GridPoint refocuses business on enterprise energy management


John Spirtos is chief executive of GridPoint, an energy company in Arlington,Va. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR WASHINGTON POST)
October 14, 2012

Two years ago, Arlington-based GridPoint was the focus of speculation that the maker of smart-grid software was preparing to become the latest venture-backed clean tech firm to pursue an initial public offering.

The IPO never happened, and the company fell silent.

But change was underway. An executive shakeup in October 2010 saw John Spirtos take over for GridPoint founder Peter Corsell as chief executive. At the same time, president and chief operating officer Mike Lach stepped down.

GridPoint today is a very different company, Spirtos said in an interview. Helping ultilities manage their networks, among other smart-grid initiatives, makes up a minority of its business.

Instead, GridPoint’s biggest business now is assisting companies with multiple storefronts in different geographic areas, such as grocery chains or fast-casual eateries, to monitor the energy consumption across their entire enterprise. The organizations can then use the information to alter their operations to reduce energy usage and save money.

“We didn’t think it was enough just to deal with the producers of energy, addressing their technology needs,” he said. “We also wanted to deal with the consumers of the energy, the folks who actually pay the bills, particularly the larger bill payers.”

Founded in 2003, GridPoint gradually expanded into multiple segments of the smart-grid technology market, fueled by millions in venture capital from investors eager to tap into the clean tech market.

Securities and Exchange Commission filings show the firm raised $23.3 million from investors in July, bringing its total venture capital to date to roughly $270 million.

The latest round of money will be used to expand into new industry segments and geographic markets, including Europe, Spirtos said.

Research giant IDC estimates that technologies used to monitor, automate and reduce a building’s energy output will be a $10 billion market by 2015. Casey Talon, a senior research analyst, said that’s due in part to firms becoming more aware that such technology exists at feasible upfront costs.

“It can not only help them reduce how much energy they consume, but it can help streamline their operations and maintenance,” Talon said.

“It’s not talked about as much as renewables or some technologies, but it’s a way of starting inside the fence and finding areas to save money,” she added.

A shift in focus

GridPoint’s focus began to shift with the November 2009 acquisition of ADMMicro, a Roanoke-based company that designs systems for large businesses to monitor and reduce energy consumption.

In May of the following year, the firm won its largest federal contract at the time with the U.S. Postal Service to centrally manage the agency’s energy usage at many locations and curtail costs in the process.

“No one had really put an effective networking solution together to help a customer establish effective energy policy on a large, geographically disparate footprint,” Spirtos said.

Spirtos estimates that similar work now makes up about 85 percent of GridPoint’s business. Its primary customers include restaurants, retail outlets and convenience stores.

“Our sweet spot tends to be multi-site retail, not because our technology is particularly well suited for that market, but because that’s a market that’s relatively easy to access and keenly focused on this issue,” Spirtos said.

And what about that IPO? Spirtos answers those questions coyly.

“To focus on the end point or the end result is probably not the best way to achieve any level of success,” he said. “Really focusing in on building a strong business, growing revenue, satisfying customers, if you do all those things the end result becomes relatively apparent.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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