Ahmed Detta – Episode 11 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

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, 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 Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

Ahmed Detta – Episode 11 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Paul Miller – Episode 10 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 10 of Green Add Venture with Paul Miller.

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, take care when typing that in, addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode. 

[0:55] Jake: On the show today, we chat with Paul Miller, founder and CEO of Bethnal Green Ventures. Bethnal Green Ventures are an early stage investor focused on startups that use technology to radically change people’s lives for the future. In short, they’re a pioneer in the tech for good space. Listen in to learn about the importance of diversity, how community development leads to talent curation, and how to reduce risk in early stage investments. I really enjoyed this conversation, in particular, Paul’s vision of tech as a force for good in the world. Hi, Paul, good afternoon and welcome on the show. 

[1:27] Paul: Thanks very much, great to be here. 

[1:29] Jake: Thank you. So yeah, just to kick things off, please, can you explain from a very high level, your current role, and what it is you’re up to?

[1:36] Paul: So, I helped run Bethnal Green Ventures, we’re an early stage investor in what we call tech for good businesses. So, helping companies that we believe can be high growth, scalable, really valuable companies in the end with a valuation of over 100 million pounds, but also wants to benefit the lives of millions of people across health, education, or environmental sustainability.

[1:58] Jake: Awesome, thank you. And today I’d like to focus on the environmental side of the programs you run, the investing that you do, Bethnal Green Ventures’ certainly very well known in the marketplace when I started first looking at impact and startups so, yeah, looking forward to finding out more. To take a step back from your current role, then perhaps we can go back in time and start to learn about what got you into the space in the first place, and how you initially became interested in the space? The show is hopefully going to speak to entrepreneurs, and also founders, and also investors, in your case, you are kind of both. So, it’d be great to understand a little bit about like how you first got into impact in the startup space, and equally, how that developed into Bethnal Green Ventures. 

[2:37] Paul: Sure, I mean, as you like, there’s a bit of pre-history here, which is when I was a campaigner before I did any of those things. So, you know, university, I spent most of my time not doing my degree as I should have done, but campaigning on environmental issues, or sort of social justice issues through an organization called People and Planet. And when I left university, I did a master’s in sustainable development, threw a forum for the future, and ended up working in public policy and think tanks on environmental issues, and to some extent, social issues. And I think, partly just because I was a bit geeky, because I sort of got given the policy issues that were to do with digital technology. And we are, what does this mean, and this was in the early 2000s, I guess. And so, I found myself working on, you know, what’s going to happen because of these technologies? And over time, everything in digital was thought of as being, you know, sort of having zero impact, there was this idea that it was virtual, that it was, you know, ephemeral that it didn’t, nobody had even thought about server farms, or you know, the infrastructure that you need to supply digital products. 

[3:41] Paul: And we started pointing this out, but also started showing that there might be these massive efficiency gains in industries like energy, or food or transport, or whatever it might be. And so, I spent, like, I guess, five years writing about those sorts of issues, and eventually got a little bit fed up of writing pamphlets that, okay, a few read, but not, you know, not a huge number, and decided to do something a bit more practical. And so, I started a startup, not so much on the environmental side but, you know, really about using technology, that was, you know, social impact and that was in education. And so, I ran a startup for five years, that looked to try and improve the adult education system to give people more access to learning throughout their lives. And, you know, it wasn’t a big success. In the end, we did sell it in the end, but not for a big amount, but learn a huge amount through doing that. 

[4:33] Paul: And also, I think, put a little bit of a flag out to say, you know, actually, I think doing tech startups for a positive impact on the world is a good thing. At the time, there were no investors who I think even had recognize that. But by the time we got to 2010, there was starting to be a bit of a community of founders who did want to put their skills to use around social and environmental issues. And I’d mainly found those people through organizing hack weekend for, you know, people who wants to do that, they were called social innovation camps. And we ran five of those in the UK, and did it actually in 25, other countries as well. And it was always this like, just incredibly talented group of people to end up, wanted to build something that might reduce food waste, or that might have, you know, help the renewable energy system to work better, whatever it might be. And they always had this question at the end of the weekend, which is basically, you know, how do I quit my job and like, turn this into a startup? So, that’s where Bethnal Green Ventures came from. And at the time, we were based in Bethnal Green in East London, and we needed a name for our nascent programs to support these people. And so, in 2012, we became Bethnal Green Ventures, and started investing, and made six investments that summer, during the Olympics in London, three of which have gone on to be a multimillion-pound company. So, we definitely got lucky, but we were surfing, I think, the growth of a community of founders, really were driven by a mission, not just by the idea of becoming Mark Zuckerberg.

[6:09] Jake: Fantastic. It’s so cool hearing people’s personal journeys and the different steps you take. And, you know, after 10 years of your career, you spent some time working the policy world and then obviously, as a startup, and it’s like, actually, how can I make the next step and develop something from it? It’s always awesome, just to hear about how people did it. And it brings me nicely just to talk a little bit more about investing, so to speak, than the story that you’ve been on, that first summer back in 2012, you made six first investments, and they would have all been for some reason, I assume. So, just to talk through from a kind of thesis perspective, is there any high-level rationale that you put in play when you’re looking to make investments and how has that developed over the last few years?

[6:49] Paul: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a fundamental belief that if you can change the lives of millions of people, for the better, that is a very valuable thing financially. So, we think that the markets that were going after are big valuable markets. I think people are starting to recognize that now but when we started, you know, people really didn’t think about some of these things as big markets, they thought of them as being a bit fluffy. And like, you know, either things that government should do or things that NGOs should do or is that thing that is starting to change now. So, we have a fundamental belief that these are big markets and I think people are starting to recognize that. We believe that the best investments will be ones where the impact is linked to the business model. So, where the more of the product or service they sell, the more positive impact it has, as well. And therefore, we don’t have to worry about tradeoffs in the future. That’s essentially kind of why we do that but it’s also I think, makes good business and good impact sense. 

[7:46] Paul: And then I think the other thing is, we look for diverse teams, we look for teams where a diversity of backgrounds, diversity of like, ways of thinking, and that typically means you’re looking for teams that are not, you know, whatever, three white guys, and we’ve done very well at that compared to our sort of venture competitors. I think we were just doing the stats and I think the average for the UK venture industry is that one penny and every pound that’s invested in UK venture goes to all female teams, and as 44 P. So, you know, we’re doing 44 times better than the UK venture industry on that score. But it’s very deliberate. You know, we genuinely believe that we will get better returns by backing diverse teams, and we’re pretty unapologetic.

[8:30] Jake: Cool. So, there’s two clear rationales there in a sense. And once you put those in players and investor, you’re then looking to find companies. So, how often do you go about finding these people? You’ve already mentioned how hard it is to invest in a female founder, let alone actually find them in the first instance. So, as an early stage investment business, how do you guys look to create your deal flow?

[8:50] Paul: So, all through our history, we’ve thought about what we’re trying to do is being about community building effectively, like, there’s so much we can do, there’s only so much we can do. But actually, we know that it will be valuable to the people that we back if we can build a big supportive community around them. And by building that community, we’ve actually accidentally built great deal flow as well, because there’s loads of people in there who refer people to us personally, and actually started back in the days of social innovation camp, when we started this technology. We started a meetup group, then we called the Tech for Good Meetup in London, had a few hundred people as members, then it’s now about eight and a half thousand members in London, and it’s growing in Manchester, it’s going in Southwest. So, that’s a great source of deal flow for us, like people meeting together and talking about these issues, coming up with ideas, meeting potential co-founders, like that’s a great sort of petri dish almost first, or the kind of companies that we want to back. 

[9:50] Paul: So, that’s been big, I think we’re now getting to a point where we also feel we should raise our own profile, we were a bit reticent about it for the first few years, when we didn’t really have a track record, you know, we couldn’t, you know, yet sort of show the financial upside and those kind of things, we’re now we’re much more confident about that. So, I guess we are starting to try and raise our profile a bit. So, hopefully, anybody has got a great idea and great team that could change the world for the better thinks Bethnal Green ventures, and we like them, and we can invest in them.

[10:17] Jake: And that raises such a great point pulling that, like any business, you can’t necessarily sell your product to anyone unless you have a track record. And you were trying to get into a marketplace that didn’t necessarily believe impact had anything to do with returns. And so, what you’re proving over the last few years is new territory in itself. And so, yeah, congratulations, it’s obviously some great work. Yeah, I agree. The sense of community is also so key, here today, we’re x and y, just walking through talking about what it feels like to be surrounded by other people working towards a similar mission, rather than sitting in the local caffeine area, wherever you might be. Okay, and so once you found these companies, how do you then look to understand your risk? So, there are lots of businesses out there, you can invest in all of them, if you have the money, but inevitably, some of them are better at certain stages than others. So, how do you look at understanding that?

[11:04] Paul: So, our thinking on this is pretty straightforward, we try to minimize our downside risk in when we make an initial investment. So, our initial investment into any company is 20,000 pounds, which is essentially an amount that we’re willing to lose. I mean, it sounds, I mean, it’s obviously it’s a significant amount of money for many people, but it’s not necessarily a significant amount in the grand scheme of what we’re trying to achieve. And that 20,000 pounds is really to get a much deeper understanding of what this team is trying to do. We’re trying to back them so as they can work on it full time, they can really explore all of the issues around the market, grow their team, all those sorts of things. And then we ramp up the investment amounts, as we start to understand what the risk in this market is, how big is it and all those kinds of things. So, for us, it’s about de risking it by making a small investment to start with, and then backing the ones where it starts to do well.

[12:00] Jake: So, follow the good ones, in a sense?

[12:02] Paul: Yeah, and it’s not that sounds quite sort of done with a stick or they deserve. But it doesn’t feel like that in terms of yeah, you know, there were a bunch of these that don’t work out, but the founders accept that it is not working out. It’s not like we’re sort of picking winners, in some ways. It’s just there is a natural attrition rate to startups as they develop. And we’re just sort of backing the ones that, where it does work out and the ones where it doesn’t, that’s fine. They’re still very much part of the BGV community and valuable members of it. But you know, financially, we back the ones where it is working out.

[12:35] Jake: I mean, I can feel straightaway the importance of that initial bit of funding for entrepreneurs, you know, you’ve got this idea, but is there any market fit, but at this point, you don’t necessarily know. So, you’ve got to go and try and find that out. In fact, your co-founder might be someone you met at your meetup recently, they may get married or have a baby or something can change drastically. And suddenly, the founding team has dropped in half and the impetus disappears. And inevitably, you know, things changed, okay, cool, I understood. And so, when you follow this through then, you’ve got the deal flow, you found the companies, you think you’re about to make an investment, is there anything that you do from a due diligence perspective that you’d like to share at all, in terms of how you assess teams, or what actually is important to understand about the businesses you’re investing into?

[13:18] Paul: Yeah, so our process is pretty simple, I hope it’s pretty straightforward for founders, it’s, we take an online application, and actually, that gets read by some of our portfolio founders, and some of our mentors, as well as the BGV team here. So, we’re doing a little bit of wisdom of the crowd around like, which ones are going to float to the top. And likewise, with our interviews, actually, we involve our mentor and portfolio community as well. So, ventures, again, assessed by their peers, you know, not just an investment company. And I think that’s quite important. Because founders are great investors actually, because they understand some of the like, I guess, emotional consequences investment as much as some of the, you know, more numerical spreadsheets like ways that people can explain what they’re trying to do. So, I think that’s an important part of our process.

[14:10] Jake: Cool. And for any founders out there that might be listening, what would you advise to them in terms of the best way to, I guess it’s a sales process, isn’t it? How do you like it when founders approached you guys in the first instance, is there anything that you could give in terms of tips or advice for people to approach you, as an investor?

[14:27] Paul: Tell us something about the problem that we don’t know. So, like, show us that you understand the problem you’re trying to solve in a way that we might not have thought of, because that shows us that you’ve got a deep understanding of the problem that you’re trying to solve. And to be honest, like when we’re making that first investment, where we are definitely making it around, do we think this problem is an important thing? And do we think this is the team that’s going to like, completely go after it, you know? And so, if you can show us by the way, you explain the way you talk about the problem, that you’ve got something new on this, then that’s super helpful.

[15:04] Jake: Interesting. And you mentioned kindly team, it leads me on nicely to the next thing I wanted to understand slightly better was around talent. And people often talk about this stage of investment has really just been all about the people. And yeah, I’d love to know, I mean, so how do you spot the talent to invest into? Is there any, you know, tricks of the trade, so to speak or is it just a case of throw it as wide as possible and see what happens? But yeah, is there a blueprint of character or certain types of personality, I mean, you mentioned diversity already has been critical. But you know, talent is obviously the driver behind the value creation of these businesses so a really important thing to get right, as an early stage investor.

