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In Good Company: Smarter, greener, better

Powered by Concordia alumni, BrainBox AI improves the efficiency of heating and cooling systems
July 5, 2021
By Suzanne Bowness

Named one of Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2020, BrainBox AI’s technology is already being used in commercial office buildings, shopping malls and mid-size retailers around the world.

Step inside an air-conditioned building on a hot summer day and the drop in temperature can be drastic.

Regulation is key, and there’s a Montreal-based startup on the case: BrainBox AI is putting the power of artificial intelligence to use in developing smart controls for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

BrainBox AI piggybacks its software on top of existing building-management systems to increase efficiency and cut costs. Using internal and external information such as weather, occupancy and historical and energy data, the software enables the HVAC system to be more energy-efficient.

Named one of Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2020, BrainBox AI’s technology is already being used in commercial office buildings, shopping malls and mid-size retailers around the world. The company has also become a magnet for Concordia grads whose expertise in areas such as management, marketing and software development is helping drive the company forward.

Meet some of the alumni at the edge of smart technology.

Rebecca Handfield, BComm 14: Employee No. 9

Rebecca Handfield

Rebecca Handfield’s title at BrainBox AI is vice-president, Marketing and Public Relations, but she also holds another impressive title at the company: employee number 9.

Handfield started helping the BrainBox AI team before the startup even had a name. She jumped at the opportunity to build the brand from scratch, handling all external communications, from marketing and public relations to events and content creation.

“BrainBox was really young at that time; it was basically being born within RealTerm Energy, its sister company,” says Handfield. “I wanted to get involved and help develop the brand, and eventually BrainBox AI took on a life of its own.”

Handfield credits Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education with kickstarting her career. Early communications and marketing roles at Pratt & Whitney, MédiaMed Technologies and Rinaldi Communications provided a start and inspired her to specialize more in technology. She then became marketing manager at Logibec, a health-care technology organization, while pursuing a master’s degree in management part-time at Harvard University.

Handfield cares about bringing attention to the climate crisis. “Our solutions can dramatically change the course of climate change, and that’s a huge motivating factor,” she says. She is also drawn to the creativity of marketing in general. “It’s the perfect balance of the left and right side of your brain. There’s a component of analysis, strategy and planning, which is linear and logical. But then you also have the other side, creative and artistic.

“For me, having the opportunity to work in both is really interesting.”

Saeid Vosoughi, MASc 19: The AI Wizard

Saeid Vosoughi

Saeid Vosoughi is proud to be able to apply the knowledge gained during his Master of Applied Science degree at Concordia to his everyday work. When he joined BrainBox AI in December 2018, his role focused on the software development required for AI, working with databases and building the core technology.

Now, as manager, AI architect, Vosoughi oversees the ecosystem team focused on providing the infrastructure that integrates BrainBox AI’s solution into HVAC systems. The process includes software design, data engineering, hardware preparation and other elements that allow buildings to adopt the new technology.

Hired before he had even completed his thesis, Vosoughi learned about BrainBox AI from an existing employee and appreciated being able to do a lot of hands-on work right away.

“In new companies, like BrainBox AI, you get the opportunity to do a lot of work at the core, even if you’re not that experienced. It was a great way to learn.” He also likes that the company’s technology helps solve a very tangible, real-world issue. Vosoughi says working at BrainBox AI has led him to realize the HVAC sector has historically had a lot of inertia. He finds it exciting to be leading change in an industry with so much potential for improvement.

At Concordia, Vosoughi completed his thesis under the supervision of Maria Amer, professor of electrical and computer engineering, looking at 3D reconstructions of human poses from 2D images using AI. Courses that covered topics such as digital signal processing piqued Vosoughi’s interest as they provided the mathematical basis needed for his studies, and which he now uses in his current role. As a recent grad, Vosoughi advises students to remain focused and broaden their skill set as much as possible.

“Universities are great places. Go wild and learn whatever you can — you’ll use it for the rest of your life.”

Catherine Stephanou, BA 92: The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of legal

Catherine Stephanou

Hired in October 2020 as BrainBox AI’s vice-president, Legal and Corporate Counsel, Catherine Stephanou has a huge task ahead: building a legal team from the ground up to keep pace with the fast-growing startup.

As the firm’s first lawyer, Stephanou calls herself its legal “Swiss Army knife,” handling everything from contracts to employment law. She balances her daily legal work with planning to create processes that will take the company to scale. “I have to look at the wider business impacts of what I’m doing,” she says. “For example, a time-sensitive deal affects revenue, but I also have to keep in mind things like marketing or employment structure. I consider myself part of every team in the company.”

A highlight of Stephanou’s Concordia student days was being a part of the School of Community and Public Affairs, where she took most of her courses with the same group of 20 or so students. “We were able to do a lot of research projects together. It made the university experience very special,” she recalls. Stephanou also got involved beyond the classroom, including at the Women’s Centre of Montreal, on the debate team and in the Harvard Model UN competition.

After completing the civil law program at the University of Ottawa, Stephanou spent the first decade of her career at a legal firm before going into private practice. For part of that time, she lived in Europe, eventually returning to Montreal where she joined Automobile en Direct as in-house legal counsel before moving to BrainBox AI. Stephanou now says her “heart is full” at BrainBox AI. “It’s different every day. I love the idea that I have to think outside the box and find practical solutions to the issues and challenges faced by a startup that is scaling globally at such a fast pace,” she says. 

“That’s challenging for me, and I love it. It’s changing who I am as a person, and as a professional.”

Frank Sullivan, BA 94: The next chapter

Frank Sullivan

Frank Sullivan joined BrainBox AI in the middle of the pandemic, but the move was far from risky, given his belief in the company’s mission. Already on BrainBox AI’s board and contributing as a consultant, Sullivan says the company’s environmental dedication, strong team and dynamic, youthful workforce were too good to stay on only part-time. 

“I decided I wanted a full-time role contributing to the growth of this exciting business,” says Sullivan. His role as chief business development officer involves identifying and working with the company’s strategic partners, from equipment manufacturers to partners who will position BrainBox AI’s solutions across the globe.

Although he is new to the environmental niche, technology has been a longtime focus of Sullivan’s. After graduating from Concordia, he joined Cisco Systems’ telecommunications equipment manufacturer, where he spent 18 years moving from account manager to regional vice-president of sales. He also worked at Bell Business Markets, and as vice-president of sales and country manager for Juniper Networks.

Sullivan has fond memories of his alma mater, notably spending his second year studying abroad at the Université canadienne en France, and meeting his now-wife while participating in the Harvard Model UN. “We represented Paraguay, and successfully debated nuclear non-proliferation,” Sullivan recalls. As he settles into his role at BrainBox AI, Sullivan is happy to be based in Montreal. 

“The diversity, strength and calibre of talent that is graduating from the Montreal community — including from Concordia — really speaks to our future,” he says. “There’s no better time to do business from Montreal. This is what I want to do for the next chapter of my life.”

Meet the next generation of BrainBox AI.

In Good Company is a series on inspiring grads who work for corporations and non-profits that hire a large number of Concordia alumni. To be featured, please contact us at or @ConcordiaAlumni on social media. 

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