Saghar Masoomi follows her problems toward new career paths and business ventures
Spend any amount of time in the world of startups and you’ll be told that the best ideas come from solving your own problems. This was certainly the case for Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship (WICEF) alumna Saghar Massomi. Moving from Iran to Melbourne to study her PhD, Saghar found herself struggling to control the temperature of her home in the contrasting conditions of sub-artic Melbourne winter and ever-soaring summer scorchers. At the same time, her energy bill was through the proverbial roof! It was in facing this conundrum that Saghar came up with the idea of Matin, a smart vent system for precise home temperature control.
Saghar was born and raised in the middle east, Iran specifically. She was a creative, curious child, always wanting to build things, figure out how stuff worked and solve problems. At university, she studied her Bachelor and Masters in Chemical Engineering where she investigated the removal of pollution from air using photocatalytic reactors. Eventually, awareness of the air quality issues in her hometown led Saghar to turn her nous to the problem of climate change.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have some of the highest air pollutant levels on earth and Iran is one the worst scoring. If you are a regular punter living in a major city, you could be breathing in air with 10 times the level of pollutants considered safe by the World Health Organisation. Saghar recounts her memories of this clearly, ‘Air quality is a real problem, especially in the winter,’ she says.
Faced with these problems right on her doorstep, Saghar was propelled to ‘have an impact in the area of climate change and renewable energy.’ She moved to Melbourne to begin a PhD at the University of Melbourne in the area of solar cell optimisation. Following on from her PhD research, Saghar was pursuing an idea she had for a startup, ‘I had the idea of the solar cell performance software. I had the technical basis for the idea, but in terms of the business side of things - customer validation, business planning, pitching - I didn’t have any idea,’ she said. Then she saw a post on LinkedIn for the EnergyLab WICEF program and applied. ‘I was talking to investors about my solar optimisation idea and they all told me I needed a business plan alongside the technical plan so this program came along at the right time,’ Saghar said. ‘I was interested in meeting many women with the same passions and interests.’
In the winter of 2022 Saghar joined 19 other passionate women for the fifth cohort of EnergyLab’s fellowship. Initially, she was working on her idea for solar cell optimisation, but changed direction after conducting a market analysis. ‘I came to the program with the solar idea,’ she said, ‘then through the program I found there were many other companies working in the same area and it looked like it would be very competitive.’ In the Ideation module of the program, Saghar remembers being asked to think about problems she herself faced and if they could be the basis for a successful startup idea. ‘I had this problem in Melbourne where it is very cold in winter and very hot in summer. Temperature control was difficult. So much energy gets wasted, especially in Melbourne’s very old homes.’
By the end of the program, Saghar and her husband and business partner, Hadi, had built the first working prototype of Matin, their smart home temperature control system. It seems Saghar and Hadi make the perfect team. Saghar works on ‘code development and how the code talks to the temperature controller and the smart vent.’ And Hadi, an IoT (internet of things) specialist works on ‘the design of the physical product.’ The pair are currently building an app to enable users to control the temperature from their mobile phone and the founders believe their new Matin technology will ‘reduce the run time of your central AC system by 30%.’
The startup journey is never linear but rather resembles the path of the pinball in a Limited Edition Indianna Jones pinball machine. From solar cells to smart vents, Saghar’s pinball has taken many hits from the flippers; that’s all part of the process. ‘I learnt not to give up, and how to be agile,’ said Saghar. ‘I always thought that being a founder and a leader was going to be tough, but being among those women made me believe that it was possible.’ Her advice to any women curious about the WICEF program: ‘This is the right time to take action, for the earth. If you are passionate you can get a lot out of the WICEF program, you can build out your skills for building a startup!’
Words by Milly Young.