His first startup is now the largest company in the world by market cap. But almost 50 years after Steve Wozniak cofounded Apple, he’s back in entrepreneur mode. This time, it’s climate tech he's hoping to transform.
His new company is Efforce, a crypto-enabled energy efficiency platform. Wozniak cofounded the company quietly in 2018, alongside two others. The team, now at 40 people, has an office in Malta but is largely remote.
Efforce is one of a wave of companies that have set up shop in the last few years trying to encourage planet-friendly behaviour with the tools of digital currencies. There are those like KlimaDAO and Switzerland’s Toucan, working on putting carbon credits onto the blockchain, and newer ventures like SolarCoin, a coin that incentivises solar power plant construction.
But reception is split. Some onlookers have heralded the benefits crypto can bring to the climate tech world, while others have raised questions about how real the tech's potential emission reductions are.
So what is a global tech legend doing in a controversial and niche part of climate tech?
Two serial entrepreneur Italians, Jacopo Visetti and Jacopo Vanetti, came up with the initial idea for Efforce. The connection to the US tech heavyweight was forged when they met one of Wozniak’s business partners at a conference.
“We then got a meeting with Steve in Silicon Valley and he loved the idea,” says Visetti. “He wanted to change it a bit so we sat down for a number of weeks and developed the idea, then eventually asked him to come on board.”
The Efforce team, based in parts of the US, Milan, London and Malta, meet in person once a month, and Wozniak joins them.
Efforce isn’t Wozniak’s first post-Apple venture — he’s done everything from running a comic books conference to founding an edtech startup.
“He's really hands-on with the product,” says Visetti. “You won't see much in interviews, but you will see him much on the product, that's for sure.”
Understanding the energy services industry is key to understanding how Efforce works. Energy services companies retrofit buildings, either homes or businesses, to make them more efficient.
It involves things like improving insulation, changing light bulbs to greener options and retrofitting windows and doors.
Customers tend to receive the service for free and then the money they save on their energy bills is split between them and the energy services company.
It’s an old industry — a lot of big utility companies, like Thames Water and General Electric, also have an energy services wing. As the energy crisis pushes bills higher, there’s more interest in novel ways of financing energy services, and that’s where Efforce comes in.
From carbon credits to energy credits
Efforce wants to make it possible to trade megawatts of saved energy in the same way that we now trade saved tonnes of CO2 as carbon credits — the industry Visetti comes from.
On its platform, users can invest in energy saving projects. The financial savings made are then shared between those who funded the project.
It’s a way to broaden the upfront capital people have access to for energy efficiency retrofits — but it also means less savings go directly to the owner of the building.
“In the same way when you save one tonne of CO2 as a carbon credit, for each megawatt you can save, you can trade it out,” says Visetti.
Efforce’s platform issues users tokens equivalent to the megawatts they’ve helped to save by investing in efficiency projects. Those tokens can then be traded — in the end, ideally, Visetti says, in a similar manner to how carbon credits are traded.
The crypto element
As with a lot of the startups sitting at the intersection of crypto and climate, the importance of the crypto slant isn’t immediately apparent.
To gain access to the platform where people can then invest in energy saving projects, they need to buy WOZX — a governance token.
“Why did we need a token? Because, this is a community-based project,” says Visetti. Holders of WOZX can vote on which energy efficiency projects they think should go up on the platform for people to invest into.
There are currently 5,000 people with access to the platform, and 500 of them are actively backing energy retrofits.