution for customers on the market with “fresh air as a service”.

Together with SAP as a technology and digitization partner, the company has now succeeded in implementing the “Frischluftmanager,” a digital platform that ensures that all processes related to the procurement of fresh air are optimized, visualized and automated.

In a joint interview with the Office of the CTO of SAP Germany, the two actoVent managing directors, Jörg and Franz Penka, explain how they succeeded in transforming their business model.

“The Frischluftmanager are here!” Franz and Jörg Penka, good to have you here. What can we imagine under this slogan?

We want to take a holistic view of the topic of “clean air” and move away from the purely individual product or service on the ventilation market to develop a holistic solution for the customer. With the help of advancing digitalization, we now have the opportunity to offer our customers “fresh air as a service”, i.e. “clean air” in an automated, optimized and visualized way.

The “Frischluftmanager” represents our digital platform here. It brings together different partners and offers our customers a holistic solution that adapts to their needs for clean air.

That sounds very exciting. We all love them. Fresh air. Given the current pandemic situation, we are more aware of this than ever before. Who are actually among your end users?

All those with ventilation systems or extraction systems in use or in the planning stage, i.e. all current and future system owners. From car dealerships to office buildings, hotels, supermarkets, hospitals or industrial halls, and of course schools, museums or multi-purpose halls. We can help anyone who has a need for cleaner air in their buildings.

Consumers benefit from our service by consuming the end product, i.e. clean air, in the office or by seeing the current air quality in the supermarket.

Fresh air as a service! If I want fresh air, can’t I just open the window or go for a walk?

Today, clean air is unfortunately no longer a foodstuff that we get for free from nature. Today, more than 7 million people die each year as a result of air pollution. It wasn’t just the Corona situation that made people aware of the issue of clean air or what is in the air. Opening a window may reduce the amount of CO2 in the air, but at the same time the new air can bring more particles into the room that are unhealthy.

Every allergy sufferer will immediately understand what we are talking about. In addition, in most of the buildings we serve, the windows can’t be opened just like that, for example. in hotels, supermarkets or hospitals.

You had already touched on it briefly. The “Frischluftmanager” acts as a digital service platform for filters. How does this work in concrete terms, what else can the Frischluftmanager do?

With the “Frischluftmanager”, we bring together the various partners in the ventilation market and thus create a holistic offering for our customers. From filter suppliers to maintenance companies or IoT system providers. This enables us to offer the optimum filters for each plant on a manufacturer-neutral basis and to automate the ordering process and logistics in line with the plant. In addition, we have strong partners who can optimize maintenance intervals and visualize air quality with affordable, digital measurement methods. Only when the customer sees what the indoor air quality is, he can also actively influence it. With the help of corresponding scores or traffic light systems, we can make the topic of clean air simple and explainable for everyone.

Innovative, young, agile, disruptive – that’s what I understand by startup culture. You have chosen SAP, Europe’s largest software company, as your technology partner. A contradiction?

No, not at all. On the contrary. With SAP Business One® we already have a functioning ERP system from SAP in use at our sister company, penka GmbH Luft-Klimatechnik. As you mentioned, we have a clear vision to offer our clean air solution to the market. Since we also like to approach our tasks pragmatically and with foresight, we benefit from a functioning system at SAP. We assume that SAP will continue to provide regular updates and further developments over the next two decades.

SAP’s broad network of business partners also reduces our dependence on individuals and provides us with some room for maneuver. As a “startup” we try to generate a lot of revenue from few resources. The collaboration with the office of the CTO of SAP Germany was uncomplicated, flexible and 100% digital. In addition, it was still a lot of fun to push the topic with SAP!

We are very pleased ! Sustainability, a topic that is also high on our agenda. What exactly makes your business model sustainable? Why wasn’t it in its previous, analog form?

We believe that clean air should also be produced cleanly. Here we have three starting points: Filters, maintenance and, of course, air quality.

Today, many filters are purchased based on price. Equipment owners are often unaware that the filter price represents only about 15% of the total cost of a filter’s life. Over 70% is for the energy costs of the filter. Unfortunately, this is not a topic that a buyer necessarily finds on their target agenda. It is difficult to position the topic of sustainability in the current supply chain process. In addition, the majority of filter changes are performed according to fixed change intervals. With the Frischluftmanager, we can offer our customers those filters that optimize their energy needs as well as provide a total cost analysis. With affordable measurement systems, we can monitor the filters and then order the change when it is actually necessary. We help to achieve the optimum in terms of energy demand, price, quality and changeover time, while achieving the desired as well as required air qualities.

Thank you very much for the exciting insights, your time and the great cooperation. Finally, one last question: What are your plans for the entrepreneurial future? What’s next?

The awareness of paying attention to what quality of air one ingests, in addition to diet or personal fitness level, is just beginning to emerge for the mass market. Apple just recently added air quality (ePM) readings to its weather app. Amazon has recently started selling air quality meters for private customers that display PM2 or VOC values in addition to CO2. With the increasing awareness and advancing digitalization, we will use the opportunities to continuously develop the Frischluftmanager the coming months to get a little closer to our vision of being THE solution for clean air.