By Fred Grier
Meet Nicholas Halverson, a UC San Diego alum and CEO of Occuspace. Moving from a small town in Florida to attend college, the big city was quite a shock for him – including SoCal’s problematic parking and long lines. After realizing this crowded annoyance was a shared problem amongst fellow students, Halverson was inspired to develop the Waitz app which provides the real-time “busyness” in dining halls, libraries, and gyms, allowing staff and students to know how busy a space is beforehand. The app was developed in early 2018 and was adopted by 20% of the UCSD student population in less than a month, giving Halverson the confidence to continue to pursue and grow this idea.
Later that year, Halverson and his three UCSD colleagues ran with this innovative data collecting app and founded Occuspace, an innovative software company that assesses and optimizes space design to maximize ROI for enterprises.
We chatted with Halverson, co-founder and CEO of Occuspace, and his team about their experience being UCSD entrepreneurs and the journey to successfully launch a San Diego-based startup.
Year Founded: August 2018
Key Players: Nicholas Halverson, Max Topolsky, Linus Grasel, Julian Jacobs
Headcount: 5 full-time employees
Headquartered: Kearny Mesa, San Diego
Technology: Occuspace provides real-time and historical occupancy data by using IoT sensors that analyze radio frequency signals. This enables space utilization insights that power space allocation and planning decisions.
Waitz App: Now available both on iOS and Android, the mobile software currently offers real-time updates for UC San Diego’s Geisel Library, allowing students and faculty to see how busy each floor is.
Services: Working diligently over the past year, the startup’s occupancy data can improve construction decisions, space utilization, energy efficiency, and occupant experience.
Competitive Advantage: Universities are heavily invested in enterprise solutions to make sure that better facility decisions are made. Halverson and Topolsky explained why they believe they have an edge over their competitors.
Halverson pointed out, “Other similar solutions do a good job of aggregating data to one platform, but they’re missing the key data point to drive meaningful insights – occupancy data.”
Topolsky added, “Currently, many people invest in really expensive camera vision technology, seat sensors, etc.… All of those are either really expensive or they can’t work for big areas. Other data sensor companies have a similar concept but it only works for smaller areas. We offer our services for more open spaces and at a cheaper cost.”
The Need: Topolsky said universities, which are encouraged to take on more efficient and sustainable practices, are the perfect users for Occupace’s technology.
“Universities’ most expensive cost is the space, both for students and administrative offices,” he said. “They can take up to 30-to-40% of a budget on average for any university campus.”
“If you aren’t using that space wisely, you still are paying for full maintenance, and utilities cost for an under-utilized space, while also spending money to create more space somewhere else,” he added.
Market: Occuspace’s target market gives the company the opportunity to be a heavyweight enterprise solution. UC San Diego’s construction budget over the next 10 years is estimated at a $3.4 billion market size, Halverson adds, “That’s the budget for current construction going on at UC San Diego alone,” he said.“With so much money at stake, it is vital that universities make sure all those dollars are being spent on the right projects. Universities are heavily invested in enterprise solutions to make sure that they’re making the best facility decisions.”
Customers: Besides universities, Occuspace was created for industries across the spectrum that are investing and making more data-driven decisions on their current spaces and future construction needs. “We plan on using the university vertical as a stepping stone to the larger $21 billion markets for these solutions,” Halverson said.
Growth: Within a few months of Occuspace’s launch, the startup was awarded a paid pilot project at UC San Diego to service 1.1 million square feet of the campus. With many other projects in the pipeline, the team shared that they plan to work with UC Riverside and other strategic partnerships in the near future.
Funding: Occuspace has raised approximately $400,000 in total seed funding from angels and VCs. Before fundraising, the team took home a combined $30,000 in first prize winnings from 2018 UCSD’s Entrepreneur challenge and was a finalist in the 2019 Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation (GCVI). Halverson said this spring, the startup plans to raise a series A round to grow the company’s sales and engineering team to launch in more universities and other big entities including, airports, shopping malls, and corporate office spaces.
Advisors & Mentors: Halverson and his team cultivated a diverse support system of mentors while putting together an amazing advisory board, which has had a combination of $4.8 billion in exits.
Expanding: Since then, Occuspace has been flooded with interest from more than 100 different universities, including access to the student app. Moving forward, the company will continue working with space administrators to improve functionality through their historical data, as well as the startup’s other enterprise solutions such as ventilation-based occupancy.
Entrepreneurial Advice: “Don’t be afraid of things being just an idea. Whatever you’re thinking about doing, just do it because you never know what it’s going to look like until you give it a try. Find several mentors and fellow founders that you can ask for help, and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Halverson said. “Foster early investor relationships without asking them to invest. Then, when you’re ready to raise, they will have seen your progression, dedication, grit, and potential.”
SD Tech Ecosystem: Halverson agrees that San Diego is a good place for seeking help with tech startups. “It’s a good ecosystem; I found a lot of people in the San Diego tech scene that were incredibly generous with their time and very helpful in helping us develop our company.”
“On the flip side, I think funding in San Diego is pretty difficult,” he added. “There aren’t a lot of big VC firms and only a handful of seed firms, which make it pretty hard to raise money.”
Taco ‘bout a Recommendation: “Without a doubt, Oscar’s Tacos,” Topolsky said.,
“Especially when you factor in the Monday-Thursday 99¢ fish taco lunch deal,” Halverson added.
“We came up with a lot of bad ideas over those tacos,” he joked.
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Editor’s Note: TritonTech is an original Fresh Brewed Tech series on UC San Diego students (current and alumni) who are blazing a trail in technology and entrepreneurship. These innovative ideas born in the halls of academia are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond. Don’t miss these compelling stories of passion, hard work, and problem-solving by the next generation of entrepreneurs.