[15:42] Paul: Yeah, I mean, we have a fairly straightforward no asshole rule, in terms of, you know, we don’t, if there are people that we’re not going to want to work with, or then it’s fairly likely that other people aren’t going to want to work with them either. So, that’s a pretty big red flag. I think other than that, I don’t think we really assess individuals, we do assess teams so it’s looking at the dynamic, it’s looking at, you know, does it feel like this group of people all respect each other and can see what they all bring? Because if it’s overloaded on one particular person, or if there’s something missing, then there’s going to be a lot of time spent trying to fix that, which is fine. But it makes it less likely that we’ll invest because if we’ve got two teams to choose from, where there’s one where we’re like, yeah, they’re working well together, they’re like, you know, they’re getting stuff done. And there’s one where we’re still not quite sure who does what or we think we’ve got a real blind spot in this particular area, and might be a difficult area to hire for, whatever it is, then that’s tricky. So, I guess it never is perfection, but we’re looking for a balanced and a team, where the co-founders or the management team, whatever you want to call them really do have that viable, wanting to work together and wanting to progress together.

[16:59] Jake: And such a poignant area, I guess, people don’t necessarily realize quite how much work as an early stage investor, you end up doing with teams, and I’ve interviewed a few other people, it’s come through very clearly there as well. You know, you’re no asshole rule, that’s a pretty good one and that actually, once you invest, you’re in it together. And you have to be able to work towards the mission the company had set et cetera. Great to hear that insight, thank you. The next stage I’d like to go through is really around the impact of this whole project and your own personal reasons for getting into it. I think we covered a little bit earlier, but great to hear more about. And that also, I’d like to understand in the light of some context being the kind of businesses that certainly from an environmental perspective, you have got involved with, which I looked at here, and there was just a few I wanted to understand from your side, which was, well, Piclo, which we spoke about briefly was a business that I’ve also been lucky to invest in through Green Angel Syndicate, but also Fairphone and Let Us Grow being two different businesses to the first day. So, perhaps you could talk a little bit through some of the environmental investments you’ve made and the reasons for them, and then equally to go on to what the impact of those businesses might be as a result of your investing?

[18:07] Paul: Yeah, definitely. Well, let’s take it in that order, so Piclo to us was, I mean, actually, the idea has changed over time but ultimately, what James and Alice and other others will come up it, Andy

[18:21] Jake: Yeah, that’s right. Set just take a breath and just said again, James, Allice, and Andy.

[18:27] Paul: Actually, with Piclo, one of the things that’s the idea is changed over time. But the problem that they came to us in the first place was, there were barriers to us transitioning to a renewable electricity system, just at this all software and coordination level that actually we weren’t able to properly match supply, demand and storage. And I when they first came along to us, they what they were thinking of building was a real peer to peer marketplace for buying and selling. As time has gone on, it’s because obvious, actually that the idea of a flexibility marketplace, or the idea that you can sell flexibility to the grid is actually the way to achieve what they wanted to achieve in the first place, which is to unleash the ability of renewables to really take up a large proportion of the electricity system. So, what I mean, that is there, what we’re looking for is a complete change in international electricity provision, to be a much greater proportion of it to be renewable, and to be more distributed.

[19:31] Jake: And such a big problem as well, I mean, widely reported the main bottleneck to the adoption of renewables being the intermittency of generation. So, it’s not always sunny, not always windy, until we work out how to balance those two facts against the use of fossil fuels, it’s going to be very difficult to decarbonize energy and it’s such an important area to get right.

[19:48] Paul: And they were real pioneers in some ways of showing that digital technology was part of the solution. Because I think there was a lot of investors got burned over investing in renewables per se, like 10, 15 years ago. And so, the idea of like, clean web, or clean tech was definitely unfashionable. But actually, one of the things that Piclo have done, and there’s other companies as well, by showing that actually, digital technology is a really important part of that transition and it’s becoming a much bigger market again now. So, I think they’re a super interesting company, and now doing really, really well. But for them, it actually has been quite a journey to find the right product market fit. And that’s not unusual, I think in the environmental space. If it was Fairphone, they came to us as campaigners, again, a little bit like my story, they’ve been campaigning about the environmental and social impact of the consumer electronics supply chain. And it got to the point where they were just so frustrated, we’re trying to lobby these big companies to change and nothing really happening. And they remember very clearly, one of the co-founders sort of saying, we just got to the point where we think we’re going to build our own phone, and we will, you’re mad, you’re mad you like you know, this, that’s going up against—

 [21:05] Jake: So exciting about this particular business, though, isn’t it? It’s when someone sits down and says, I’ve got this idea, you’re like, okay, that sounds mental. And they’re like, and they go and do it. 

[21:13] Paul: But the interesting thing there was, I mean, I spoke to various people in the mobile phone industry who all said, that’ll never work. But then I suppose, people said, would you buy one? And they were like, yes, all right. So, yeah, there’s something here that we back them. And they’re a Dutch team that moved over to London came and spent three months with us. And the thing that we cracked in that time was the idea of crowdfunding through pre-sales, and actually using this idea of the people who wanted to buy it. And investors were at that stage weren’t really like, you know, willing to back them. But the crowd was, and so they managed to raise I think 11 million euros to build that first version of the phone. And they’ve, you know, they’ve gone from strength to strength in terms of launched, and was sold out, actually at the second version of the phone and about to launch the third version. So, they’re an interesting story. And also, now I would say quite a mature company in terms of their reporting and their impact reporting, particularly, you know, they’re very, very good at knowing what their impact is on all the different aspects of the supply chain that they touch. And they’re a real exemplar, I think, to other companies.

[22:17] Jake: And a great story of all groups of context to looking back to what you said earlier about, if you see someone has a different angle on the problem and that problem can potentially affect millions and millions of people if it’s solved, a great example of that in practice, the last company I picked out was LettUs Grows so I’d love to hear a bit about that.

[22:36] Paul: Yeah, LettUs Grow really interesting. I think we’ve been really interested in the food supply chain for a little while, I think it’s about a third of global gas emissions. And one of the things that seems obvious, but is that actually like, we really need to get more efficient in terms of energy and water usage and food production. There’s also obviously massive growing urbanization that’s going on. So, actually, there is this opportunity to bring food production closer to people, which, you know, seems to be known as vertical farming, indoor farming, whatever you want to call it. And what LettUs Grow have done is built this designed and built this brilliant piece of technology for doing indoor farming using aeroponics rather than aquaponics or hydroponics, which is a liquid substrate for growing food. So, they’re using a mist, and what the technology they’ve developed is the way of creating that mist in such a way that it has very, very accurate levels of nutrients and water. So, you can give it just the right amount of food and water exactly the right time and it turns out that that is way more efficient than anything else that’s on the market at the moment. And so, you know, it’s still an early stage company, but there’s a lot of interest in them. And I think, you know, as we see more and more supermarkets, more and more food producers starting to really explore indoor farming, I think LettUs Grow is very well positioned to getting that.

[24:04] Jake: Fantastic. And in those kind of free companies, you can really see, from me sitting here, I can see how diverse the investments have been and the impacts that you’re having are completely, I don’t know how to describe it, they’re very, very different.

[24:17] Paul: Yeah, very interesting. So, what we do now is we actually map them on to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which, in some ways, it sounds ridiculous to have 17 categories of investment, actually, we find it quite helpful, because you can sort of then see, okay, well, you know, this, some people call that Sustainable Development Goals, you know, it’s the strategy for the world. It’s not a power point deck, we can all–

[24:39] Jake: Nice graphics.

[24:41] Paul: And it’s interesting to see like, where our companies fit across those 17 sustainable development goals. And that’s how we started to think about naturally over time.

[24:49] Jake: Yeah, cool. And so, from that perspective, then how do you measure impact? Because, of course, you know, what’s really brought us to the table and just in general is this overarching issue we have with the missions and trying to reduce the uniquely the social impact your tech for good work does as well. Just taking the environmental investments you’ve done, once you’ve met them to the SDGs, etc, do you have a way of actually looking at total emissions reduced versus how those companies not got into existence? Quite a technical and difficult thing to do I admit so?

[25:17] Paul: So, the way we think about it is we help each company to try and measure and demonstrate their impact. We don’t set the metrics that we think that they should necessarily measure and say, right, we’ve invested in you, therefore, you should report on this metric, we do it in collaboration with them. Obviously, the environmental ones, like the ones are related to climate, tend to choose some measure of greenhouse gas emission reduction, which is great. So, that means we can start to aggregate it a little bit. But actually, to date, we haven’t done that. But one of the reasons for that is the quality of the data. So, actually, we’re working with companies who are at different stages and even though they might all be measuring the same thing, they might not be yet the measuring it to the same standard of evidence. So, to date, the only a metric that we aggregate across the whole portfolio is just the number of people using the products and services. But I think over time, as the company’s mature, we will be able to combine data as they get to the right standards of evidence. But there’s just such a big difference between a company that’s three months old, and at Fairphone, who are now six years old, so we don’t aggregate yet the data in that way.

[26:24] Jake: Will it be so amazing pause in 10 years’ time to see where some of these early stage investments have ended up and you look at the journey those businesses have been on and the impact they would have had. I’m aware of time, so one final question, Paul, where do you see the next 10 years?

[26:39] Paul: I mean, we certainly aim to be, hopefully the best, you know, tech for good investor in Europe. That’s what we’re trying to build, we’re trying to build a company that provides both the financial and non-financial support that most ambitious talented founders need in order to build big, impactful businesses. So, that’s the sort of BGV aim over that time scale. But to some extent, I kind of hope it’s gone become normal, like actually, the technology industry becomes more associated with tech for good than tech for bad. You know, if that happens, if we’ve got less Cambridge Analytica stories in the news and more Fairphone stories, and I think that’ll be a very positive thing, and we’ll have had an impact as a company. But I just happen to think that there is a big financial opportunity in that conversion. And that’s what we’re trying to sort of maximize, I guess, as a BGV.

[27:28] Jake: Great, well, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. 

[27:32] Paul: No worries, thanks for coming.

[27:33] 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 Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

Paul Miller – Episode 10 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Nick Goddard – Episode 9 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 8 of Green Add Venture with Alex Pitt.

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, take care when typing that in addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode. Today we speak with Nick Goddard, co-founder and commercial director of Spinetic Energy. Spinetic Energy are developing an innovative small-scale wind solution, the Wind Panel, an extremely exciting clean tech solution. Listen to Nick’s story for great insight on how experience from different professions can be reapplied to new markets, how sometimes it’s best for startups to work in stealth mode initially and how important personal friendships can be when seeking investment. Nick’s journey to today as well worth listening into. Enjoy. Hi, Nick, welcome on the show.

[1:28] Nick: Thanks for having us. 

[01:30] Jake: Absolute pleasure. So, to kick things off, please explain a little bit about your current role in the company that you’re working with.

[1:37] Nick: So, I’m currently the commercial director of a startup company called Spinetic Energy Limited. Spinetic was set up to address a gap in the market, which was to allow people who want to harvest relatively small amounts of wind energy, what we call the community scale, to do so with high convenience and low cost. The moment you want to harvest wind energy, you can do it very well with giant wind turbines but they’re not easy to deliver to remote places and they produce megawatts of power. So, if you’re at the edge of the grid or off the grid, and you want a small amount of power, you can put a miniature version of those turbines in place and then you get very steep diseconomies of small scale, and you have to pay an awful lot for the electricity. So, we have tried to find a way to offer those people, if you like, the cost of utility scale wind, but the convenience of community scale solar.

[2:33] Jake: Fascinating. And it sounds like you’re solving a real problem there and that’s always such a great starting point as entrepreneurs. Before we dive into the problem you’re solving currently, I’d love to take a step back. So, I call it the 10 years rewind, shall we say, and your own personal journey, Nick, how did you get into this space? A brief search on your LinkedIn, I see you actually went through Cambridge and an Imperial finishing a PhD. And so, a very technology focus starts to your career, but then that’s developed into the investment banking world. I’d love to hear more about your own personal journey and what’s brought you to this point today?

[3:11] Nick: Yes, it’s been somewhat haphazard, as you say, I came out of school and decided, I wanted to be a technologist, working at the cutting edge of technology, and developing new things myself. So, I did a physics degree and then a mechanical engineering PhD and then I worked for about a decade in industry, essentially trying to develop new products. And I ended that first decade in Ministry of Defense Research Labs Kinetic that was. And Kinetic had a scheme where they were supporting a few people into the city of London to gain commercial experience, because Kinetic was just about to be privatized, and thought that a lot of the technologies it had, could make the privatized Kinetic money from investing them into startup companies and raising venture capital, and so on. So, I was supported on a civil service to comment to an investment bank to get experience in that sector. 

[04:11] Nick: And I guess the first experience I had was, all the people in that sector were paid a lot more than I was. So, I jumped ship and became an investment banker for the next decade and found myself funding startup companies and advising venture capital firms on what were good technologies to back. And that ran through to 2005 and at that point, I thought that the credit crunch looks like it might be leaving, and I’ve done 10 years in banking. So, I left, and I became an independent consultant working with startup companies, which I felt fitted my skill set because I understood their technology, but I also understood the financing landscape. And around the middle of that period, so, that was nearly 15 years ago and after five or six years, I came across a company that I. as they say, like so much I joined it, and that was Spinetic. So, I’ve been pretty much full time in Spinetic for the last six years.

