There is a particular kind of startup that fascinates me. I am drawn to bootstrappers - upstarts where the founders are loaded with hard lessons, but still determined to change an industry.
Such is the case with Norwegian renewal energy startup Becour, which fuses 30+ years of alternative energy experience into an ambitious goal: build a robust trading platform for renewable energy producers (and those who source them).
Becour made it this far: they've (largely) built the platform. Now it's a matter of scale, and community participation. Here's the twist: the founders have deep enterprise experience, including legacy ERP. But to build Becour, they needed to shift into cloud tools, DevOps, and everything you didn't historically learn on ERP projects.
Becour found their way with Neptune Software. To those who know Neptune Software as an SAP partner, this might be something of a surprise. But maybe it's not that much of a surprise - when you consider Neptune Software has literally shocked SAP community members by showing them how low-code can change SAP development.
But in this case, Becour doesn't run any kind of ERP. Becour is a flagship customer for the Neptune DXP Cloud, announced June 2021. Becour built its sourcing exchange with Neptune Software's cloud development tools, in that lean/fast/iterative style that enterprise professionals didn't exactly grow up in.
Becour - "The energy market has to be transparent and credible"
I hopped on a video call with two founding members of the Becour team, one on the road and one in the study. In the 1990s, I was involved in a soulless, money-grab tech startup. It shamed me - and made me root for startups with purpose. Well, how about this for a purpose, from Becour.com:
We want energy consumers to acknowledge the responsibility and potential that lies within their energy consumption. It takes courage to take on this responsibility and to change the way we do things. We encourage those who do, and we work to make that choice easier.
In order to inspire others to do the same, the energy market has to be transparent and credible. That is why we have an open book policy and a business model that guarantees that at least 80% of the revenue generated from renewable energy sales goes directly to the producers.
Yes, you guessed it, that's where the "Becour" company name derives from - "be courageous." I'll skip the complicated story leading up to Becour. It's a classic tale of the roller coaster that is the renewable energy market. Becour's founders knew one thing: they needed to build something that provided the transparency - and the deep documentation - that today's energy sourcers must have.
"Becour customers are looking for a credible claim to renewable energy"
Where is Becour today? Here's what CEO Hans Petter Kildal told me:
We have a platform - let's call it a multi-sided platform. We call it "Tinder for renewable energy." The point is that the energy users, or the companies that we work with, are allowed to find the profiles, or power plants they would like to source renewable energy from.
Becour provides the documentation buyers need:
They can go into our application, select the portfolio parameters they like, and we can make sure there's a match between what they consume and what is produced. Our clients are mainly business clients, large companies around the world - and producers of renewable energy.
It's early days, but the adoption is promising:
If you go to our web page, you'll find articles about 24/7 matching for IKEA. We have presented global solutions for the packaging industry, including Elopak. We have international banks doing this; we have telecom operators in the Nordics - a [number of] regional telecom operators are using us now.
And why are companies signing up? Kildal:
Because these companies are looking for a credible claim to renewable energy. The worst thing that can happen to them is that somebody can say, 'This is a very vague claim,' or it's even a false claim, and sort of puts them in the greenwashing bucket.
One more thing Becour's customers talk about: the value of Becour's "guarantee of origin." How does that work?
You cannot track electrons... There's no physical link between how the electrons are put in motion at the power plant, and how they light up your room. So so you cannot track them physically. So it's a little bit technical, but what we do is a contractual tracking of non-physical attributes. And these non-physical attributes are the environmental attributes linked to the production of renewable energy.
This is about it's about renewable energy, but it's also about sustainability. So we give our clients the possibility to choose themselves, what they consider to be efficient in their renewable energy and sustainability strategy.
Building the Becour Platform - with Neptune's DXP Cloud
It doesn't take a technical background to get it: building a platform that can track characteristics like "non-physical attributes" is no small undertaking. Especially when you consider today's UX design expectations. So how was Becour built? Here, we turn to Rune Bøen, CDO at Becour. His job? Create a platform to fulfill Becour's original vision:
I would try to convert HP's thoughts, and try to form it... I come from an SAP development environment. [A couple years ago], Neptune came out with this new Planet 9, the open edition platform not based on SAP integration.
When they came out with the DXP, we were also the first movers to get into exploring and using the DXP platform. So we have background before the actual DXP part, both in code developing and throwing ideas back and forth. We have an open dialogue for the requirements, and they come up with solutions.
And what is developing on Neptune's DXP Cloud like? Bøen:
We use it actively in our agile approach to the market, because it's kind of twofold. We had some great future vision, thoughts about what the customers needed. And we were kind of way ahead of them. So we needed to adjust to what our customers needed. Also, we wanted to use our knowledge and our ideas to kind of form the market a little bit.
To close that gap between vision and customer expectations, mockups, demos, and apps are needed, and fast:
That is perfect with Planet 9 and DXP - the way we can easily create mockups sitting in the front of the customer. HP was equipped with apps and dashboards, developed in Neptune over a few, maybe hours, days in meetings. Now, he can click around in the apps and describe what we actually could do. And then feedback from the customers and so on. At the end, we ended up with the platform we have today.
Bøen isn't used to having one development platform for all the different builds, but it's a welcome change. And yes, Neptune's low-code capabilities come into play:
We don't need to take parts from here and there like SAP; we have all the tools within the one system. They provide the different tools we need, to create the dashboards, the apps, the PDFs, documents, and they make kind of a low-code feeling to it. So it's very quick to create the different types of development you need, both from the app side, and also from documents and everything.
For Bøen, running Neptune's DXP Cloud on Azure is another plus:
It's a solid platform, with a solid database and runtime environment... The nice thing for us is that they built in all the security and everything related to this in one product, so we don't need to really care about it.
The wrap - "This is an extremely efficient way to work"
Build a modern energy sourcing platform in an iterative style - and do it with your future customers? Not too shabby for a four-person development team. Kildal likes that they can collaborate with their clients on fast builds:
For me as the sort of market guy, this is an extremely efficient way to work, because we can iterate with our clients, and we can build community around our clients.
Blockchain fanatics may be wondering: isn't this a good fit for blockchain? The short answer is: Becour examined blockchain in-depth, but it didn't work out for several reasons - including blockchain's high levels of energy consumption, which is antithetical to Becour's purpose. They are promising a white paper on this topic; I'm looking forward to checking it out.
Bøen was aware that being an early DXP Cloud adopter came with risks, including bug fixes, but he says the partnership lived up to its billing:
It never takes long before you get the solution or fix... They're also very keen on including needed functionalities in their platform. That means they're very agile when it comes to new things as well.
Good thing the platform is on track, because Becour's business certainly is. Kildal:
Just this week, we have wind producers from the Baltic states asking to come on board. We have solar producers in Mexico that asked us how they can join. Today, we got a contract with a large industrial that wants to show there are carbon-capture and storage facilities running on renewable energy 24/7.
So far, the timing looks right:
It's a risky game, but that's also part of the fun. The wave is coming, and we feel ready to surf it.