In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new editorial series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jean-Simon Venne.
Jean-Simon Venne is a co-founder and CTO of BrainBox AI. BrainBox AI’s technology leverages artificial intelligence to improve commercial building operational efficiency through the HVAC system, reducing energy consumption and costs.
As a technology expert specializing in the fast and efficient migration of technological innovations to commercial applications, Jean-Simon has over 25 years of experience developing and implementing new technology to solve long-standing commercial issues in the fields of telecommunications, biotechnology, and energy-efficiency.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I was an only child, and my parents divorced when I was rather young. My mother was a teacher at a high school in Quebec and my father was a diplomat in Paris, so I would spend the school year in Montreal and visit my father in France during the summer. I would travel with my father quite a bit on his diplomatic trips, giving me the chance to discover other cultures and ways of life. It allowed me to see how different people work on this beautiful planet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
We’re very lucky to be living in the times that we are. I think back to some of my first jobs. I was trying to use technology to solve the big problems of the day, but the tech wasn’t there yet, which I found incredibly frustrating. I would think to myself, “yes, we can do this or that in theory, but we can’t yet in practice.” This was because we were limited on resources like computing power, memory, and storage capacity. That went on for about ten years until technology finally caught up.
Today, we aren’t limited by technology, rather by our capacity to find a way to use it. I’m blessed to live in a time in which we’ve got such powerful tools to make a difference in the world. BrainBox AI is a great example of technological innovation helping to achieve that end — by harnessing the power of machine learning, we’re aiming to change the world for the better.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve got at least ten people in mind that have helped me get to where I am today. You must always have people in your corner to succeed and I’ve been very lucky to have had some great ones. But if I had to pick just one, I’d say it was my first boss, Pierre David, coming out of engineering school. When you’re fresh out of school, it can be difficult to apply the massive amount of information you learned in the classroom. My first boss looked at me and said, “forget all those books. I’m going to show you how to really evaluate a problem.” That was the pivotal moment for me in understanding what it is an engineer is supposed to do. I’m grateful for that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Keep hoping, keep trying. The sky is the limit.” I’m not sure who said it, but I see it on motivational posters very frequently. Sometimes, working with technology can be frustrating. It’s always been important to remind myself to never quit and to not put limits on myself. These self-imposed limits are sometimes discouraging. Of course, there’s always the question of how long something will take, but I know I will figure out answers to the challenges that are put in front of me and keep pushing on.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
The first trait I’d identify has to do with is being inventive. As a business leader, it’s important to think outside the box on today’s issues and invent innovative ways to solve them. To that end, having an overall vision of what you’re trying to accomplish is critical. Once you’ve nailed down the “big picture,” it’s all about identifying the resources and team you need to tackle the issues you’re facing.
Second, I would say being a leader. As a leader, it’s critical to work closely with your team and take care of them, while listening to what they have to say. It’s important to create an ecosystem of diverse voices around you so you’re able to attack whatever issues you’re facing from all angles. That’s the best way to really get synergy going in any work situation. At BrainBox AI, this is one of the biggest ways in which we’ve managed to build a great team — we’ve taken people from unique backgrounds with differing perspectives to give us the fullest picture of the challenges we’re up against. I’m lucky to not just lead, but also learn from my colleagues.
Third, it’s important to be perseverant. Never quit and don’t let others define what you can and cannot accomplish. In any endeavor, you’re always going to have detractors telling you that you’re not going to achieve your goals. Don’t listen to all that outside noise — stay focused on what you’re looking to get done and show the world that it’s possible.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which problems are you aiming to solve?
At BrainBox AI, we want to save the planet. We’ve seen the news with dire climate events like the fire tornadoes in California and quite frankly, the numbers are clear — if we don’t act NOW there will be no way to slow down the damage humans have already caused to the environment. It’s critical that we accelerate what we’re doing to combat the climate crisis. The answer lies in technology, and we need to put it to work in the right applications. That is why our goal at BrainBox AI is to drastically reduce energy emissions from buildings. This is significant because real estate consumes over 40% of global energy annually — 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions originate from buildings and there is a projected 56% increase in building CO2 emissions by 2030. Buildings are everywhere and we keep constructing them. That’s my company is working so hard to reduce the amount of energy consumed and emitted by them. We’re using our technology and ingenuity to help save the world.
How do you think your technology can address this?
At BrainBox AI, we are driven by the fact that 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions originate from buildings and that Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are responsible for over 50% of those emissions.
This is why we’ve created the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence technology for commercial HVAC systems. BrainBox AI’s autonomous AI HVAC technology studies how your building operates and analyses the external factors impacting it, identifies every potential improvement opportunity, and then acts on it. It requires no human intervention and reacts to changes in the built environment immediately to ensure the highest tenant comfort and energy efficiency, at all times.