[5:07] Jake: Fascinating and the personal journey of everyone, I always find so interesting that this interview has that relevant moment that another industry might be a better suit to you, you know, you don’t know about somewhere else might be better and that grass is greener thing, it’s always so hard to justify in your own head. Yeah, great. So, having done that, then so you ended up at Spinetic, so perhaps you can talk a little bit now about the stage the company was at when you actually met some of the other founding members. And really dig back into your initial comments about the problem that you were looking at. And as entrepreneurs, you’ve looked at the problem area and built a team and then started to create a solution. I’d love to then follow that kind of development of your business.

[5:48] Nick: Yeah, so there was very much a human story to that as well. When I first joined, the first place I joined after my PhD was BP and this was the face that BP was for the first time in its history, tried to go beyond petroleum and had a lot of R&D work in clean tech. And I joined their research organization as the guy who done his PhD at Oxford. So, I’d come out of Imperial, he’d come out about Oxford, and we found ourselves working together there on a range of potential clean technologies, and then BP’s focus moved elsewhere. And so, the people in that area became surplus to requirement and this guy 06:29 [inaudible] and myself went our separate ways but we have got on quite well in the BP days, this is back in 91, 92. And he went to an automotive company where you have to have a rigorous focus on mass production of components, which you know, have adequate performance, but are very cheap to make. And he then worked for the next 15 years while I was doing my journey into banking, he worked in the automotive sector. While he was there, he spotted this gap in the market and this will probably go on to say the approach Spinetic takes is that automotive inspired approach of mass production of components at low cost. 

[07:12] Nick: And he thought this could apply to solve the problem I explained for community scale wind. So, he worked in a classic garage type startup, you know, which is very rare in the UK, it happens a little bit in California where he left his job, self-fund it and he makes some prototypes of what we now call the Wind Panel, the system that can harvest energy cheaply. And after two or three years, it seemed very promising and he realized he might need equity investment and he dredged up from his memory that I had gone to the city and work roughly in that area. And he reached out to me and said, why don’t we look at doing something together, essentially his tech with my fundraising skills. So, that’s what we did. I think I met up again in 2011, probably two decades after our last seeing him, we explored the idea through to 2012, where we made the decision to create a company and try and seek funding. And these things always take longer than you expect, it took us about four months to to find someone who wanted to fund it. And then about six months to get being on the page, so we got our first VC funding in May of 2013.

[8:27] Jake: Wow, what a story, Nick, it’s amazing when you feel a connection with someone at some point in your life and your stories and journeys, they fall apart, so to speak, you’d go in different directions. And that connection is always still there. How fascinating, that’s really then the bomb that builds the business that you’re in charge of today. And okay to trace back then, so what was it exactly that you guys noticed in the wind space that really got you excited about coming in with the prototype and then trying to fundraise for it?

[9:01] Nick: So, the first thing to say about trying to deliver community scale wind energy, in, you know, at low cost is that everyone is trying to do it, it’s a sort of uncured disease, lots of people know they have the problem, lots of people have tried to deliver solutions, and pretty well all of those people have gone bust. So, it was quite a brave move to go into a sector which, if you like is guilty till proven innocent. You know, if you start a small wind company, people say, well, how do you differ from the hundred or so who’ve tried to do it before? So, we knew that we needed a fundamentally different approach. And I think the great insight the Charles had was that there are two ways that you can achieve the economies of scale, which drive down the costs of renewable energy generation. And this is true in any sector, there’s always two ways to achieve economies of scale. One is an economy of giant size and the other is an economy of you know, fantastically large production runs. And solar panels and wind turbines had sort of instinctively gone down those two different routes. Today, the large utility scale wind turbines are 100 times bigger than the ones that were being installed in the 1980s. But today, the solar panels being installed a pretty similar form factor to the very early solar panel, slightly more efficient, but essentially the same form factor. But they’re being made, perhaps 1000 times the number of being made. 

[10:37] Nick: And so, solar, it’s driven it costs down by mass production and wind has driven its costs down by massive size. And all community wins, you can’t have massive size, we’ve just said these massive turbines are difficult to deliver and if you can get them to the edge of the grid, they have, you know, if you just put one in then building an approach road is very expensive and you have megawatts of power when you want kilowatts. So, Charles pondered whether it was possible to produce a system that collected wind energy but that was assembled from components, all of which could be made in massive volumes and small components, human skeleton components that can be stamped out in massive volumes, therefore become incredibly cheap. And therefore, allow you to have, you know, economies of scale for collecting community wind energy. And that’s what led to what we’ve called the wind panel. And we call it that because the inspiration doesn’t look like a solar panel, obviously, because it’s collecting a different thing. But it’s inspiration in terms of mass produce ability comes from what we saw in the solar industry.

[11:43] Jake: Awesome. And it’s such a compelling story in terms of insight that comes from different experiences and is reapplied to a different problem area and the result being actually a very effective solution. And to bring context to what we’re talking about, for anyone listening out there, it’s in my simple eyes, you’ve almost got a kind of wall of what I would say, are the signs outside of cafe or petrol station that say, open and closed, that simply spinning the wind, because of the circular form that they are. And that’s a really simple way of explaining it. But it’s an amazing image, I’ve seen, of course, the videos that you guys produced and showing the prototypes. Okay, and it’s a cool moment as well to recognize in entrepreneurs that that insight is something that other startups don’t have and that’s what makes you an interesting investment. And at which point, I’d love to dive into the process that you will have been through, which is around, you’ve come up with a problem, you’ve got a solution, you’ve done some research, and how do you look at that leap of faith moment? I think when you go, oh, okay, let’s go for this because we really think we’ve got an opportunity here?

[12:57] Nick: That’s a really good question. And I think that it’s interesting in the UK, that quite a lot of people who make that sort of leap of faith, have had previous careers, and even put it bluntly, their mortgage is paid off, or maybe even their kids are grown up. So, the risk you feel you’re taking is not as high as it might be, if you came out of university and said do i do i spot to be a partner in a city law firm or a Goldman Sachs banker or an entrepreneur, because it is risky. And it’s a hard journey, and certainly at the start of that journey, it’s not very well paid, and the end, may well be poorly paid job leading to failure. It may well be a poorly paid job leading to huge rewards. But the number of home runs where people make multi-million-pound fortunes and startup companies is statistically quite low. So, I think for both Charles and I, we were in our late 40s and had relatively well-paid jobs before we started. So, we were able to do it initially by saying, well, you know, the risk is not great for us but actually, the job satisfaction is huge, because I think we both felt big corporate jobs can be rewarding, but there’s nothing as exciting as doing your own thing. And it could be, you know, slightly tweet about it, trying to change the world, trying to do something yourself about climate change. 

[14:30] Nick: So, that was the mentality we started out with. Not that we did it casually, I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life. But we were to some extent slightly under written. And I think if there’s one thing that might increase the amount of entrepreneurial activity in the UK, I don’t think we can easily increase the rewards for the people who are entrepreneurs, but it might be nice if there weren’t so many really well-paid jobs in finance, that sort of cream off the best minds, at relatively low risk. 

[15:02] Jake: Yeah, it’s an interesting kind of career path choice and certainly the student coming out of university versus the, you know, 40, something who’s made some money and looking at things slightly differently, it’s why it’s always an interesting question for me, because everyone’s different, and their story is slightly different. And that leads me on nicely, then the Nick to talk about how you’ve taken this problem and solution, etc. and to start to create some traction, you’ve decided to go full time, were there any tips or advice you could give to people about how to take that idea and that prototype and create some real interest in it?

[15:38] Nick: Yes, I mean, I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer. What I would say is, there’s a piece of wisdom, I was told when I went into the city, I can’t remember where the quote comes from, but they said, “if you look at the stock markets, in the short term, there were voting machine, and in the long term there are weighing machine”. Now to unpack what that means, it means that the stocks that will do well, in the short term, those that become very popular, and that essentially means grabbing attention, making very bold claims, getting yourself associated with sort of razzle dazzle. But in the long term, you know, that can’t be sustained, that the long term in a sense if it’s all black people see through it, and the long-term value of your stock, essentially weighs how much real value you’ve created. And so, I think the challenge in starting a company is you can’t do it without some of that razzle dazzle and raising your profile. And these days, even in seven years since Spinetic was founded, social media provides an enormous sort of increased amount of potential to raise your own profile, your company’s profile, you know people were not tweeting all the time when we started, but nowadays, you could, you know, you can tweet, and you can raise your profile. And you could say the first department any small company should have is a Twitter officer, you can tweet all day long, and maybe get associated with some exciting things and, and in a way, get popularity. 

[17:12] Nick: But it may be the first thing a small company needs is actually some foundational engineering, you know, somewhat below the radar screen to make sure there is real and substantive development there. And that that is protected and protectable. So, I guess our journey was one of working in stealth mode, we were very lucky because I had some personal contacts among people who might be prepared to fund us and who were quite patient and long term. So, in those early days, we didn’t focus on going to a lot of conferences and getting our name known and propagating ourselves to websites and social media. But instead, we focused on building a foundational base of patents, so that we could see competitors, no one had tried to harvest wind our way previously, so, it was like virgin territory and we could stake a claim to all sorts of inventions that enabled you to do that, that other people hadn’t tried to invent because they hadn’t tried at the highest level to collect wind in that way. So, they hadn’t been patented ways of doing it, if you like components needed to do it. So, we patented lots of aspects and we made contacts, particularly with people who we might want to work with, you know, in a sort of business to business way rather than building up popular profile. Whether that’s right or not, I’m not sure if you were trying to do a FinTech startup in Shoreditch doing it anonymously and in stealth mode may well not work and it wouldn’t work if you’re a B2C proposition, but we were B2B and that’s how we started out.

[18:49] Jake: Fascinating, you’re absolutely right, I mean, each company’s slightly different. If you’re looking to set up a payday loans business, well, inevitably you need people to know about you, in which case, you have to approach the social media market much more aggressively. It’s awesome to hear that and I must confess, I was lucky to be part of the Green Angel Syndicate round that invested a couple of years back, which is an appointed moment to talk about invested slightly. What advice would you give to anyone as an entrepreneur out there, or just generally, what insights you may have picked up or tips for anyone about how to approach the investment market and what may or may not have worked for you?

[19:31] Nick: Again, I mean, I have the experiences quite a bit broader than Spinetic, so I can sort of talk in the round because in the six or seven years, I was out of banking and before I became full time at Spinetic, I worked with probably a dozen other small companies. It does seem to me that personal networks are quite important. I think for serious investors, it is quite difficult to build up trust in somebody who’s a complete stranger, you meet them, they pitch very convincingly, the elevator pitch for 15 minutes. Maybe the investor hasn’t got the technical skills or sector knowledge to do due diligence, maybe the investor is thinking of putting in 50,000 pound, it’s not worth doing 100,000 pounds of due diligence. So, what is the proxy to building that trust? And I think that the market seems to be splitting into two now, one is, people rely on a portfolio effect and they go to the crowdfunding platforms and they put 5000 pounds into company after company after company and just assume that one of those will give, you know you’re invested in 100 companies and one of them will give you a 200 fold return, that seems to be one model. 

[20:53] Nick: And the other model seems to be these informal networks where you have an anchor investor, who is putting in quite a lot of money, can be quite rigorous on their due diligence, understands the sector and the technology, and then has followers. And, for us it was in that latter category, when I was a consultant I did quite a lot of work with the Carbon Trust and in the Carbon Trust, I got to know and worked with their head of technology development. And He then moved into venture capital, check with Robert and he worked for IP group. So, Robert and I knew each other. So, I was able to go to Robert and present the idea of Spinetic and the technology, he had the technical and sector knowledge to dig very deeply into that, IP group made an investment, they joined the board, Robert is our chairman still. And that, I think pulled in a series of other investors who recognize the rigor of IP process and wants to follow so we were pre-credentialized, then when we approached other investors.

[22:05] Jake: It’s fascinating, isn’t it? And it’s that kind of warm connection, that warm introduction, that makes such a difference in this space for the type of business you’re trying to create, because let’s be honest, the highlight you’ve already made, this is a clean tech, it’s a hardware, it’s about achieving economies of scale, the process, you know, we’re six, seven years down the line now since you guys began the business. It’s a very different proposition to going on to a crowdfunding platform and finding, you know, the latest B2C software app that’s coming out. And each has different types of investors and that’s what makes this space, startups, such an interesting area because there is no homogenous value across the whole space. One area that we’ve slightly touched on, and it’s, part of your personal story from earlier before, but I’d like to really dig into it slightly, is around the team that you’re working with, and the phrase, talents, that people associate a lot with startups and how important that management team is, etc. How did you and Charles sit down and say, right, we want to work together but also, we need to build a team of people around us? Can you share any insights around that?

