Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 11 of Green Add Venture with Ahmed Detta.
Listen to the episode available here.
[0:02] Jake: Have you ever wondered what happens when entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, and venture capital collide? If so, you’re like me, and you’re in the right place. Welcome to the Green Addventure. On the show, you’ll learn from the critical insights of both founders and investors alike, not random advice or generic guides, but real stories born out of their experience with genuine climate action. We aspire to create a network of people collaborating to build the green economy, accelerating us towards this critical target of net zero emissions. I’m your host and founder of the show Jake Woodhouse. For all the notes, links and episodes, please visit www.greenaddventure.com, take care when typing that in, addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode. On the show today we speak with Ahmed Detta, founder of Advanced Sustainable Development, or ASD as its otherwise known. ASD is transforming the recycling industry worldwide with an aim to improve how we recycle plastics, creating a transparent and sustainable circular economy. Listen to Ahmed’s story, and enjoy an honest appraisal of early failure. Learn how deep your research must be to uncover genuine long-term commercial prospects and how personal psychology plays a role in becoming an entrepreneur. Ahmed’s vision of the future of recycling is a breath of fresh air. Enjoy guys. Hi Ahmed, welcome to the show.
[1:34] Ahmed: Thank you for having me.
[1:35] Jake: No problem at all. To start today, please can you give us a snapshot summary of yourself and your current role?
[1:41] Ahmed: Sure, so I’m the founder and CEO of Advanced Sustainable Developments And we are a PET recycling facility. But focusing on looking at consumer behavior will change to unite every stakeholder in the recycling journey. What we’re finding is that at the moment, the recycling industry is broken out into different components and no one’s fully united and nobody has a full understanding so what businesses is focused on is, A, providing a solution to plastics recycling, and predominantly PET recycling, which is one we interact with, mostly in our day to day, which is your food packaging material and liquid handling material or your water bottles. So, we’re looking at providing a complete solution with that, but also ensuring that that material actually gets recycled. And we’ve got two-pronged approach with looking at consumer behavior and behavioral change as well as actually having the processing facility to actually deliver on those commitments.
[2:39] Jake: Okay. Before you became founder of this business Ahmed, can we click rewind slightly and look a little bit at the journey that you’ve been on to get to this point, we’ll get into the details of the company itself. So, I noticed on your LinkedIn, you spend some time doing a sustainable business degree, I assume that was with the CISL? You know what’s telling you through university into this point?
[3:02] Ahmed: So, I did my first degree in marketing at Lancaster and I actually didn’t get the grade I needed to get which let me at 21 with a two to face the world and I mean, all the graduate programs, declined me, at all the offers conditional on two, one or above. And I basically, I would sit there thinking, I’m really disappointed about not being able to enter the corporate world. So, I ended up starting my career in sales, in IT sales selling Cisco Systems and whilst, financially I was ahead of the curve all of my friends. I bought my first house at 24, which is a big, you know, I look at that speaks for you to my friends who got into the graduate programs, the two, one and I was financially successful, but I felt empty. And I was like, well, so I earned this money, I don’t feel good about it. And also, my parents have their own small, they did a lot of community work and have always had, my parents have cooked food for less privileged in our local community. So, I’ve always had that, give back, mindset. And that was a real, I was in rural dichotomy was on one side, I was enjoying, you know, being a highflyer, that same side of life, there’s people really suffering, where do I get balance?
[4:13] Ahmed: So, it was the company I was working for, they took several sales incentives to Dubai, and I fell in love with the place. And as I really want to move out here, and it was there where I headhunted to set up a mobile phone recycling company. And that’s where the aha moment came for me that actually, I can feel good about profitability and that’s where my career started in recycling. So, I started recycling mobile phones, taking my technology to sell the experience, but also fulfilling that need to give back. So, what we were looking at doing is we did some really great charity campaign so we work with the charity operation Smile, where you recycle a phone that will give a child a smile for life. So, each blackberry that we recycle, we had a deal with blackberry at the time that that phone would pay for the clef pallet operations or either, taking the hundred 50 pounds back, you donate that directly to your operation Smile, they would give a clap operation for a child. So that was really, really empowering that this use technology wasn’t being thrown into landfill. It wasn’t caused any further damage yet is going to impact somebody who really needs it. And the person who’s facilitating that is UI.
