Trailblazing women: in conversation with Lisse Van Acker, Co-Founder, Bright Energy

We are thrilled to continue our  interview series showcasing the incredible accomplishments of women within the Rockstart ecosystem. These founders took their startup from idea to market, breaking barriers every step of the way. Join us as we highlight their stories, challenges, and successes — from their point of view.

While still a student, Lisse Van Acker joined her Co-Founders and siblings, Arne and Sam Van Acker, to found Bright Energy. Launching in 2019, the Belgium-based startup offers a more sustainable solution for powering construction sites. Combining no-nonsense hardware with easy-to-use software, Bright Energy makes it effortless for users to understand and improve their energy consumption on-site.  In 2020, Lisse and her team received a prototyping grant thanks to the Albert Vanhee Fund of the Foundation for Future Generations, and in 2022 they joined the Rockstart Energy portfolio. 

An exciting new voice in the Energy sector, meet Lisse Van Acker:

What first got you into entrepreneurship?

In my last year at university, I was ready to enter the corporate world of mergers & acquisitions and had already secured a position at a law firm upon graduating. Even if I had never considered entrepreneurship for myself, it was a more obvious path for my brothers. So, when the university organized a new program called ‘the legal techathon’ (where our team had to present a business case about a technical solution for a legal problem), I convinced them to participate all together. This was the first time I was introduced to entrepreneurship and got an opportunity to work with my brothers, now co-founders.  It’s safe to say that I really enjoyed the challenge of turning my non-technical background into valuable knowledge for a tech startup,  so I joined my brothers again when they signed up for the pre-accelerator program at the University with the initial concept of Bright Energy. 

Was it harder for you as a female founder? If so, why do you think that is the case?

I am not sure whether the fact that I am female is directly linked to it, but I did struggle in the beginning to find my role in the company. As the initial phase required a lot of brainstorming about the technical architecture/features of the products, I had difficulties finding ways to be (or mostly feel) valuable to the company. It was only after multiple months, when entering the stage of pilot projects, that my legal background and interest in finance became truly relevant and I found my role as a co-founder. 

As we still have a large gender gap in high-tech studies, women will often have to enter the entrepreneurship scene from a different background. Even though I now strongly believe in the importance and power of combining technical and non-technical knowledge from the early stage onwards, I do think that this might pose an additional challenge or at least makes a tech startup seem like a less accessible career option. 

In the US, the funding for female founders (1.9% in 2022 vs. 2.4% in 2021) went down last year. The same decline is apparent in Europe, from 3% to 1% for female teams. What do you think needs to change?

Entrepreneurship as a career path, especially in tech, often doesn’t cross the mind of young women or, if it does, doesn’t seem very accessible. I believe that initiatives from schools or universities, as I experienced, to introduce women from different backgrounds to entrepreneurship can have an important impact, just as role models who speak openly about their experience (both on what to expect from the job as well as the challenge of balancing it with a desire to have children). In my opinion, there is still this very present stigma of entrepreneurship for a young woman being this uphill battle of juggling it all, but with better insight upfront on what to expect and how it has been done before, more women might dare to create the space to explore this challenging, but very rewarding professional journey. 

Tell us more about your company. How did you and your co-founder come up with the idea?

With Bright Energy, we help to electrify construction by replacing the diesel generator on site with a sustainable and smart battery unit. We believe that a true shift will only occur when the alternative is not just sustainable, but simply better. That is why we focus on smart management of the consumption on site to lower the energy bills and offer our customers a detailed monitoring platform for insight into and control over the energy on-site.  

The idea comes from my oldest brother. He is very passionate about new technologies and energy efficiency and convinced our parents to integrate a home battery, solar panels, heat pump, etc into our family home. When realizing that expensive hardware alone wouldn’t do the trick, he started to install monitoring devices and programmed them to optimize the installations with our consumption and halved our energy bills two years in a row. From there, the idea was born to smartly control battery technology to turn the ecological solution into a worthwhile investment. 

Bright Energy was founded in 2019. How have your objectives and goals changed since then?

We actually started with the idea to be a software company and simply buy the necessary hardware on the market. It was only after not being satisfied with what the market had to offer that we developed our own battery unit. Getting into the development, prototyping, and production of our own hardware, combined with the recent developments in the market – speeding up the transition towards renewable energy –, has definitely changed our objectives and goals and made us dare to dream even bigger. 

What is your long-term vision for Bright Energy?

As founders, we consider Bright Energy as our life mission and want to build a long-lasting organization with a meaningful contribution to the energy transition in the upcoming decades. Our ambitions are to operate at a European scale and to enter into different markets beyond construction. We still have a long  way to go, but are bursting with new ideas for the next steps and are looking forward to seeing where this will all lead to. 

What was/is your experience with Rockstart? How did its ecosystem support you along the way?

We had already done some accelerator programs before, but were pleasantly surprised by the approach and value of the Rockstart program. They truly took the time to build a personal relationship where trust and transparency have led to the feeling of being on the same team, putting our heads together for the benefit of the company. The speakers during the sessions and mentors were very high quality as well, leaving us with a lot of new insights and food for thought. 

What are your plans for international expansion? Which markets are most important for Bright Energy and why?

Our long-term ambitions are to expand fully into Europe, but in the short-term, we are mainly looking into the Netherlands as the first expansion because the need for a solution there is very high due to the local grid congestion and nitrogen crisis. 

In your opinion, what is the future of Energy? What are your predictions for Energy in the next 5-10 years?

What  I can say is that I am very excited to see what will happen in the next 5-10 years. We are at this tipping point of the rollout of renewable technologies at a large scale and with the energy crisis of the past year, everything just started to move at an accelerated pace. Even with our customers, we have noticed the change within three years: where the construction companies barely believed at the start that battery units would work on their sites, they are now all convinced that the shift will happen and they are all looking for the best solution/partner to guide them through this electrification.

What advice would you give to women founders looking to scale their startups and raise their first rounds?

My advice for all founders, but maybe particularly for female founders because of the dominantly male scene, is to partner with equally committed co-founders. The path of entrepreneurship can be very exciting and rewarding, but it is definitely not the easy road. Being able to share the experience just makes it that much easier to pull through (and have fun while you’re at it). Particularly when trying to scale or raise funds, the pressure on the company rises to a new level. Having co-founders who you can fully trust to take some responsibilities off your plate has been fundamental in my experience. 

Stay tuned for more insights and interviews from trailblazing women within the startup world.