[23:12] Nick: Yes, I mean, the team is still fairly small and focused. And I think in the same way that you know; personal connections are quite valuable in bringing in funding because there’s a trust that is sort of been incubated over a number of years. I think the same applies to building teams. So, Charles and I had worked, had known each other 20 years, we hadn’t been in close contact, but we knew of each other and had worked together, we had a fairly similar hinterland and that helps you work together, you viewed the world quite similarly. And you that leads to strengthen teams, because it can also lead to an echo chamber and a group thinking not being challenged. So, there’s always a sense of balance between the harmony of a team and avoiding a team, having a group thing mentality and not being challenged by outside ideas. Robert and I knew each other, Robert was on the board. And the chief Operations Officer, the person who’s heads up a lean manufacturing, in a sense, Charles tends to have the inventive ideas and then we have a chief operating officer who is concentrated on their manufacturer ability, he’s a Six Sigma Black Belt in lean manufacturing and zone. And he had worked in the same automotive company that Charles came out off. 

[24:37] Nick: So, the relationships are pre-existing. Some of the other people we’ve worked with, we’ve also known for quite a while before starting working with them. So, that helps provide cohesion. I think that in teams where people don’t know each other, it is quite good to have some more formal structure than you might think, in terms of decision processes. You know, is it going to be sort of democratic, where you sort of everybody votes on a decision? Is it going to be freewheeling? Is it going to be anarchy? And I think there’s a failing that in startup companies, you shouldn’t really be too hierarchical. But actually, in my experience, the ones where you sort of the Chief Financial Officer, the technical officer and advise, but the CEO decides, and people accept that decision and accept an element of hierarchy in the board, advisors and so on work better in the long term. And I think that you can, is almost the rock group thing, they come together, and they each sort of improvise and play their instruments, and it all works temporarily, but the minute there are external stresses, they tend to break up. So, there is something to be said, for trying to follow large company disciplines and procedures, without becoming restrictive and crushing imagination.

[26:08] Jake: How interesting. And that’s very much, I guess, an experience you’re taking from a previous career and reapplying to the area that you’re now focused on. The next space I’d like to get to you, Nick would be great, is we kind of touched on it earlier and you mentioned your intentions to work on a project that was not only your own, but also to do something about climate change. Can you talk to us a little bit about your, you know, your own personal mission behind this project?

[26:34] Nick: I think it is quite simple, really. You either look at the world and say, you know when I’m dead and gone, who cares? Was it, Groucho Marx, who said, you know, “future generations, what have future generations ever done for me?” I think you can have that slash and burn mentality and just try and make as much pleasure as you can for your own life. And all I think you can instinctively try to leave something behind, leave the world a slightly better place than you found it. And I don’t, that sounds priggish and it sounds like it’s a moral decision, you know, you can decide to be good or decide to be bad. I’m not even sure it operates at the level of moral decision, I think that operates, at least it does for me at that level of just how you’re made you know, I could argue that I’m a total hedonist trying to help the world because I’m just doing what I enjoy. And the person who doesn’t care about the world and wants to make a lot of money and drive gas guzzling cars around, is doing what they enjoy. So, I think for me, the motivation was, I felt good, you know, being able to say that I felt the company I worked in was, you know, on the right side of history, and doing something the world needed. So, it was perhaps, enlightened hedonism.

[27:59] Jake: Awesome, and it’s a good summary, in a sense of what I find so exciting about this space, as well, is not only do we know that the climate is changing, not only do we know that we need to do something about it but there are actually people out there doing something about it. And that’s what really excites me, and you represent someone just like that. The knock-on effect, of course, of a project like Spinetic is, of course impact, could you talk to us, though, I mean, have you ever done any forecasts, perhaps in terms of emissions reduction, if you guys were to hit the kind of targets that you hope to build the company to, from an impact perspective, if successful?

[28:38] Nick: Yeah, so the impact will be significant if you measure it in millions of tons of carbon saved. But it will, it won’t be a top tier solution that saves or provides 25% of the answer. If you look at what low carbon energy sources are, in terms of you know, wave, hydro, biomass, and then the two biggest at the moment, solar and wind, they are presumably going to share the burden between them and I guess, nuclear, or new nuclear. But they’re going to share the burden between them of providing energy once we’ve weaned ourselves off fossil fuels. And if they shared it equally, they might be, you know, between 20 and 30%, from one of those sources. Now, advanced solar panels can be deployed anywhere on roofs of houses, you know, one or two here, one or 200,000, there, and they big quitters and so, if you did come up with a solar panel that was better than any other solar panel the world has ever seen and then everyone in the world used only your solar panel, you single-handedly might have provided, you know, 20, or 30% of the answer. 

[30:02] Nick: Our wind panels aren’t like that, because we’re only trying to pick off the community wind segment, utility scale wind will continue to be huge turbines and in fact, they make it even huger, if most of the deployments shift offshore, because there you can get giant ships putting giant turbines onto giant platforms and, they can come truly huge. So, we are, you know, going to be a fraction of the of the wind energy segment, perhaps 10%. And the second thing is you can’t install with MC collection everywhere, you can put solar panels pretty well everywhere and there will be some solar resource, but people have tried to collect wind energy in cities, urban areas, and so on. And the truth is, the wind just doesn’t blow there. So, we will be communities and we will be edge communities, frontier communities, either off grid or grid edge or remote rural communities. So, I guess we could end up providing, you know, a third of the power for 10% of the world’s population. So, that would be about 3% of the power, not 30. So, that’s what we are, we’re a second order solution, we’re a niche solution. But that’s a good thing to be.

[31:21] Jake: It’s an awesome product and space to be. Just one final question Nick is really around fast forwarding another 10 years. So, 10 years from now, I mean, we’ve just kind of touched on it, I guess, where do you hope to be?

[31:35] Nick: Retired. But I would, again, going back to that instinctive thing, you know, I know lots of. obviously being nearly 60, I’m in a cohort of people who are starting to retire. And again, they seem to fall instinctively, into two camps, you know, great, now I can play more golf, now I can go for more beach holidays. And that is where they take their pleasure. And I think I would like to say, no, now I can perhaps spread myself more thinly and maybe do some non-exec director work or, you know, make some small investments or do some sort of coaching of entrepreneurial companies to keep my mind active while residing to continue doing something I enjoy. So, I would like to do that. I mean, exponentially, we’re going to grow into a billion-dollar business in 10 years’ time, I would love to still be on the board, probably in a non-executive capacity and that would be a tremendous legacy. But I think the reality is that Spinetic won’t sort of reinvent the wheel, in terms of building its own factories to make billions of identical units, that’s done by industries all over the world already. And I think that it’s likely that Spinetic’s technology will either be acquired or licensed by somebody already, with the investment in manufacturing factories. So, I think that with Spinetic, it is likely that we will continue proving the concept, get some early adopters to demonstrate the market traction, which we think fully expected will have and then I think it will be taken to market through partner companies or through a company that acquires us.

[33:16] Jake: Fascinating, very exciting times. Thank you so much for sharing all of that insight today, Nick, and great to have you on the show.

[33:22] Nick: Thank you. Thank you for your time.

[33:24] 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 Remember that add spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

Nick Goddard – Episode 9 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Alex Pitt – Episode 8 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 8 of Green Add Venture with Alex Pitt.

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, take care when typing that in addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode. Today we speak with Alex Pitt, co-founder of Mustard Seed. Mustard Seed work with us stage startups, investing in high growth impact. Listen in to learn how Alex looks for lockstep business models, how to ensure impact is at the heart of a startup, and how critical building an excellent core team is. Alex has founded a very impressive organization, which is helping to develop some extremely exciting businesses. Enjoy the conversation. Hi, Alex, welcome on the show.

[1:24] Alex: Thank you for having me.

[1:26] Jake: Alex, to kick things off, please, can you explain a little bit about your current role?

[1:30] Alex: Sure, I was smiling because I just realized this is not visual to people, this is purely my voice, I can look really stern. Doubt that I will. So, my role, currently, I’m a director of a business called Muster Seed, which I co-founded with one of my closest friends and we focus exclusively on backing really committed, visionary founders with core social and environmental purpose of the heart of what they do. And we use the phrase lockstep, so managing social return, reinforcing each other.

[2:03] Jake: We’ll dig a little bit more into the companies that you invest into, but to take a step back, how did you first get into this space? Please just share a little bit about your personal journey.

[2:14] Alex: Yeah, well, it was somewhat meandering. And I’ve never been sort of one with a grand plan for my life, I must say, it’s been sort of, I guess, connecting the dots looking back. And I could certainly never have co-founded Mustard Seed 10, 15 years ago, there’s no doubt that my prior experience in some way helped me get to where I am today, in terms of experience and network. And I guess long story short, I started Mustard Seed for a couple of reasons. You know, firstly, my very good friend, Henry, and I had always talked about doing something together and I think our friendship has been, you know, a foundation of this business. And we’d always talked about doing something together for as long as I can remember, since we met playing tennis at the LSE, as undergrads. And I guess, you know, took a while to get around to it, but started looking at, initially our own ideas around 2014, you know, businesses that we could then raise capital into ourselves, but never had any good ideas and had about six months of frustrating Skype conversations, I was in Dubai, Henry was here in London.

[03:13] Alex: And eventually, after that period of time thought that we would do a better job probably have more luck finding other people with much better ideas than we would ever have. And, for me, the kind of core commitment to social purpose at the heart of what we do has been as, an eve of evolution, I guess, you know, I didn’t go in with an explicit aim to do that at the beginning. We started looking for entrepreneurs that were doing interesting things and I found myself subconsciously, originally, actually gravitating towards those companies. And we used to host events at leading universities as a way to meet entrepreneurs, we don’t do that anymore now, because we’ve got long-standing relationships, but they need to organize pitch events, isn’t so compelling, given the volume of flow that we get in our inbox for ventures. And Henry might say something different, but I think overlapping in terms of being more explicit from the beginning around social purpose and his frustrations in his prior job, around that, kind of not manifesting itself and what he was doing.

[04:07] Alex: And so, we started making personal investments, over a period of about a year, it went from being kind of 10% hobby to a very consuming. By early 2015, we’d made three or four investments, our friends were getting involved, and it was always early stage businesses with an environmental or social purpose, for example, and we’ve now got 20 companies. But one of our first couple of investments was a business called Winnow, focused on commercial food waste reduction, and we’re with the lead investor in the company, we met Mark as he was leaving McKinsey Sustainability Group, where he’d been writing about food waste, and the trillion dollars of food wasted every year. 30% of all food produced goes to waste, apparently. Yeah, unbelievable. It is. And he’s sort of sliced and diced that and dissected the problem across, I guess the value chain, you know, waste in our homes, waste in the farm, waste in restaurants, waste in commercial kitchens. And as he thought about, kind of, no longer writing about it, but solving a problem for him, the commercial kitchen was kind of the biggest prize and you know, we met Mark when he was wheeling his first, they have a scale that’s installed on bins and is measuring what’s being thrown away and office cafeterias.

[05:15] Jake: I’ve actually seen him pitch once. It’s a very impressive business and where they’ve come, is, where they’ve managed to get to, is fantastic.

[5:22] Alex: Okay, sure. Great. Anyway, I use that example and there are many others but we met Mark right at the beginning of his journey, he was wheeling his first scale around London, in a suitcase, I remember it very vividly, meeting him and Kevin, the co-founder and CFO in a pub outside London Business School. And so, we’re backing entrepreneurs at that kind of stage really, with, capital of 3 to 500,000 pounds, typically. And I think that’s just the start for us, you know, what we pride ourselves on is the support that our network and our team are able to provide and all the other ways around, commercializing the business, building the team, building the board.

[5:55] Jake: So, to understand that; you and Henry were working together as individual angels initially?

[05:59] Alex: We were, yeah.

[06:00] Jake: Okay. So, it’s the personal journey from that, that I find so exciting. It’s not just a story about hearing, you as an investor, it’s also you as an entrepreneur, and that’s what’s so interested to learn about, for example, someone like Winnow, like trying to help them realize their dreams, it’s such an important part of the puzzle.

[6:16] Alex: Yeah, I mean, we’re living vicariously in a way. You know, we’re finding other people with the ideas that we never had ourselves but it’s immensely rewarding, because the sort of diversity and you know, we also remind ourselves, the word funder and founder only have one letter that’s different. And so, for us, it’s not two different demographics of people, it’s about a kind of fundamental connections between the two and the more proven entrepreneurs that we can get involved in, our investor network, for example, that can come back and invest their proceeds and mentor the startups, you know, that sort of demographic is a lower percentage than they would like it to be, we have about 125 families that invest with us, and probably 10% max that have actually built their own business, there’s this huge value that comes from that. So, that was the journey and I’ve never been very good at looking beyond the end of the week. So, I think I just follow the string, keep, you know, wake up every morning trying to do the best I can. And, you know, I think that a lot of our business–

[7:07] Jake: So, some of the things I’m trying to talk through consistently from investors is to focus on the environmental side of things. You mentioned the pub and finding Winnow, I mean, yeah, generally speaking, how do you find the businesses that you’re looking at?

[7:20] Alex: Yeah, I mean, we met Winnow through a university event, and then we met subsequently after.