[5:22] Ahmed: So, that was where my career started. And it was joined, as that evolved, I start looking at IT recycling and then everyone’s aware about my plastic. What about my paper? And it was at that point where I was getting further and further involved in the pressures of sustainability and understanding what sustainability is, it’s not just environmental, it’s also political, economic, its technological and looking at how do you come up with a solution and what is the solution and how do I unite all of these people, you know, average Joe, through to, you know, blue sky think, how is this actually going to achieve a united goal? So, I decided to come back and that’s why I started my Cambridge. And I started doing my research and some of the high level information that I realized was two of the most Defacto materials in our day to day lives that won’t change is rubber for tires, you can tell the most advanced cars like Tesla still have the same rubber tire pushing 40 yesterday. And that’s not, I can’t see that changing. And a lot of studies have said that’s not going to be changing in the same way, PT polythene triple eight will be the de facto material for food packaging and food handling, whilst, bio materials are out there, you’ve got where they’re producing, how they’re producing, still got the carbon impact. But also, most importantly, is I saw that price point as well as going back to who’s the consumer, not everybody can demographically afford to buy organic or buy biodegradable and that’s a small fraction of a conscious society, the rest of us are unconscious.
[6:52] Ahmed: So, I sat there with all these issues and how do I get to a point where this is going to happen, or when I looked at PT as I will, this is where while we’re not going to get away from it, we can change our relationship with it. And by changing our relationship with it, bringing in the right psychology, we can actually make a change. And that’s where the idea was founded to look at doing a PET recycling facility where I was able to bring in every aspect of components of circular economy and putting a solution. So, and I was out in Dubai, I did the feasibility for the first project in Abu Dhabi. And it was your and then I realized actually on a macro level that the UK would just as bad. But when I looked at the industry, the industry’s got one mindset, you’ve got sustainability having one or different agenda. And what you’ve got in the middle is the actual uses of materials and products and everything else.
[7:49] Ahmed: So, quite frankly, quite confused. So, I wanted to get away because I was equally confused. So, what I want to do is put together a solution that provided a clear step by step journey, on the entire product process, but then showing how environment impact, your demographic and everything else can contribute. And as these micro changes in behavior that will create a macro change ultimately for environment. It was my own personal disconnection with capitalism that inspired me to actually look at sustainability a lot further. But also look at sustainability, where I’m not tree hugger, I’m not making big statements and claims, I’m actually, it’s tangible sustainability where you can, as an individual, can see the difference that you’re making. And that’s true sustainability for me.
[8:38] Jake: Wow, what a brilliant opening answer to that question in so many areas to touch on that I think are awesome. In particular, the first moment leaving University know, what I was aiming for, and that’s a failure and you get past that. And I find several spot speaking to the decision making motivation, and so many things that you touched on, I’d love to speak through in more detail, if we had more time. But in particular, I love what you’re trying to do in terms of the sustainability picture, we know things about that but we still buy the cheapest thing. It’s just human nature. And therefore, when trying to build businesses that are solving sustainability issues, often it comes back to the price, you cannot compete unless it is the same price as a fossil fuel based, or status quo type product. And I think that’s a fascinating thought process to go through. To move to the next step, I really want to understand that the problem is you’re specifically trying to solve with your current business so, amazing experiences going through this point and lots of areas that you’re putting together being confused, I’m confused. Should you choose a second hand car or a brand new Tesla, which has more impact? I don’t actually know the answer to that. Yeah, can you perhaps talk us a little bit through then the specific problem you came across that you’re trying to solve?
