Oliver Mendelsohn, Managing Director at Akustak® talks to UKGBC about what It's like to be an innovator in the built environment

Published on

May 24, 2021





What is your elevator pitch?

We have an umbrella organisation called Mute Group, which encompasses three divisions: Mute Soundproofing®, which specialises in noise control, vibration control and acoustics, across all sectors; Mute Acoustics®, which caters for the music industry, designing and building recording studios, vocal booths, etc; and finally, our most recent venture, Akustak®.

Akustak® is a patented, acoustic modular wall system. Prefabricated and portable, it transforms interior wall construction into a rapid process of assembly; from 15 m2 / per hour – radically streamlining traditional construction methodologies.

The modules are a standardised form, with multiple configurations, including: Aku133, typically installed in front of existing walls, where a significant increase in sound insulation is required; Aku125, typically installed to form new spaces/separations, including those where Building Regulations – Part E compliance is required; and AkuStudio, for spaces/separations where very high levels of sound insulation are required, e.g. interview rooms, recording studios, test chambers, etc.

Designed for materials optimisation and off-site construction, Akustak® minimises waste, during manufacture and installation, whilst its unique demountable form facilitates recovery and reuse at the point of deconstruction.

We’re currently in the process of commissioning an Environmental Product Declaration, through the BRE.

Our target audience is broad; domestic new-build and retrofit, office fit-out, industrial premises and the music industry.

How did you get to where you are today?

Trying to deal with the issue of waste was always at the forefront of my mind. I read a statistic, recently, from Innovate UK, which said that 13% of materials delivered to sites, go directly to landfill, without ever being used. That is pretty staggering. I can see how and why that is the case, from working day-to-day on construction sites. The whole prefabricated approach logically addresses this issue, which was the main inspiration behind the product.

Mute Group has allowed us to present, sell and finance Akustak®. This has been hugely instrumental in how we’ve managed to successfully launch. Crucially, we didn’t need substantial outside funding.

It was a big milestone to decide to proceed with developing Akustak®, in the first place; ventures, such as these, are notoriously time consuming and costly, with no guarantee of success. Beyond that, the first significant installation, for a large dwelling-house, in London’s Notting Hill, was noteworthy. The client wanted minimal disruption to the property, which had been recently refurbished, and, as such, was willing to try something new.

Having the product laboratory tested, to ensure it met Building Regulations – Part E, at AIRO’s UCAS-accredited test centre, and securing a UK patent, were also notable steps forward.

A more recent milestone was a large contract for Engie, at their ExCel District Energy Centre – a power station in East London’s Royal Docks. This was a flagship project for us, that showcased the product’s capacities, within a logistically challenging, industrial environment.

What does innovation mean to you?

It means changing the way we do things, not just for the sake of change, but for good; in particular, improving the way we exist on the planet, whilst minimising our impact on it. Sustainability lies at the heart of this.

What drove our product is seeing a need for more efficient use of materials (and time), through improved building methodologies, many of which are still stuck in the dark ages.

How hungry is the built environment for innovation?

I have noticed that builders, generally, are phobic of change, perhaps, because they’ve been taught to do things in a certain way – ways which they perceive as being sacrosanct. Possibly, there’s also a suspicion of new ideas, stemming from a fear of becoming obsolete, in the workplace. It’s also noteworthy that, with so many period properties within the UK, in constant need of maintenance and repair, for lots of contractors, there’s no requirement to do things differently.

We were trying to expand the team and have more hands to call upon. The client demand is high, but the challenge is getting new contractors to install the system on-site. Trying to convince trades people to adopt new methods has been quite hard.

There are multiple tiers to the construction industry. Sustainable innovation at architect level is certainly more forthcoming, but less so, at grassroots. Greater awareness of the business case for sustainability is needed, at this level. At the moment, I think sustainability is perceived, by many, as having a political agenda. Greater information is needed, as a more pragmatic way of engaging people.

What needs to change to help encourage more innovation?

I think it’s perhaps about encouraging more innovation in big organisations. More people work for companies than run companies. For example, things like workshops, where people can discuss the challenges they have faced on a day-to-day basis and share potential ideas for solutions.

If you work for a corporation, what is the current incentive to be innovative? Very often the people that are innovative, in that context, are seen as disruptive or unruly. When you are part of a business, there needs to be more encouragement for people to think outside the box.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a start-up?

I want Akustak® to be a truly sustainable product, but garnering the pertinent data can be challenging; Environmental Product Declarations, for example, are very expensive, especially for a start-up. Sometimes I feel it’s difficult to quantify exactly how sustainable the product really is and what more can be done to improve it, whilst, at the same time, juggling the practicality of sourcing materials and working to a budget.

What’s your advice for new innovators and start-ups in the built environment?

I think it’s extremely challenging to launch a product from scratch, if you’re not working within that product’s marketplace. Try to launch a product within an arena where you already have experience and traction.

What’s next for your company?

I would say assessing the environmental performance and making it watertight. At the moment Akustak® is unquestionably sustainable in the reduction of waste, but we would also like to push this into all our material choices. We are currently deciding the best approach to improve the sustainability of the product.