[07:29] Alex: I met my wife in a bar. And we meet entrepreneurs through different sources, we get inundated with business plans, which is a great asset, it’s also a challenge. And when you’re a small team of six, the very best ones, I would say now come through really trusted referrals from the kind of inner network. And you know, I think sometimes maybe we rely too much on the strength of the referral but it is an important part of it, you know, much like if one is applying for a job, the quality of the references is important. If an investor in our network comes to us saying, I’ve known this individual for 10 years, I used to work with them, I’m putting in 100K or 10K of my own money, one of the best people I ever work with, it’s a pretty good qualifying lead when it comes into your inbox. Whereas if something is just sent directly to you, especially if it’s outside the UK, it’s quite hard. And referrals from founders that we’ve backed, so we’ve made four investments around this theme of food waste and a couple of those we met through other food waste ventures that we’d already invested in and they refer the other ones, so that mechanisms.

[8:33] Jake: So, those were 08:33 [inaudible], cover those but–

[8:36] Alex: We’ve met, we’ve invested in, Good Club, Olio. Yes, Good Club is the parent company for FoodCloud and Winnow, so four companies now.

[8:45] Jake: That leads nicely to talk a little bit through the portfolio, then, the likes of Olio, Good Club, etc., these are all businesses that you came across, they in-entry are at the stage where they’re very high risk. How do you look at those businesses to understand whether or not you want to invest? And what kind of impact might they have in the future? And how do you analyze that?

9:07] Alex: So, I think, you know, we were a team and I emphasize the team because everyone brings, different skill sets, everyone brings different weaknesses to the table. We just had a full day, team-offsite last week, which was driven by the personality profiling that we’ve done through MBTI and sort of profiling of team and every everyone’s different. And that’s really important in our process.

[09:28] Jake: Sorry, what is MBTI?

[09:29] Alex: This is a career, a personality profiling tool, that’s been used for 20, 30 years, and you get a combination of four letters, depending, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, and various other dimensions. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that we will have different ways of looking at things.

[9:49] Jake: So, we were talking about your company, their way and understanding risk and going to then talk about some of your companies.

[9:56] Alex: Yes. So, ways that we look at things. Well, we’re looking at people first and foremost, really high-quality founders, getting to know them, I’d say if I look at our, you know, one or two most challenged investments amongst the 20, there were early investments that we made, where we got a bit overexcited by the idea and did not spend enough time getting to know the founders involved. And so, now, you know, we just made an investment or proves an investment in business we’ve been close to the founder of for four years now. So, that’s a bit extreme but there is now a period of interaction where we realized, you know, we establish an understanding of whether that working relationship is going to be a really strong one, we collect reference points. And then yeah, of course, we analyze in depth the business opportunity, you know, the team do a lot of work around business model, you know, they do the real work, frankly, around due diligence of the companies and we look at the sector and the opportunity, the scale of potential impact, and how do the founders think about their social purpose is really important. So, if they can’t define clearly in no more than three sentences, what their environmental or social purpose as a business is, we’re very unlikely to back them, obviously, we wouldn’t back them. And that’s usually linked a very strong personal, motivational, personal story on why they’re doing something.

[11:09] Jake: And that is an exciting part of it, as well, is always the personal angle on someone’s mission. And someone recently said to me that the likelihood of success of a business that’s driven not just by profit, but actually by a social mission is actually more likely to succeed. And I mean, I totally agree with them, to be honest.

[11:27] Alex: Well, we could talk you know, and others on our team would be able to talk, you know, a lot more around the theory and academic side of things. And, for me, you know, in my very simple mind, and small brain, it’s about the network effects of these kinds of companies, you know, if they’re doing something socially useful and important, the founders are going to be deeply committed, they’re going to stick it out for the long run, through thick and thin, the investors in those companies are going to be highly motivated to help because of what the companies are doing. And we see that every day in how our investor network engages with the companies and we place our investors on the boards, I can give you countless examples of that. And the customers of those products and services are going to be willing to buy more of it or engage more with that company because of the social purpose at the heart. And then the employees of those companies are going to want to stay for a longer period of time because they’re connected to what their business is doing. So, I think for all these kind of related reasons, the stickiness and longevity of these businesses and commercial returns are going to be superior.

[12:28] Jake: Interesting. And we spoke just a little bit about some of those portfolio businesses, so perhaps you can touch on, just for some context, when you invest in the early stage, obviously, you’re looking for really talented entrepreneurs, you’re looking for a journey that you’re willing to be part of. But once the capital is actually deployed, these businesses are having, great effect in their marketplaces, so perhaps you speak a little bit about some of those more environmentally focused companies you invest in.

[12:49] Alex: Sure. So, in the moment, and this may evolve over time but for now, we’re not prescriptive around one particular area or social theme. And so, we have a broad-based approach, we’re quite opportunistic in that sense. You know, if we see a really committed visionary founder, it doesn’t matter so much to us whether they have an idea around improving educational outcomes, or an idea around, early diagnosis of cancer or an idea around reducing food waste, and one person’s view as to what’s important relative to the others might be different. And that’s why we have a very healthy debate within our team. So, we’re not comparing and contrasting social outcomes, per se. So, we have invested across broadly five areas, education, healthcare, environmental sustainability, financial inclusion, and family and community broadly aligned to UN Sustainable Development Goals. I would suggest that most big problems in the world sits within those areas, perhaps with the exception of terrorism. And yeah, and then I think, you know, what I said before, we’re kind of getting involved really early and we’re also tracking the impact over time. So, the social purpose we defined in the mission statement, and that’s part of our due diligence. And then also, how do they think about measuring the social outcomes on a monthly basis through two or three KPIs that also get reported and embedded in the articles of the company.

[14:09] Jake: That’s awesome. So, in the articles of the business, you have KPIs for social impact embedded in there?

[14:14] Alex: We have an obligation to report on the social metrics, the metrics themselves can be tweaked, the social purposes in the articles, and then an obligation to report on at least a quarterly basis, if not, monthly basis.

[14:24] Jake: Wow, fantastic. That’s something I’ve really thought about as well, actually, Alex, if you, you know, from when you take the Articles of Association of Companies House, it’s a standard set of articles, etc., there’s nothing in there about the emissions impact you could potentially have or any other social impact that is anything other than protecting shareholders and the rest of the kind of governance of the business. So, fantastic to hear that you back entrepreneurs and businesses that have that baked in at the start. And I imagine that then follows on, so you guys are an early stage investor, what happens when you get to a Series B, C, D, and the businesses revenues are much higher? And do you finding the investors later down the line of following in with the same rhetoric thinking?

[15:04] Alex: Well, that’s a really good question.

[15:06] Jake: Because that would really start to change things, if all startups had this baked in now, in 5, 10 years’ time, agreements are kicking in, we’re looking for real change. And that would make a real difference.

[15:17] Alex: It’s a great question. And that’s in part why we have the social purpose or environmental purpose in the articles because for now, we’re relatively capital constrained, we’ve invested about 15 million in four years. And you know, it is increasing on a weekly basis. But we do not have the capital right now to lead Series C, Series D rounds in our companies. And we’d always want to co-invest anyway but to make sure that that purpose is fully embedded and protected in the company so that an external investor that God forbid, at some stage might not have that, as a core part of why they’re investing, it’s always going to be protected.

[15:50] Jake: Because you wouldn’t want a misaligned investor coming in, putting a lot of money into a business and then wants to target or milestones not hit by the startup, then starting to influence things from a board level and changing the perks of the business and different direction. Yeah, so what an awesome thing to involve in the business. So, we’re a bit push for time, Alex, so I’d like to just focus on the next steps for you guys as a business then. So, you mentioned, impact a little bit, so let’s just take that for the first step, and then talk about the future. So, the businesses you have invested in today, you mentioned the metrics that you’re following, do you have any quantifiable data you could share with us at all about what impact they might have in the future? So, let’s say Winnow for example, in the food waste created by all kitchens, which equals x, many carbon emissions, which equals x many cows, I mean, it’s a really quite complex piece of work. Have you ever looked into what impact you know, your 15 million over these four years, what does that actually mean in the future? I mean, I’d love to hear about that.

[16:50] Alex: Yeah, so, we’ll define the metrics, two or three metrics for every company, as I mentioned, when we first invest, those get met or reported to us, some companies do a great job, others less so, but we work with all of them, to kind of continually improve that. And we’re looking at these lockstep relationships where commercial and social return reinforces each other, this circular link between the two, so the financial reporting and the impact reporting should be completely integrated with each other as well. And I think that’s sort of still a working progress. And, so yeah, they get reported back to us, we then report to the investors who’ve invested with us, you know, and that’s really important because we get a lot of clients who come to us saying, for example, we’ve been giving money to a certain charity for the last few years, and I’m getting frustrated, because I don’t know what’s really happening with that money. So, these investors, you know, that x hundred thousand that are now being invested with us, we need to be able to tell those investors so they can then talk to their children and grandchildren, that in 5 years’ time, here’s what your money did with us. So, we take that really seriously and I’d give ourselves a 6 out of 10 at the moment, it’s still working progress because it is hard work to do it right.

[17:53] Alex: For example, in our healthcare companies, we are measuring and improving patient outcomes and lives saved now and two of those three cases, the companies are in clinical trials, so they’re not saving lives yet. So, it’s a big fat zero right now. But we would think at some point in the next couple of years, it will go from zero to a very large number. And whereas in the case of our food waste companies, it’s taking up really strongly and Winnow is reporting the co2 emissions reduction, dollars waste saved, dollars of food waste saved, metrics, and I’m not going to give you the number because I’ll give you the wrong number.

[18:27] Jake: That’s okay but it’s very impressive in the picture.

[18:31] Alex: And it’s all in the public domain and in the website. And it’s a part of how, for all these companies, they’re attracting customers, they’re attracting investors, you know?

[18:40] Jake: And so, yeah, so 10 years from now, then Alex, so Mustard Seed, as it is today, what’s the vision? Where would you like things to be, if you could ideally get that?

[18:48] Alex: Well, yeah. So I mean, again, I’m not good at looking beyond the end of the week, but–

[18:53] Jake: Okay, in two weeks’ time?

[18:56] Alex: No, I think, you know, we want Mustard Seed to be a fully viable business, you know, we’re not quite there. But we almost are, we’re almost a breakeven business. And, you know, we want the kind of commercial model to really work fully, and which I think, fundamentally will come down to proven commercial returns from our businesses and we’re almost there with that. And we’ve had four offers now to sell our positions in businesses, which we’ve said no to each time, which was quite difficult, because you know, for a lot of institutional investors, they are not allocating with us yet, at least they tell us because the commercial, the realized returns aren’t coming through. But we have paying clients, who have family offices, and we thought there was a much longer-term opportunity for holding our positions there and so, we’re working really hard on that. You know, team is everything, as I said before, and, having made one or two hiring mistakes, I would say, since we started Mustard Seed, we’re really focused now, and the team we have now is exceptional, working on culture, bringing the best out of everyone, making sure that if we hire, which we will, one or two new people this year, we’re hiring for cultural fit, getting that right, so that people will be with us for a long time.

[20:01] Alex: And then continuing to grow the investor network, you know, that’s been a hard part of our business, I would say, we’ve been quite relentlessly focused on building up the kind of individual family office network, and we have 125 families now investing with us, which is great, but that has not been, you know, to give you a crude reality, I guess, you know, 4000 business plans now in our inbox every year, from all over the world. I can probably count on two hands; the number of inbound inquiries we’ve had from investors. Just a simple fact, I guess. And so, it’s all been through referrals from our existing investors, referring other investors and a lot of one to one conversations, but getting our assets under management from 15 million to 100 million within the next 18 months to 2 years and we think we have a pipeline and a portfolio performance that justifies that. So, we’re in this for the long run.

[20:52] Jake: Well, it’s extremely exciting. Thank you so much for sharing your time.

[20:55] Alex: My pleasure, Jake. Thank you for asking me.

[20:56] 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 Remember that add spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

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This episode is hosted by Jake Woodhouse – connect with Jake on Linkedin or Twitter

Alex Pitt – Episode 8 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Agnes Czako – Episode 7 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 7 of Green Add Venture with Agnes Czako.

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, take care when typing that in addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode.  Hi Agnes, welcome to the show.

[0:56] Agnes:  Hi, thank you very much.

[0:58] Jake: So great to see you here today, thank you. To start things, could we have a snapshot of yourself and the summary of your current role?

[1:06] Agnes: I’m Agnes, I’m a co-founder and managing director of Airex. We are an IoT based Smart Home solution where a startup based in London, and it’s basically an energy efficiency solution to help reducing heat demand in building without compromising depth and air quality. So, I’m the MD of the business, which means considering it’s a very small team, and dealing with the strategy, finance, business, development, fundraising, and so on. everything apart from product development, I’m sure you’re familiar with small businesses.

[1:39] Jake: Awesome, it’s tough in the cases of founder of business that you end up doing a little bit of everything at certainly at the start. And I’ll be honest, to admit, I’ve seen you pitch before. So, just to summarize a little bit about what I saw is essentially, it’s a brick basically, that you guys are developing that helps a house become smart. And yeah, it looks absolutely awesome. What I’d love to do is to dig into the production little bit later in the conversation and start by pressing rewind, and finding out a little bit about where you’re from and how you’ve been on this journey today and what got you interested in sustainability to start with?