[9:56] Ahmed: So, yes, that specific problem is around plastics recycling and actually having, I could not find a real solution for a problem. We’ve got so much negative press around plastics in the ocean, plastic being sent out to Malaysia, and the far east. And what I couldn’t see was a clear journey of what actually happens to a bottle or a material that we utilize on a daily basis. And by regards to technology recycling was, it was so schizophrenia, you know, you look at your iPhone, you have the iPhone5, which is quite slim, and small and petite and the iPhone6 came out was, you know, obese big brother, and therefore the different technology component, different amount of material being used, how would you then recycle that? So, the problem I want to resolve was, A, looking at solution that solved a problem that’s face on a day to day basis, which is plastic, but also being able to look at a solution that will be implemented for the long term and not just being a fad, not just a phase, that was the problem I had with electronics recycling was, I never knew what I was going to recycle. So, therefore, it wouldn’t always be commercially viable or we would have to then work with a multiple set of partners to try and recycle something and then there was no confidence that it actually fully got recycled.
[11:18] Ahmed: So, what I wanted to do was address a waste problem where there was a complete closed loop process, and when I looked at sustainability, sustainability, for me is also about longevity, what’s going to be around for the long term, because we have to preserve our environment, and our systems for future generations. And during my studies, I realized that rubber for tires and PET is going to be around for the long term, I said I would focus on the specific material, because it’s not going to change, the price points will always mean that will be used but also everybody’s familiar with it. And people carry water bottles, people buy microwave meals, people buy your vegetables and plastic wrapping. So therefore, there’s that resonation with the actual problem. And it was these different things that as a combination of problems that I was looking to resolve. But ultimately, what I wanted to do is have a solution that is going to be there for the next 15 to 20 years, not just ride the wave, and then say, okay, we’re done now. And then–
[12:16] Jake: So exciting, I guess as an entrepreneur is when you know that marketing is going to be in existence 10, 15 years from now and you’ve got a fair amount of runway there to actually come up with a solution that does work and is potentially viable.
[12:29] Ahmed: Absolutely and also, when I looked at PET, PET resonates, or it works with our basic human needs of food and water, and we populations increasing, you know, we’re going to be 8 billion people by 2050, there will always be that need. So, therefore, having that long term solution that A, is in line with the macro system of economics was crucial but it was the micro economics, that all would be united together, that would actually make that change. And it was, when I was looking at that these were the problems, I saw several problems and saw several solutions, and the one that was most legitimate was focusing on one material to begin with. And then ultimately, we look at the seven different types of plastic, we look at those forms. But right now it was looking at one solution to one specific problem, creating the momentum creating that change, which can then ultimately filter out other forms.
[13:25] Jake: And that leads nicely on to talk about the solution, perhaps you could spend a little bit about the product?
[13:30] Ahmed: Sure, so the product we’re bringing is a recycled polymer, which polymers are small plastic balls, which are then we are creating what we call food grade standard polymers or pallets. And these can be directly used back into making a bottle or food packaging material. So, it has minimal chemical impact, it’s as pure as making product from oil. So, A, manufacturers are very happy about that, because they’re not relying on fossil fuels to create the plastic bottle. But also they’re getting the material that meets the hygiene standards to be able to handle food packaging. So, that’s the end product that we are creating and we are in discussion with several major manufacturers who want to actually buy that for them. Because what they’ve done is they’ve committed to the public, that their bottles and their food packaging will be from recycled sources. So, we will contributing to their sustainability mission as well.
[14:24] Jake: And so, just for me to understand from very simplistic perspective, outside there is a billion foot of plastic bottles, what happens to them in order to become one?
[14:34] Ahmed: Sure, so typically what happens, you’re a user, you dispose of your bottle in a waste bin, that will, should be collected by waste management company, waste management company will separate that and then we will collect that from waste management organization. Once it hits our facility, it goes through a washing line. So, your bottle will get stripped of its label, its glue its cap, and that will be separated. And there’s a chemical process where all the PET, plastic material sink and all the remaining material floating on the washing line. Once that gets to the next stage, it gets washed, it gets grinded, and you end up with these flakes. Those flakes can be traditionally used for making clingfilm or plastic bags. But we’re bypassing that because we want to be responsible plastic products back out in the market. And then that goes into next Trudeau, next, Trudeau then heats that increase the end pallet, the end pallet is then purchased by injection molding firms that are contracted with the manufacturers. And it gets put into a pre-form, which makes a bottle again, and they come back out in the system.
