Pittsburgh-based company helps businesses buy and sell energy

Mark DeSantis’ company, kWantera, was founded seven years ago at a bar in the Strip District. “It used to be called the Firehouse, now it’s Bar Marco,” he said. “Our first office was a storage room in an office on Carson Street.”

Before Mobile Fusion (its original name) morphed into kWantera — a business that helps companies make decisions on energy sales and purchases — it helped the U.S. Army make decisions in real-time by interpreting data collected from video, audio, seismic and motion sensors.

After a while, Mr. DeSantis and his co-founder, Abhishek “Abhi” Sharma, realized they didn’t have the money and resources to sustain that business. They became interested in energy when the U.S. Navy offered them a chance to manufacture and use the technology to help with energy and gas consumption.

“We had a period of transition,” Mr. DeSantis said. “Fortunately, we had a little bit of money from the military and we were able to develop this energy product.

”We were able to get a small development grant. That little bit amount of money, about $50,000, was our first revenue. It was kind of scary, initially. We were competing with huge companies with vast resources, but we were confident in our technology.”

Basically, the technology platform that the company developed — called kWantHUB — uses data related to weather and other important factors to tell companies the optimal times to buy and sell energy. That can help their clients lower their purchased energy costs  by 5 to 10 percent.

It also reports back to companies how much money they have saved in energy costs based on kWantera recommendations. The technology can be accessed via an iPhone or a computer.

“Our goal is to make wholesale markets more efficient so all the players can benefit. Consumers will be avoiding unnecessary costs, be able to tune their consumption and purchase to where markets are going," Mr. DeSantis said.

“The way to think of it is [buyers and sellers are] in the market every day and what they’re both looking for is the best price to bid, the best volume and the way to buy it. And we generate all three.”

Mr. DeSantis said he has not found any companies that offer the same services as his does, though Viridity Energy in Philadelphia comes close. “They will give you advice on where energy prices are going. We’re giving customers a bid strategy,” he said.

kWantera doesn't work with residential customers because they pay for electricity on a fixed rate, by the kilowatt hour, according to Mr. DeSantis.

Instead, the company focuses on commercial clients, many of whose names are spelled out by colorful magnets on a dry erase board at the front of the office. Mr. DeSantis was not comfortable releasing the names of particular clients, but kWantera’s website claims the company works with hospitals, schools, retail chains and manufacturers.

The clientele is made up of about a dozen or so companies across the United States. Mr. DeSantis expects to be working with around 65 to 75 facilities by the end of the year.

But it wasn’t always that way. When it started, Mobile Fusion had no clients, Mr. DeSantis said.

"You need a lot of patience and a lot of persistence," he said. "I would say 95 percent persistence, 5 percent inspiration."

kWantera is now stationed inside of an old cigar shop on Smallman Street in the Strip District. The 500-square-foot office is filled with pictures and drawings of famous energy innovators, thick black beanbag chairs, a glowing green orb and an energy grid map held up by a ninja star. 

"We wanted something where we could bring customers in and show them what we do," Mr. DeSantis said.

Anne Schenk, vice president of energy services, said there's a certain vibe in the office, where everyone is happy to be at work. “Nobody ever comes in with an attitude. It’s a great team," she said of the company’s 14 employees.

According to Mr. DeSantis, one of the challenges that kWantera continues to face is making the technology simple and consumable.

"There's a conspiracy to complicate in this industry that makes it hard for people to understand and hold on," he said. “It took several years of experimentation, working with customers, working with different data sources to get it to perform at the level where it is now.”

Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1269.

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