[2:11] Agnes: Okay, so before founding Airex, I’ve previously led the delivery of a few, tens of thousands of energy assessments. So, I was working in an energy efficiency organization called Sustainable Home Survey. So, during this time, I also had a chance to actually physically meet about 2000 families in the most deprived areas in London social housing. So, I had a very good hands on experience on what fuel poverty really is, and what are the major problems about dammed, cold condensation, and how we should be able to solve that. And on the funding journey, it’s basically an interesting one, because sadly, I had no financial support from friends, or family, nor did I have any network, I was actually quite new to the UK. So, I arrived a about eight years ago, I’m originally from Hungary, Budapest. So, I was actually really lucky to be able to work in an environment where I was very much encouraged. So, when I arrived, I was the first employee of Sustainable Ventures and then they were later on very much encouraging to me to spin out this company, Airex and to cofound it with them, so I couldn’t have done it without them, basically. So, that’s a massive hub. And on the funding side, and financial support, I think similarly to many other startups as well, we also started off with Innovate UK Ground funding. So, three years ago, we won an energy game changer, Innovate UK award and that was just enough to build the first prototype, test it, test the market and then angels followed. And here we are. That’s roughly the story.

[3:48] Jake: That is so great. And it’s often the genesis of so many good ideas, which come from personal pain points, and you know, spending many. Well, how many startups did you said you did?

[3:58] Agnes: So, the company did 30,000, I personally did 2000.

[4:02] Jake: Okay, so you understand very, very well, that marketplace. And it’s always such an interesting journey to follow when someone sees an opportunity and it’s like, we could do this so much better, because you’re working on a real problem, essentially. And that leads me nicely to ask and so, what is the problem then that you came across, that you felt so passionate to do something about?

[4:18] Agnes: The main problem, I think we’re all aware of the fact that cold, drafty, poorly insulated homes are massively contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions to carbon emissions. But only recently, research demonstrated that actually, air bricks are responsible for about 15% of the heat loss per home, which is a seemingly small problem. But in reality, it has a massive impact on a UK scale, that’s equivalent to 34,000 gigabytes hour per year energy waste. So, it’s not that small problem anymore. But in the same time, if these bricks are blocked permanently by residents, which happens a lot in practice, we’ve seen it in real life, then it causes damped and condensation issues which risk occupant’s health. So, we somehow try to find a way of balancing these two problems, thermal efficiency and air exchange. And that’s what Airex does.

[5:08] Jake: Awesome. And just to kind of, I guess, visualize for some of the listeners, these are the bricks that anyone who’s looked at a house before will notice they’ve got kind of tiny holes and don’t know that sit right down near the gutter or the drain pipe, etc. Because how amazing the, 34 gigawatt hours of energy is consumed on the basis of those actually being in buildings. Wow, what amazing. And so, on learning this problem, you obviously thought right, we’ve got to come up with a solution. So, what is your solution today, then, can you talk a little bit more about the product?

[5:36] Agnes: Yes, so it’s technically an intelligent air bricks that replaces the traditional air bricks and that has a hardware and software element. So, within the Airex’s units, the vent units, they have inbuilt sensors and they are monitoring and analyzing the environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and some aspects of air quality. And based on the cloud-based algorithms, it automatically regulates the air flow with a simple open and shut mechanism. But it also predicts occupant’s behavior and weather pattern for more efficient air flow optimization. So, the main outcome is to reduce heat demand through improved thermal efficiency of the building, but in the same time, not compromising damp and air quality. And I think one of the major points that we need to stress is that the payback is really, really short. So, we did lots of independent academic validation and we managed to prove that the payback is about two, three years through reduce energy bills, which is considered very short and attractive within the energy efficiency product.

[6:39] Jake: Well, absolutely, and just a simple calculation on, I personally had some startup ideas in the solar space and looking at smart meters and how to disaggregate data and consumption, what panels we put on someone’s roof and, you’re talking about 13, 15 years payback, which most homeowners don’t have that long, in an opinion on whether or not they’ll own it that long, let alone actually invest the 15, 20 grand it would cost. That’s a fantastic payback period. And so, taking that through, then obviously, you have a vision, and it’s a case of trying to get some early traction. Of course, no investor is interested in just an idea, they want to see some proof that people actually want what you are, you can go and build. Can you talk a little bit how you take that early idea, and you really translate that into a bit of traction and the next steps from there?

[7:19] Agnes: I think we touched upon one of the most critical points in the life of a startup and over business. Because the traction is the hardest to achieve because everyone wants to look at previous case studies and grant funded projects or pilots are not enough, they want to see case studies when a client was paying for it. And of course, somebody needs to come first and that’s a classic chicken or egg situation. So, that is really hard. And one of my key takeaways, and lesson learned is that try to approach the most pioneering organizations. Within our case, it’s mainly local authorities, housing associations, but also even energy companies. So, very recently, we managed to achieve a really significant milestone because Airex was approved under Ofgem,  the UK energy regulatory body to be adopted under the Eco-scheme, the energy company obligation scheme, which then created and triggered a large commercial contract with one of the big six energy suppliers well done and that’s really exciting. And that also could mean that in a long term, because the Eco subsidy per property is fully covering the cost of the installed cost of Airex, that means it’s technically free to the end user. So, that will be the absolute game changer.

[8:31] Jake: Wow. And of course, any homeowner wants to hear something is free and will reduce that cost going forward. I guess you’ve already mentioned your experience with Sustainable Ventures, and of course, their impressive portfolio of investments that we all read about. But what I’m interested in, I guess, is how you’ve taken this problem, you find a solution, you build a bit of traction, but of course, investment is part of this. And there’s that kind of leap of faith moment as an entrepreneur and you’re going, how am I going to pay for anything, if I follow this idea? Can you talk a little bit about how you took that initial piece of risk and what you decided in your own head like, right, this is what I’ve got to go and do and then alongside that, how you followed into the investment piece?

[9:08] Agnes: So, I think it’s a very interesting funding structure and funding system in the UK. And it’s very, very encouraging that at the, such a very early stage of the businesses, there is grant funding available, especially for hardware-based startups where it’s really important that the development time takes a little bit longer. And me coming from Eastern Europe, it’s not really the case of that part of the world. So, usually, it costs so much, and it is so much more effort to build up a business. And I think we should really appreciate that, that we have these funding mechanisms in place. So, yes, to answer the question, mainly, we started off with innovate funding. And then it was so much more, easier to build that confidence within angel investors. And we have gone through to Angel round, so initially, that was a pre-seed, smaller, round with people who we know already. But now we have just closed a proper seed funding round whereby the lead investor is green angel syndicate and it was a very exciting journey; it was a lot longer than expected. This is one of the biggest takeaways, but I think we made the right decision that we were focusing on sector specific and very much cleantech sustainability focused investors. Because we don’t want just to raise money, we also would like to see the contribution and have some mentorship and network in the sector, which is so much more of an added value than just purely cash.

[10:38] Jake: It’s such an important part, isn’t it of that investment, you’re looking as a smart startup founder driven to push your vision to reality, you actually need not just the money that people can give you, but also the experience and the network that they bring with them because it opened doors in areas that simply can’t happen otherwise. And that makes it so exciting. How would you advise any founders out there? If they’ve got some early traction, they’re looking to go to an investment round, what did you find was perhaps the real takeaways, you mentioned the time but also like, how do you actually speak to investors? What’s the, I don’t know any tips or advice for anyone?

[11:11] Agnes: I think one of the best and most effective format of talking to investors is pitch events, really, because whilst it’s a lot more convenient and comfortable to have one on one conversations, but you just simply don’t have time to do all of those. So, mainly approaching Angel Syndicates, because what happens is, I think the best example is to have the structure of the Green Angel Syndicate pitch events, there are more than 50 people in the room, you pitch to all of the investors and it’s also recorded, so all the other hundreds of members could also see your pitch. And then they conduct a really thorough due diligence process. But you don’t need to repeat those questions over and over again. So, I found that answering the questions is one of the most tiring and exhausting part of the process, because of course, there’s also you have a business to run on the side. So, the more you can prepare with already prepared Q and A’s, so that you could share that with the investors, the better it is on the time saving aspects. So, yeah, some people find pitch events a bit too intimidating. But I think as long as there is a good encouraging environment built out that it could be a very efficient way of doing it.

[12:24] Jake: And some of those questions that you are asked, I mean, what are the things that come up time and time again, I mean, in terms of promoting or trying to sell your idea and your business? What areas would you think got interested, the most interest from investors? 

[12:37] Agnes: I think most investors are quite confident about the technology part and often have a comment that, oh, that’s really nice and neat and simple. Of course, in the background there it is not that simple. But yes, everyone gets it, basically. But most of the questions are on the commercial side. So how are you going to get that traction, and this is why this big milestone with a large contract with an energy company was so important to build up the confidence of investors and everything just sped up from that point.

[13:05] Jake: Yeah, well done. I’ve sat in the Green Angel Syndicate audience, and I’ve seen plenty of pitches over the last two years. And it looks very intimidating process from sat down in a nice comfy chair I was in. But certainly, one of the big questions is always, what’s the traction? So, how many of these things have you sold, how many things you’re potentially going to sell? If I give you some money, what happens in the next six months, blah, blah, blah. And it’s yeah, it’s really interesting to hear you talk about it, but from the other side of things. And so, many founders do mention that the fundraising process takes so long and so much of your time up, maybe there’s a business idea out there that tries to reduce that time but that’s a conversation for another day. Moving forward Agnes, the key part of any startup is, of course, the people you work with, and the kind of expertise that you can pull into your idea and your vision, and align them with some equity, etc. Can you talk a little bit about the colleagues you pulled together and the talent that you have within the company?

[13:55] Agnes: Yes, sure. The talent and the team are basically one of the strongest points of the business, I have to say, and I’m so pleased to work with such an inspiring and smart people. So, our product lead, James has also been teaching at Imperial College and the Royal College of Art on innovation design engineering course. So, he’s a really creative person, amazing to work with him. And, Will, our software engineer who also happens to be a mechanical engineer as well, coming from a corporate background, he’s really good at problem solving, Malik, our electronic engineer, he single-handedly put together the whole product certification side of things. So, I think everyone is really good at learning as you go, which is such an important skill in a startup. It’s so much more important than any formal qualification and as per me, I don’t personally have an engineering background, but I can learn from the team so much every day, which is really refreshing and very inspiring.

[14:51] Jake: And so, Agnes, your background really comes from the almost the domain expertise in terms of all those surveys that you did, what degree did you take in the past? I mean, has that helped feed into the role you’re currently doing?

[15:01] Agnes: Yeah. So, for the undergrad that was focusing on economics and I did that back in Budapest. And then I also did a part time master course at Cambridge called interdisciplinary design for to build environments, longer title, I say IDB. So, that was more focusing on sustainable building design and I very specifically want to align that with my work as well. So, that was massively helpful but mostly also for the network, as well. So, given it’s a part time masters, so I was doing full time job alongside of it, everyone was more mature, everyone had at least 5, 10, 15 years’ experience in the sector.

[15:40] Jake: And so, how many of those people today you still in touch with that? Were you able to get advice from—

[15:45] Agnes: All of them, they’re all in a WhatsApp group.

[15:46] Jake: Oh, awesome. Gosh, How interesting. I bet they’re all working on some really interrelated projects that, you know, you can take advice from each other, or you can help for contacts into certain markets. And that really focuses around that point of network, doesn’t it? One of your superpowers as a startup is obviously, you know, the talent that you can bring in. It’s about learning, it’s about being flexible, but equally, it’s that network that you can start to build, because you need it really badly for all the different things you can’t do. And yes, I guess it’s very clear that this business has come from an area where you saw an opportunity from a big problem. And your mission is kind of shining through your passion. Can you talk a little bit about the actual impact that Airex might have, if you can get to the scale that you think might be possible, and specifically, from a kind of admissions perspective, because of course, that’s really the driver of what we’re all looking at. And hopefully, the green economy is not too far away. But there’s many, many years of work to go. So, I’d have to understand the numbers perhaps, or, or at least the theories that you’re trying to put into place that might well come true.

[16:45] Agnes: I think I can speak on behalf of the whole team, really not just myself that we are all very much driven by addressing problems such as fuel poverty and climate change. And I don’t think anyone else could imagine, ourselves working anywhere, not related to sustainability. So, that’s a real important drive and we’re all very passionate about it. And also coming from the background on the Passive House side of things that’s very much focusing on currently on more on a high-end market, it should have made should also flow into social housing. And I’m hoping that at some point, it will be, but where I find the gap is that immediately that cannot reach out to the mass market. So, my motivation was to try to address both sustainability and social issues in the same time and fuel poverty sits right in the middle. And on the energy savings impacts, so thanks to that, the system can achieve about seven tons of carbon lifetime, carbon savings per property. So, on a scale of food market penetration in the UK, that’s roughly about 120 million tons of carbon saved for the lifetime of the measure. So, hopefully, we will get there in the next few decades or so, there’s a lot of air–.