[15:33] Jake: Awesome. And just take a step back to when you were working over in the Middle East and some of the first steps you took into mobile phone consulting, this is a solution you’ve come up with after this journey of a bit of re-education and clearly a huge amount of market research. And that leads me nicely to talk about, every entrepreneur has to make a mistake, you research the market, at some point you go right, let’s get in. What was that leap of faith moment, in terms of like, oh my God, right, I’m going to risk my career, my money.
[16:03] Ahmed: So, the leap of faith moment was when I came across the idea of plastic recycling, and did the research and realize where it historically failed and where industry is now and why it’s unlikely to fail. When I took it to my boss, and he was like, you know, he almost did that Little Britain and says, no, type C, and I was like, oh my gosh, you know, why are you so myopic to the opportunity? It was at that point where I just thought, you know, I’ve got to do this, I have to do this. So, I decided that I then quit. And then I actually had a job offer to move back to a startup in a completely different industry in Amsterdam, which is a city I love. But then I decided to go out to Thailand for six weeks and do a Muay Thai boxing course and it was there where I met an executive coach who does Emotional Freedom Technique, which is EFT tapping, which basically changes the neurological path to your brain. And I was almost kind of frozen in my thinking that, do I want to setup this business myself? I’ve quit my job, I’ve got that job offer to go to or do I want to start this myself?
[17:06] Ahmed: But what was there was the fear, and the fear and insecurity and oh, God, will they take me seriously? And have you ever done this before, etc., etc., you know? But then at the same time, I’ve got the passion, I’ve got the motivation, I’ve got the DNA makeup, you know, for sustainability. This all makes sense. So, yeah, my mind was in loggerhead again but my heart was like, I’ve got to do this. So, I use the six weeks of just executive coaching to eliminate my fears, my anxieties, and really, you know, my training my physique. And, you know, my coach said, you know, your body is the vessel that carries your emotions, get that right, and you will soar through your journey, and it was the six weeks of really delving into every fear, insecurity, doubt, and just realizing that it’s not reality. That’s not my reality, and everybody psychologically is the same. We have a number of fears and doubts and insecurities but 99.99 times they will never come true. And then it was that, that coaching period where I realized that, you know, this is also a chemical process, this is cortisol going to my brain, if I know how to reduce that cortisol, I can think clearly, when I can think clearly, I know I can do things.
[18:16] Ahmed: And it was that change in my whole, it was shifting my decision making from my head to my heart. And a lot of people were, you’re mad. But I said that one day without breath, you can’t live. And that’s the truth of your reality. And I now went and took a much more of a heart centered approach to my work, which gave me the consistency and stability and most important, the tenacity to go through investor meetings. I went through three years of due diligence with a triple A rated investor who interrogated everything. We sailed through it, because my heart was like, this is what you want to do, you stay focused, whereas my head was in all directions at the fairground. Yeah, this was solid. So, that was the journey I took, using executive coaching to eliminate all of this–
[19:03] Jake: Noise? I love the word you use there, the fairground. I have to admit, I find myself often in the fairgrounds, the blue sky thinking idea this, idea that or we can do that. And you just have to focus on something.
[19:13] Ahmed: Absolutely, it was that focus. And that was also linked back to the actual practical aspects. There was so many different technologies out there, you know, so much blue sky approaches, but what’s actually going to make a difference? What is someone who has no sustainability experience, who’s not privileged to have education, or anything else understand these factors? And for me, it was focused, simplicity, and actual tangibility was kind of my core values.
