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We sit down with Vicky Featherston, Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship alumna, and Co-Founder of HAL Systems

Vicky Featherston is the co-founder of HAL Systems – a seed-stage cleantech startup working on energy-efficient climate control for commercial buildings.

Prior to HAL, Vicky and her husband Julian have run their own consultancy Two Feathers for over 15 years - where they provide 3D digital documentation for construction in commercial buildings and manage exhibition design projects for cultural institutions. Their clients have included organisations such as Kane Constructions, Arts Centre Melbourne, State Library of Victoria, and the University of Melbourne.

Tell us about yourself, who is Vicky Featherston

I’m from Melbourne - born and bred. My parents came to Australia in the late 70s as refugees from the Vietnam War, so I have Chinese and Vietnamese heritage. My husband Julian (also co-founder of HAL Systems) and I have 2 rambunctious kids – Elka (9yo) and Otto (6yo).

I come from the design industry, which makes me a bit unusual for a cleantech founder. So when we first founded HAL, I was eager to learn as much as I could about the building energy efficiency sector. I wanted to understand how it worked, what the motivations were, and what was preventing innovation from occurring. So it’s been an exciting learning curve.

I’ve also discovered there are many parallels between design and entrepreneurship. Both require lateral thinking and questioning of the status quo, but still need to retain rigour and purpose.

Tell us about your startup, HAL Systems?

Our product HAL is predictive climate control for the commercial property market. HAL uses weather forecast data to make predictions about how a building will behave. It takes active control of a building’s HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system to make energy savings while keeping occupants comfortable.

We’ve built a working prototype that has been running in our home for a few years now and has collected valuable data for us to analyse. We’re excited about HAL’s next phase and have been getting great feedback from the market and industry experts.

How did the idea for HAL Systems come about?

A few years ago, we embarked on a major renovation project to our home [Vicky’s home is the iconic Featherston House designed by Robin Boyd], which provided us with a terrific opportunity to do something bold in the field of sustainable design. We wanted our building’s HVAC equipment to respond predictively to forecast weather conditions in real time. We assumed this type of intelligent control was out there, yet we couldn’t find it. So we built it ourselves and called it HAL.

We showed HAL to building services experts, who gave us the validation that we had something unique and valuable. That’s when we decided to work on commercialising HAL and founded HAL Systems. We’re thrilled about the prospect of replicating our technology in other buildings and helping improve energy efficiency.

Why did you apply to take part in the Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship?

WICEF is one of the few programs, certainly the only one in Australia, that focuses on women working on climate-tech ventures. So when I came across the program, I knew I had to join up! I wanted to connect with other women like myself and absorb as much as I could. The generosity and encouragement that I found from the women in the fellowship has truly bowled me over!

How has the fellowship helped you?

Through WICEF, I’ve met some incredible women with amazing credentials and experience. What I discovered is that despite their success, they can still have doubts and insecurities at times. This helped me to realise that I’m not the only one.

It’s unfortunate that we, as women, can sometimes underestimate ourselves so much. So I’ve learnt to back myself more and can see how my contribution is worthwhile.

What are you currently focused on at HAL Systems? And where can we find out more?

We recently opened our seed funding round. The seed funding will be used to develop and deploy the commercial version of HAL in early adopter buildings. We’ve been fortunate to have supportive people who’ve expressed that they can help provide pilot buildings for those early installations.

We also recently had a piece published in Design Files that featured our house and about how HAL was born out of our own design project.

If you’d like to get in touch and find out more about HAL, you can reach me by email.

What’s your advice for women who are starting their journey as an entrepreneur?

Be persistent. Building a startup can be an iterative process of continual refinement. Sometimes you have to circle back, in order to move forward.

Have conviction behind what you’re doing, but be open to feedback. And know that it’s perfectly natural to have doubts at times. The startup journey can be an emotional rollercoaster, but definitely a worthwhile one!

If you are interested in joining EnergyLab's Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship, be sure to fill out an expression of interest form. If you have any questions, email Milly.

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