[17:58] Jake: That sounds like a huge number, in terms of trying to bring some context to listeners out there. And what does 120 million tons of co2, I mean, yeah, I don’t have a clue either. And this is one of the interesting parts about looking at the sustainability space as a core purpose behind all of the missions that we’re trying to work towards. But it’s often not necessarily enough for someone to purchase something. So, cost and price drives 99% of business still. And so, what’s really fascinating here is you’ve said, right, I want to work on this issue, and I want to work on another issue over here, both have a social impact. But somehow you have to find a way into that market that actually makes financial sense for someone to buy something from you. And you’ve got to really healthy place, it sounds super exciting, well done. I’m going to try a little around now, Agnes and it’s not wasn’t trying to download it. I’m calling the sustainability sprint trans basically three quick questions that you apply what comes to top of your head? And what is the coolest piece of cleantech that you’ve recently used? So, this can be in daily life of any form at all that’s perhaps not a fossil fuel-based piece of transport or some of the views that should be more sustainable than previously?

[19:03] Agnes: A lime scooter.

[19:05] Jake: I said the same thing. Yeah, exactly, aren’t they awesome, the e-scooters? And finally, what in your own kind of lifestyle is the most important alteration that you’ve made for a sustainability impact?

[19:17] Agnes: Putting on three more jumpers rather than turning on the heating.

[19:22] Jake: Okay, nice. Yeah and heating is a big one in that. I can’t remember the statistics a huge in terms of our emissions for heating and cooling. It’s a kind of Titanic type discussion, isn’t it? No one’s doing anything about it, except for yourselves. So, okay, this is really my last question, actually. So, the fast forward round, imagine yourself in 2030. what do you think would have been the highlights of the last 10 years if Airex is super successful?

[19:49] Agnes: I feel we would have been rolled out in most of European houses and having sold millions and millions of Airexs and probably their companies also acquired by—

[20:00] Jake: Yeah, I mean, that’s the dream, isn’t it? As an entrepreneur, as the exit at some point. So, if just to take that concept, so you’ve been focused on the British market so far, but the Airex market is global, I mean, these bricks are everywhere.

[20:14] Agnes: Yeah, so we did a really extensive market research on the European market. So, we identified beyond the UK market, another 15 million homes as well within Europe that’s suitable for and also identified some US market as well. But we still need to learn more about that part, we started with Europe first.

[20:32] Jake: Yeah, of course, well lots of business to do. Well, Agnes, thank you very much for your time today and thanks for joining.

[20:36] Agnes: Thank you.

[20:38] 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 Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

For more information go to Green Add Venture
This episode is hosted by Jake Woodhouse – connect with Jake on Linkedin or Twitter

Agnes Czako – Episode 7 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Andrew Wordsworth – Episode 6 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 6 of Green Add Venture with Andrew Wordsworth.

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, take care when typing that in addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode.

[0:56] Jake: Today we speak with Andrew Wordsworth, co-founder and managing director of Sustainable Ventures. Sustainable Ventures has been at the forefront of the sustainability startup space in London for many years now, evolving into the sustainable accelerator and sustainable workspaces. Listen closely as Andrew explains his insights from both sides of the table as both entrepreneur and investor. He explains why working in the clean tech space gets him out of bed in the morning, how important trust between entrepreneur and investor is and how a little money at seed stage can create large value. Andrew has overseen the growth of a very impressive organization. Enjoy. Hi, Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the show.

[1:34] Andrew: Hi, well, great to be here.

[1:35] Jake: Thank you so much. So, to kick things off for the listeners out there. Could you give us a very high-level summary of your current role, please?

[1:44] Andrew: Okay, so yeah, I’m Andrew Wordsworth, I’m the managing partner and co-founder of a company called Sustainable Ventures. Sustainable Ventures has a number of different sorts of business units, we’re probably best known for our workspaces, we were in three co-working spaces in Southeast London, where we have sort of capacity for about 6, 700 entrepreneurs, all of whom are working in the sustainability space. And that’s, it’s quite an exciting opportunity and reflects the growth of the sector. We also run a small investment fund, providing seed stage investment to about eight companies per year, again, in the climate change and resource scarcity. And companies that have commercial solutions to address those, are sort of where we started was around originating our own companies, which sort of serial entrepreneurs, and have found that over the last eight years, seven companies primarily in the kind of ability and kind of energy efficiency built environment space. And finally, we provide a range of sort of supports services either funded through grant programs, we were in the GLA’s Better Futures Program, or, you know, provide sort of bringing together that our community into sort of large sort of demonstration projects that we then seek to try and grant funding into.

[3:18] Jake: Great, thank you, Andrew. Well, yeah, it says, it’s really four areas, then your workspace business, your investment business, the company builder area where you started off, and then the kind of consultancy and event space. To say the very least, when I first started researching the clean tech market in London, you guys were almost very top of the list so, you underplay that for sure. To help us understand then the journey that you’ve been on, perhaps you could take a step back to when you first founded the business and, and what you’ve done prior to founding Sustainable Ventures and the, kind of the process that you’d been through to actually become a founder.

[3:54] Andrew: Okay, so my background, I’m a chemical engineer, and basically been in the energy sector, pretty much the whole of my career. After sort of short spelling consulting, I joined the Carbon Trust in 2002 and for most of my time there until founding Sustainable Ventures, I ran their basically, kind of spin out article conscious enterprises, where we basically created new ventures that we’re tackling. So, climate change, and bring together sort of public private partnerships so that was renewable development companies, we saw some property fund called Local Workplace. And as well as some technology businesses as well, sort of third generation PV and so on. And, yeah, that was obviously a much larger scale, we attracted something like 250, 300 million pounds worth of capital to those businesses.

[4:51] Andrew: And it’s like, you know, the Local Workplace, for example, is now the UK is largest sort of dedicated carbon property fund. In 2011, after I’ve been working with my co-founder, Chris Morris, I left Carbon Trust and was but the two of us set up Sustainable Ventures.

[5:12] Jake: So, Chris was at Carbon Trust?

[5:14] Andrew: He was a working with me on a new venture development in the Carbon Trust team. And yeah, the origins of the business are really again, where is the part of Sustainable Ventures, basically, sort of skill sets. And we basically said about creating and sort of growing a range of our own ventures. So, the two initial ones were E-Car Club, which is an electric vehicle, car sharing club, and Powervault, which is a domestic energy storage. And, yeah, Chris basically was the launch MD, of E-Car and we grew that through crowdfunding through angel investment, through institution investment from Centric. Until 2015, when Europe acquired a majority stake, so E-Car, as now we’re sort of fully exited from that.

[6:09] Jake: Fantastic, well done.

[6:10] Andrew: Which actually created the world’s first crowdfunded exit. Just sort of a small, sort of, footnote in history of crowdfunding. And the Powervault is still going strong, it’s growing substantially. And yeah, so we’ve been through several funding rounds, that’s now run by Joe Warren, and probably about 25 people in that management team. But you know, we still stay heavily involved as kind of active non-execs in that business.

[6:44] Jake: Yeah, I must confess, I was lucky to be part of the latest financing round the Powervault so good. With the Green Angel Syndicate, I managed to sneak in with some equity. You know, both the E-Car Club and Powervault, really interesting businesses and themselves, and they kind of speak for, speak volumes of what you and Chris must have envisaged all that time ago. And I guess that leads me nicely to talk really around a kind of thesis. So, what’s your personal rationale for being in this space, and looking at building businesses alongside a sustainability mission? And why do you think it’s such an exciting place to be?

[7:21] Andrew: Okay, so Sustainable Venture’s mission, vision is for a world where there are commercial solutions to twin challenges of climate change and resource scarcity. And, you know, those that sort of, that vision is baked very much into the valleys of all the people who work in SP. Important distress, we very much don’t like trading off sort of impact versus commercial reality. So, we basically, any business that we get involved with, even a sort of in terms of the sort of tenants that we like to bring in, has to be delivering both sort of a commercial sustainable success story, plus, you’re delivering impact. And so, that in some ways, you know, reflects kind of, I guess, my sort of personal beliefs that you shouldn’t, you know, we can you create valuable companies that deliver returns to investors, but at the same time are delivering and tackling these really critical challenges. And, yeah, in order to do that, so, you know, we’re trying to develop, you know, the UK’s, you know, leading venture development company in this space, and everything we do is all around moving companies from kind of back of the beer mat through to exit.

[8:45] Andrew: And, yeah, so I think that’s, you know, when we’re looking at, you know, what do we do, it’s, you know, based on our own experience of, again, taking companies through that journey, on the entrepreneurs side of the fence, you know, we often think, well, wouldn’t it be really handy if we’d have had a flexible workspace so we didn’t have to constantly move offices? Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody had sort of families or a corporate partner that we could then put demonstration units into use, which we now have do now? So, a lot of things are saying around that, you know, would we have bought this, would this have made our journey easier. And so, that’s where the companies now migrated. Again, from working with kind of you know, one starts at which was over a year, we now work with over 80 companies, 80 SMEs in the sector, and again, provide support in whatever way they sort of they need.

[9:44] Jake: That’s why I’m, you know, so excited to speak to you today, Andrew, and learn about this journey that you’ve been on, because as not only an investor but also an entrepreneur yourself. There’s a kind of story here of decision making that, you know, at one point, it didn’t ever seem possible, the tour you just given me of the new workspace you guys are developing five years ago, I’m sure you wouldn’t have thought that that would be something in the pipeline. But okay, I mean, let’s perhaps talk a little bit around the support you’re giving to businesses out there. One company in particular research, JP is on the show as well. So, he’s now part of your accelerator program, I understand. Perhaps you can talk to us a little bit about that program, and how you select companies and how companies will approach you and as a potential investor or partner in their growth, what is it you’re looking for in the businesses that you get sent or analyzed?

[10:36] Andrew: Okay, so, sort of, I think, sort of around about some 2015 on the back of E-Car exit. We had, from again, from sort of talking to people in the industry had started to sort of identify that whilst, you know, there were sort of accelerators, incubators and so on across the UK, there were none that was focused on the sector, you know, so you’ve got a sort of new TechStars. And it’s something called in its media, advertising technology, there was Bethnal Green, we’re looking at kind of the impact side of things. And, I guess, sort of coupled with that, we also saw that a lot of companies was struggling for basically, that first investment. A lot of sort, very promising technologies were coming through, were probably too early for the kind of the angel market. And, you know, I think, obviously, you mentioned Green Angel Syndicates, you know, very good, very good friends of ours.

[11:43] Andrew: You know, a lot of the time, the feedback we were getting was go come back when you’ve got some traction, when you’ve got your first customer order. And it was just sort of this gap between companies saying, well, I’ve developed my technology, and how do I feed myself? How do I provide the working capital development first, you know, prototype products, to get that first order? And so, we basically sort of put those two sorts of gaps together and identified that we could raise the sustainable accelerated fund. So, the first one in 2017, we raised just over 800,000 pounds and made seven investments, averaging just over 100,000 pounds each across a variety of sectors. The model we have then is obviously that investment goes in, we then work with the companies over a 12-month period.

[12:39] Andrew: It’s basically to take them through that journey to the next funding round. And we run a very, very bespoke program, some companies need a lot of help on the funding side of things, some, you know, some need, you know, we do sort of complete brand redesigns. The other end of the scale, we will write financial models, we basically become part of the management team. And again, one of the distinctive things is because the sector, a lot of stuff takes longer, you know, in tech, for example, you can run a four month program, you know, get to a pitch day have a minimum viable product, get investment. You know, our experiences that, you know, it takes longer to do stuff because there’s always, you know, one common thing about the sector is, is there’s always stuff that happens, there’s very few kind of virtual businesses there are, you know, hardware that needs to be developed, or, you know, sort of a long sales cycles, because you’re actually trying to do something, you’ve got to change something physically.

[13:42] Andrew: You know, that there are the, I’m not saying that there is the exception. I mean, the E-company is one of those and we should just, rather sort of the PPA side of things, which again, we know, we’re very comfortable taking that kind of business model risk. But you know, we really like working and building those relationships for those companies.

[14:01] Jake: You touched on so many things that I guess I’ve experienced as well, in the last couple of years, where you’re looking at offsetting the risk of an investment versus a potential market size and the team you’ve pulled together/ the readiness for the technology to actually make it to the market. I know certainly the Green Angel Syndicate receives now 6 or 700 applications per year, of which maybe 20 get funded. So absolutely, there’s an issue or say there’s a whole load of entrepreneurs out there that haven’t quite got investor ready but need some help. And so, that’s why your accelerator program is so exciting. And especially when you’re sitting on the table as an entrepreneur, there is so many things you don’t know and that’s where you know, someone like you guys is so helpful to any potential entrepreneurs out there listening, you know, Andrew has done such great work, you know, putting together these teams and helping everyone. Yeah, I mean, I should ask, I guess, when you’re looking at making these in investment, how do you guys understand risk? So, when you’re looking at a company to help them to that investor stage or investor ready stage? I mean, how many applications do you receive per year? And how do you distill that down into something you’re happy to take some risk on?
[15:14] Andrew: Okay, so for the second fund that we raised, I guess we’ve looked at probably over 400 companies in that period and it’s like, we’re making 8 investments out of that. So, same with, similar to Green Angel Syndicate, it’s not as though there’s a shortage of opportunity. We, it comes back to the values, the core assessments that we make are, you know, is there a commercial model and can this deliver impact? So, businesses, the more the revenue grows, the greater the impact, we, say we do an initial mapping against the UN sustainable developer goals, and understand that companies will look like companies that are hitting sort of at least two or three of those sectors. And those two sort of assessments, again, just from, you know, past experience, you know, you can see the companies that sort of fit, you know, and then you’re going to be aligned with our mission, which means we’re then aligned in supporting the wind that came to do that. And, you know, we also look for, you know, clearly, you know, the founders.