[19:42] Jake: And Ahmed, taking those, let’s say high powered thought process, you’ve got an idea, take the leap of faith, at some point, you’re going to speak to investors to actually fund this process, but the process of gaining some early traction, to actually convert vision into traction, talk a little bit about that and then we’re going to talk about that.
[20:01] Ahmed: Sure, so the early stages was really, it was all about mapping, taking everything out my head, and Litmus testing with strangers, friends, or somebody in my network, who I can say, what do you think to this idea? And it was the feedback that I got, which helped me then fine tune the proposition ready for investors. So, I almost did mock testing, mock presentations, I gave documents for people to review, to scrutinize, very, very grateful for my friends, and even the executive coaches that I work with that we will review documents, it was really a off record, it was like rehearse on the same as I guess I would say, you know, a singer or actor, they did their, practice their lines, they practice their script, and then they went out on stage but before that’s where they do everything else in the same way, you know, misspell something, or, you know, I got a logo wrong, or you know, the PowerPoint presentation look like, you know, look stupid, or the colors made it look really, you know, unnecessary. There’s all these different tests things that I did, most importantly, was taking your that my head and putting on paper and writing it out.
[21:05] Ahmed: And that for me was that transference of energy. So, they gave me more headspace. And then once I had the headspace, I was unable to then say to my friend, can you, what do you think this presentation, you know, idea, you are a pharmacist, does this make sense? And yes or no? If they said yes, great, then make it a bit more sophisticated? Because I’d be talking to more sophisticated audience. But ultimately, it was, let me do, can anybody understand this? And if they can’t, I’m talking at the wrong level.
[21:36] Jake: I couldn’t agree more in terms of that early stage feedback and how cool it is. You’re on stage, you’re in front of an investor, I understand, you will see trying to help raise some funds. What advice would you give to any listeners about the process of being a founder and going out and to speak to the investment market and how do you find the process?
[21:53[ Ahmed: So, I think the first thing as an investor is cut out time thief’s and energy vampires at your network. I’ve cut out some close friends who, obviously for remain nameless, but I thought they were the right type of friends for my bigger growth, but it wasn’t. So, it was quite a tough decision to say, who are my real friends, who is my real network, because you’re going to have, I said, the fairground, you’ll have peaks and troughs, and who’s going to be there with you in the good times and who’s going to be there with the bad times. So, the first thing, advice I’d give to entrepreneurs is really be ruthless in who you surround yourself with, with the right people, you can learn from, people who will lift you when you’re down, and people who will be consistent no matter what part of the journey you’re at. So that’s the first thing I would say, in terms of your own personal energy.
[22:42] Ahmed: Because that’s, I think essential to become an entrepreneur, is having the energy, which will give you the drive and tenacity. In terms of then going out for investment, I would first to say keep it simple. See, Seedtribe is fantastic, as they have an array of different investors across the world. So, therefore having a proposition that is crystal clear, and simple. And I would say that also, be extremely transparent at what stage you’re at in the business. Everybody loves ambition, but ambition without a realistic and risk mitigated plan, no investor will take it seriously. They love the drive and ambition but if you can’t deliver on that, it’s a waste of time. So, I say to every entrepreneur, get involved with a project manager or a risk analyst, their negativity will bring you to success and positivity.
[23:34] Jake: Temporal diagram. Your personal passion, it shines through Ahmed, it’s very clear why you’re doing what you’re doing. I’d love to understand a bit more about the actual potential impact. So, as we touched on already, rubber is going to be on a car because combustion engine or electric, that’s not even going into the conversation about whether or not we should be working on ocean consciousness is my batteries. But a conversation for another day. The process of helping to create these appointments mentioned, what kind of accommodations impact would this have on our supply chain? How do you measure it in terms of metrics, and what are you looking at as an entrepreneur?
