Entrepreneur of the Week

Brad Pilgrim, CEO of Parity on Making Urban Living Sustainable

Brad Pilgrim spent five years working for successful energy startups focused on generating new energy, with products related to portable solar gear and solar rooftops. It was during this time he noticed a gap he felt existed in the clean-tech industry. Enter: Parity.

Inspired by the consumption side of the industry, Pilgrim wanted to learn more about how the massive amounts of energy being produced were being used. He questioned how efficiently this energy was being used and if we had the right technologies to understand and manage it effectively.

A prime example, 40% of CO2 emissions come from big buildings, yet big buildings severely lacked a lot of the technology necessary to understand and address the issue. In the market, there were large brick and mortar companies that didn’t concentrate on CO2 reduction or energy management for these buildings. While other industry players that were trying to solve this issue simply weren’t doing it well. 

The idea for Parity was born out of trying to tackle this problem, with a better solution. When Pilgrim co-founded Parity in 2015 — a software to handle the complexities of energy management — he knew what he wanted to achieve. 

According to Pilgrim, the process of using Parity is like taking an unfit person with a bad diet, then improving their health and turning them into an athlete.  “We do something similar with a building, we attach to all the different components and we really understand the health state that it’s running at, we call it a baseline,” said Pilgrim.

The software gathers data from all of the pieces of equipment in a building, using different types of algorithms from simple linear regression to deep learning algorithms. Ultimately, these algorithms discover how many people are in a building and determine if they are supplying the right amount of heating or cooling, or oversupplying the building.

Next, the software uses the learnings to change the way that a building will operate. The result?  actively saving energy for the building and helping it run at a better state. The software will continue improving and solving the issue as more data gets acquired. 

“We’re almost like a personal trainer for this building. We turn it into an Olympic athlete,” said Pilgrim.  

Big business for big buildings

The service and platform are able to turn energy waste into big dollars for Parity customers. The software is identifying the exact places where there is energy waste, measures the waste, and then optimizes how your building uses energy so that it reduces that waste.  “They’re already spending the money, the money’s just being wasted,” said Pilgrim. 

The company guarantees lower energy costs, typically in the 20-30% range. There is no upfront cost to the customer and buildings can expect an average return on investment of two years.

On building a company

Starting a company isn’t without challenges, Pilgrim admits that finding the right people can be difficult. “I spend 90% of my time thinking about my team,” he said. 

Pilgrim also notes that building a company in Toronto can be a unique experience. Compared to San Francisco or Palo Alto, those that choose to start a company in Toronto can avoid huge costs and build their business sustainably. It also helps that clean-tech is thriving in Toronto, with environmentally-oriented people who are technology-focused. 

However, the challenge of being a Canadian startup is that it can be more difficult to access investment dollars. “We’re quite conservative as a population. We’re obviously 10 times smaller than the US.” Yet, Pilgrim believes if you can make it work in Canada then you can make it work anywhere else. “So, make it work here first, it’s a real test.”

Q & A

What's the best advice you have ever been given?

“If I knew then, what I know now”(learning from others hindsight). I’ve been taking this advice since I was very young and in many ways it has guided me as an entrepreneur very well. I’m always looking for insight and advice from those who have been in similar places dealing with similar problems to understand the likelihood of making the right decisions.

What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn?

Trust your own patience and understanding. I’m always learning. Nothing happens as fast as you’d like it to and it will never be done exactly how you might do it yourself. Let this go. Trust you have great people on your team and they have another way to get to where you need to be.

Who are some of your role models?

Noam Chomsky, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Greta Thunburg. The character and passion of these people fascinates me.

How do you balance your work and personal lives?

I don’t really, but I expected that. Right now, I’m a 90/10 work person. That’s what you sign up for as an entrepreneur. Building a company is not for everyone. I like to think of the quote, “Live a life no one could think of, to live a life people only dream of.”

Do you have any morning routines before you get started at work for the day? What are they?

Swimming and going to the gym when I can. I read something that interests me for 20-30 minutes to get creative juices flowing. I find my best thinking happens in the first few hours of the morning.

How do you stay focused?

Planning. Lots and lots of planning. Everyday I look at the five biggest items that will help move us forward. Understand when to let fires burn and which ones you need to address immediately. 

What are your favourite ways to relax and unwind from the day?

Spend time with family and friends. I also like racing cars — really fast ones. 

What books/movie/documentary/show did you recently enjoy and have recommended to friends and colleagues?

Elon Musk’s bio. Ray Dalio Principles. Anything that involves space or deep ocean exploration. The search for the unknown world is incredibly interesting.