Our numbers don’t lie. BrainBox AI’s technology can generate up to a 25% reduction in total energy costs, 20–40% reduction in carbon footprint and 60% increase in occupant comfort.
Imagine that tomorrow morning, we deployed our technology to every building in North America. In a very short amount of time, we’d see a significant cut in harmful emissions from buildings. This isn’t like the conversations we’re used to on this subject, such as switching to electric cars. That’s an adoption process that will take a long time. Our technology at BrainBox AI is something that can be deployed right now and make an immediate difference. We don’t have any time to lose in the battle against climate change. Fast-acting solutions like ours are necessary if we’re going to make the differences that are needed.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I was working in the HVAC space when I learned that HVAC systems usually take up nearly half of the energy consumption in each building. I also came to the realization that the HVAC industry hadn’t really changed much over the last 40 years or so. It was a lot of copy and paste in terms of how things were done. I thought to myself — how can we make this more efficient? I saw automation technology emerging in other sectors such as cars and planes and thought that we should be able to apply this to buildings too.
No one had really thought to apply automation technology to buildings like this, and that there was a major gap to be filled. It’s an easier equation to crack than figuring out how to make a plane fly autonomously — so why not make it happen? By using AI in buildings, we can simultaneously fill a gap in the market and create a technology that makes a major difference in the world. That’s what we’re doing at BrainBox AI.
How do you think this might change the world?
Put simply, our singular goal is to save the planet. Of course, we still have a long way to go. However, we currently have our technology in over 100,000,000 square feet and over 70 cities, with those numbers rapidly growing.
Buildings are an obvious source of harmful emissions. By eliminating 20–40% of a building’s carbon footprint, per building, we will be making a clear impact in the fight against climate change.
I do think we need to be careful with these emerging technologies, because they’re evolving incredibly rapidly, and we may not yet understand all the implications of that. For example, when it comes to artificial intelligence, we haven’t yet reached the point where artificial intelligence is self-aware — although that day is rapidly approaching. I believe as of right now, artificial intelligence is just working with a set of mathematical formulas. We’re not in any sort of phase yet where things are going to become self-aware like an episode of “Black Mirror,” but I do think we need to be prepared for the ethical issues that will come with the advancement of artificial intelligence.
In that vein, I think we need to consider what artificial intelligence is going to be used for. What ethical discussions will we have in the future when this technology advances? We’re not there yet, but it bears thinking about.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?
- First, I think that you need to consider the capacity of the technology you’re working with. Don’t fool yourself — you need to think about the limits of the tech you’ve got on hand and just how far you can push it. On that point, you need to make sure you’re aiming at the correct objectives in terms of what you’re trying to achieve with your technology.
- Second, it’s important to be able to speak eloquently about what you’re working on in order to educate the public. At BrainBox AI, for example, we need to be able to drive home just how important it is to cut emissions from buildings, since they make up about a third of all harmful emissions overall. You must be able to demonstrate how your solution is making a direct impact. How is your solution breaking down barriers and different from all the other ones out there? If you can’t demonstrate that, why should anyone care? It’s also important to know your mission statement and to stick to it. If you’re able to do that, it’s much easier to get everyone in the company on board with moving the needle forward and that comes with making sure that everyone understands the technology.
- Third lies with another important factor for us at BrainBox AI — the fact that the planet needs our help, now. There’s a space in the market for innovation in the battle against climate change. There’s no time to lose, and companies like ours are necessary if we’re going to make the difference we need to make. I recommend you do what we did — pick an issue in the world, big or small, and then brainstorm how technology can help solve it.
- Education of the general public on the issues at hand is critical as well. When most people think of greenhouse gas emissions, a crowded highway full of cars or an industrial district packed with factories comes to mind. Buildings don’t often come to mind as a culprit behind climate change.
- Have a strong team behind the technology. In our case at BrainBox AI, it’s also been important to build a team with a diverse array of experience. That’s allowed us to break down barriers in the industry that would have otherwise seemed insurmountable. Invest in your team — they’re the best asset you’ve got.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We all share this planet and it’s the only one we have. It’s up to all of us to make a difference in the battle against climate change, and that’s especially true of the next generation of leaders. Don’t shy away from critical global issues but rather have the courage to face them head on. Children and young adults are fortunate enough to be growing up in a time where technology is advancing at an astounding rate. Truly, anything is possible. If you have a will, it is possible to find a way.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d say that it’s a tie between Elon Musk and Richard Branson. I admire them because they always keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and proving people wrong. They do things because they want to demonstrate that these endeavors are possible, even in the face of doubt. I’d really love to know what their deep-down motivations are. We need more people in the world like these two.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow BrainBox AI on social media via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You can also keep track of what we’re up to on our website. We’re innovating ways to save the world from climate change every day and we welcome everyone to follow us on this journey.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.