[24:10] Ahmed: Sure. So, in essence, one ton of plastic waste, more PET waste emits over four tons of carbon dioxide. So, for each ton that we recycle, we reduce the carbon impact by four times, those are very high-level metric. The other impacts are obviously the reduction on the reliance on fossil fuel. So, therefore, we’re not extracting, we’re not fracking, we’re not damaging the earth to get this to make this material. But by strategically locating our facilities as well and creating micro circular economies across certain parts of the country and globally, what you’ve got is a reduction of carbon emissions with transport as well. So, a local manufacturer, we’re selling locally to locally based organizers. So, for example, facility in the Northwest, we’re ideally trying to sell to businesses base, so the truck journey is minimal, as opposed to sending it from Manchester to South end.
[25:12] Ahmed: So, therefore, we’ve looked at impact on a number of things. And also, when we’ve looked at impact will sign of the building, we’ve gone from modular build, which has a PVC roof, which does not require lighting in the day. So, therefore, the carbon impact of that building, and the construction is reduced, I mean, PVC roof, it’s as strong as the O2 arena, you don’t realize that semi-permanent construction. And that’s one of the decisions we’ve made to look at the overall impact of our facility and looking at the carbon reduction side as many different ways as possible, that realistic and realistically can be achieved outside of the business impact of the facility in producing that product. We’ve also looked at impact and how consumers can make an impact and their contribution to that. So, if you want to expand upon that in a bit more detail.
[26:07] Jake: So, I love meeting clients that truly have sustainability at the center of everything. Because you wouldn’t even thought about, frankly, just long as it was coming at a price point with the product. Clearly when you have the purpose of central, it actually filters down into the other part. So, the next round is once, this is the first time you try this on sustainability spring round, essentially three questions, right, let me just to answer straight up off the top of your head. What is the coolest piece of clean tech you’ve recently used?
[26:37] Ahmed: Coolest piece of clean tech, it’s a joke thought, mine would be an E-scooter recently went to Paris. So, picking up scooters on your own way around the town instead of using forms of transportation. I have the, one of the cool things is the, it’s the hydrogen water and filters. So, creating, rather than have bottled water or any other form of water in the Middle East, they’ve got these hydrogen containers that use the mute in the air and they get the drinking water from the office. S,o bringing the environment in and getting away from plastic use. Very cool, tangible.
[27:15] Jake: The high-tech technology space is really removing as well in protecting the shipping space where we’ll take seawater, or actually create on demand hydrogen pharmaceuticals and the emissions are particularly cool. Final one is, what is the most important alteration, you may have taken your own life from a sustainability perspective over and above this decision?
[27:37] Ahmed: Making myself sustainable in all aspects of my life, and eating clean, you know, taking time to mind space, and making sure that I’m around for the long term. And so, looking at what I eat, and how I exercise, who I socialize with, all these things contribute to your own long term sustainability as I’ve been looked at, done a full assessment on my own life before and then translate that into my work life.
[28:03] Jake: Awesome. Tell you what, let’s take a step back to the book question, so name your favorite book and why?
[28:14] Ahmed: Can I– I’m one of these people, I skim read so I’m really bad at books. Sorry.
[28:20] Jake: Okay. So, Ahmed, we’re up to one last question now, which I think was the kind of fast forward around? Imagine in 2030, how do you think that things may have gone in your wildest dreams?
[28:31] Ahmed: If in in 2030, in my wildest dreams, recycling is just an integral part of our behavior, we’d have to talk about, it is as normal as breathing, you recycle without thinking about it. And that will be my ideal position by 2030 and the solutions are there and it’s not even something we talked about always.
[28:53] Jake: What an amazing idea to end on. Thank you very much for your time.
[28:57] Ahmed: Thank you Jake. Thank you very much indeed.
[28:59] Jake: That was the Green Addventure, thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the show, then please help us out by sharing this episode with your networks and rating us on the platform, wherever you may listen in from. For any questions at all, we’d love to hear from you, so please reach out on social media or email. Whether you’re wondering about a technical term that’s being discussed, would like an intro to a guest from the show, or even perhaps feature yourselves, we’re here to help. My Twitter handle is @JakeWoodhous, spell as it sounds, but drop the final e, my email Jake@Greenaddventure.com. Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit www.greenaddventure.com. Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.