[16:36] Andrew: You know, yeah, I mean, you know, they haven’t got a lot of traction, you know, that but, you know, if you’ve actually gone out and talked to prospective customers worked out what things are doing, you know, and so on. You know, very dynamic, we get a range actually, of founders, we got Brian from Petty Please just come out of the RCA, so Petty Pleaser is an expandable baby coat fabric.
[17:04] Andrew: Yes, it’s a very, yeah, you know, fairly inexperienced in the sector, but, you know, lots of dynamism at the other end of the scale. Can we succeed Rothko, which you should be familiar with the underwater exploration? Brian’s the CEO there, has had 20 years in the sort of underwater inspection.

[17:28] Jake: Again, I should admit, I was lucky to invest in Rothko, through the Green Angel Syndicate. I know their story, it’s an incredible piece technology, yet, it simply works much better than the human and makes so much sense. So, for listeners out there, it’s essentially a deep-sea robot that helps to, what is it? To take, as it to deconstruct oil rigs, and to help to solve–
[17:57] Andrew: — wind renewables, so maintenance inspection, so on, but they’ve got a really exciting video, instead of the computer vision side, the vision side of things, which means that you don’t have to put people on boats connected to wise to these, basically sit in your living room pretty much anywhere in the world and—

[18:13] Jake: I think it was the moment actually that the description of what it must be like for a diver going into the North Sea and not being able to see anything and therefore can’t wait for the day, whereas this robot is able to carry on as if nothing’s changed.

[18:24] Andrew: I mean, say that one side, yeah, it’s already, we’ve had a forex valuation uplift from our initial investment. And there are talk around the world say that 10 x is a very, very exciting business and, you know, again, it just shows that how relatively small amounts of money at a particular point of time can value growth.

[18:50] Jake: And interesting, so Andrew, we got distracted by the Rob Co stories. But you are unpacking the idea of the founders that you’re investing into and explaining a little bit about what you’re looking for.

[19:02] Andrew: Yeah, so this, I think, I guess my sort of take on that is, there’s no kind of one size fits all, you know, people have been experiencing history and have come up with a, you know, if I do this, I could, you know, I can perform 20% better than conventional ways. But I’ve already got the experience and the contacts and the contracts so, you know, that’s great business to be in, and about half of our portfolio would typically be that sort of, those kinds of businesses. But it’s a sort of, therefore, slightly challenge, there’s this assumption around, you know, entrepreneurs or people, you know, graduated from university and jump straight into things. Again, there’s some great, you know, talents or engineering talent, but, you know, I think that’s where, you know, you came back to risk, we have to assess can, you know, we are going to put the commercial support in there, we have to put the commercial structuring, and therefore, what we’re looking for are those some incredibly talented scientist or engineers or designers or whatever, how, you know, are they going to be adaptable? Are they going to listen? Are they going to say, look, you know, actually, I know nothing about this, so please help me write my financial model, you helped me get my sort of investment story straight? So, I wanted to do, you know, bring team members in with those kinds of skills and experience. So, you know, a lot of that is around, you know, every says the entrepreneurs are really important, but particularly the early stage, they are absolutely critical.
[20:27] Andrew: Not that we have to have all the skills because guess what, our value added is we think we can identify where the gaps are and help people to fill those. So, I guess, there is a final thing, in terms of risk is, you know, I mentioned about Angel syndicates, quite rightly, will be looking for that sort of sales traction. I guess, because we’ve been on the entrepreneur side of the fence, our assessment is in 12 months, can we hit those funding milestones? You know, yes, your product, you know, if you move it to a certain stage, and you go through a sales cycle with a social landlord, for example, will you be able to get an order, will you be able to demonstrate that you’ve got that, and again, half of that is being able to put yourself in their shoes and go well, realistically, you know, are you going to be able to achieve that?

[21:23] Andrew: So, yeah, I think so that’s why we take a risk, obviously, we, you know, our objective is to double the valuation within a 12 month period and, that’s basically, I guess, how the whole unit, that’s why the sort of this portfolio approach at that really early stage works, because you bought the shares at half the price you would be later on because we have the risk, or how you look at it.

[21:48] Jake: Fascinating. It’s kind of one of the things that excites me so much about the area when we touched on a few companies that are doing well and there’s others we haven’t mentioned, that probably aren’t doing quite so well. And this idea of one size doesn’t fit all, as the entrepreneur, you often hear stories of this incredibly talented person that saw this opportunity and, off they went. But actually, there’s so much hard work that goes on at this early stage to actually even get you ready to speak to an investor, let alone to actually sell anything. Here, no, cool. I wanted to talk a little bit around, you know, what it’s like to approach an investor. So, if there were any entrepreneurs listening out there, how would you like to be approached, is there any way in particular that should be done or any advice you would give us to the best way to market yourself to potential accelerator programs or investors?

[22:38] Andrew: It’s interesting, because actually, I have a great job in terms of sometimes I’m on the company-investor side of things, making those appraisals. And then other times can be such as RX, for example, I’ve got a meeting this afternoon where I’m basically Parlak, co-founding management team and trying to sort of sell in both directions. So, yeah, they can, quite—

[23:01] Jake: I had a set of questions here and some of them are for entrepreneurs, and some of the investors and I’ve got so excited the fence.

[23:09] Andrew: Sometimes it doesn’t work out which hat you’re wearing and forget which we’re doing.

[23:14] Jake: But so, perhaps you could share some of the stories you’ve used to get investors attentions and equally, like how other people have got your attention as an investor.

[23:21] Andrew: Okay. And so, I mean, I think the first thing is I again, on both sides is, you know, I’d say, cut the bullshit, basically be honest, you know, if you, if you haven’t got a sale, don’t say I’ve got, you know, every seen these things, you know, I’ve got this big pipeline, I’ve got orders worth or potential orders worth this much. Because, you know, any serious investors going to go through that, and will find out, you’ve had a conversation with somebody, you know, that you met at an event? And that’s just not true, it’s not a qualified sale. So, the problem is, at that point, it’s just confidence, so, you know, as soon as you call on one thing, which is eminently verifiable, you know, then everything else, you know, sort of the bill lecture. So, the most important thing is established that layer of trust. You know, you’re getting into a relationship, if you want to call it that, you know, that it’s, you know, it’s a 5, 6, 7 years, a long-time relationship. And you mentioned, companies are going to go through good sides, bad sides.

[24:32] Andrew: If somebody, basically, I’ll say, if you don’t like an investor, if you don’t like somebody, if somebody is winding you up, or saying some stuff and you lose that trust, do you think, why am I going to invest all that time, in working with that person, you got to enjoy who you work with. So, again, you come back to that personal side of things. So, you know, again, be yourself. There’s no one size fits all. You know, just be honest, because, you know, you can have the shine and some of the worst companies I’ve seen have the shiniest pitch packs, because they’ve been through the whole thing they’ve been coached, they’ve told, you have to say, this isn’t this and, and, you know, we’ve invested in companies that, you know, had the world’s worst pitch pack, but you like the person, like the technology, you can fix these things, you can help these things. So, I think that to me, is the most important thing.

[25:25] Jake: That’s such great insight, because actually, so many people, haven’t you been working in this space, which is essentially early stage, ideation, business creation, business investment, like scaling, getting to market even exit, specifically with a sustainability lens, which actually is almost rare. And fantastic for it, that’s great to hear.

[25:50] Andrew: Yeah, I mean, the other one, I mean, this is something that, I would guess on that sort of theme, I think it was Doug Richards who’s one of the old, sort of Dragons Den. Okay so that he wants to basically raise money for company, he wrote the top 10 risks about why this company and why this thing was going to fail, and then wrote, and these are the mitigation steps. This is what I’m doing to take those risks out the business. And basically, that was, that was his pitch, which, at the time, when I listen, I sort of go, that’s brave and foolhardy. But actually, if you think about it, that’s all investors are really doing. They’re just going, you know, what are the odds that I’m not going to see my money again? Yeah, you know, plus, do I believe that you’re going to get to, you know, 10 x? And actually, it’s the management of those risks and how you’re doing it and how you’re structuring your business around this. And that, I’ll say, it’s, it’s a shame that we sort of ended up in this, you know, I write a 10 slide pitch pack, it has these following slides, is almost it’s almost temperature sort of standard side of thing.

[26:56] Jake: Why it’s so hard to summarize who you are and what your company idea is into 10 slides. Great, thank you for sharing that, Andrew. And you I just wanted to dig into a little bit the personal mission that you clearly have. So, having worked with the Carbon Trust and setting up Sustainable Ventures in its original form, and the acceleration of the workspaces. Sustainability is the one kind of constant throughout this, is there any particular reason that you decided you wanted to work in this sector or anything over the years, that’s particularly caught you that really excites you?

[27:32] Andrew: You know, I guess, when I made the jump from, as a bane, I made the jump into the Carbon Trust. You know, I’ve been in energy and actually had come across a company called Future Forest, which then became carbon neutral company, which should sort of offsets and they’ve looked at that business, and that sort of brought kind of climate change to my attention. Now, I’m aware that you know, climate change has been on the agenda, seeing that Margaret Thatcher was a passionate believer in tackling the issue. So, I wouldn’t say, you know, I was in it. But it started to come up the agenda and I’d sort of seen a kind of exciting opportunities in energy, I was in oil refining, when I started my career, startups and oil refining don’t go together. So, to solve that, we’re going to be great some opportunities in a kind of renewable technologies and fuel cells and sort of just could see that some excitement. And, it has the advantage that you’re actually doing something which is solving a major global issue. And that sort of, you know, the urgency has gotten greater and greater as we go through, and it’s great at the moment to sort of see that it’s back on the front pages, it’s, you know, it’s sort of—

[28:51] Jake: We’re in a climate emergency.

[28:52] Andrew: Indeed, so, you know, the answer to that is my mind is going to be technology, how can we provide those technologies, those business models? And, you know, I sort of, did a study way back called carbon and all we consumes at Carbon Trust, which looked at, you know, rather than sort of looking at industries and where the emissions were coming from, it was basically sort of taking that down to the individual consumer, in terms of how many tons of carbon were they emitting in the home? You know, after that, it was, you know, the stuff you bring in from in your shopping, in terms of the embedded carbon in that, as a sort of second biggest thing, you’ve got transport, you could sort of start to see this, I guess it was sort of at the moment, I said, well, oh, this has got a hit everything. Everything we consume, everything we buy, everything we do, uses energy, but it uses energy, it generates carbon, in one form or another. And so, this is something that is across all sectors and I think people often talk about the internet is transforming things. And it’s ubiquitous and you know, this, actually, energy is far more widespread, because it covers online and offline stuff. And therefore, every single sector, every single company, every single product, is going to go through this change, this is going to be a massive upheaval, you know, and I think because it is so spread, people don’t really realize, they sort of think, oh, you know, Amazon’s transformed online shopping, yeah, fine, but this is going to happen.

[30:28] Andrew: And it’s going to have to happen and that creates massive opportunities for entrepreneurs. Because there’s nothing out there that you can’t come up with a lower carbon efficient version, or more resource efficient version. And I say that, that scalar opportunity, you know, we talked about it being in each sector, and so on. Actually, it could be the biggest sector, you know, out there and going. And, you know, being able to contribute in a personal way to making that transition and making that change on a very practical level, in terms of supporting the startups that are going to move in and change the world. And, you know, that’s, I guess, what gets me out of bed in the morning.

[31:11] Jake: Yeah, fantastic. And I would completely agree with you on all of that. Well, certainly the businesses that have signed up to the Paris Agreement, and governments that are out there that have to abide by the regulations that are coming in, and the populist rhetoric that we’re seeing, you know, globally now, it’s such an important issue, and we need to do something about it. But it is the businesses that we start building today, or in the last few years that are actually going to get us there. And that’s where your role has been so interesting to learn about today. Just one last error, I’m aware of time, to try and get through if we can. You mentioned about investing or working with the lens of impact from our carbon emissions perspective, have you ever looked at your actual impact from a numerical point of view? So, if these businesses got to scale or if you guys had as much impact as you could, what might be the result of that? Have you ever looked into? that I’d love to know.

[32:03] Andrew: So, we’re in the, one initiative we we’ve started this year is every company that comes into our university, like, we basically will map their activities against the Sustainable Development Goals. And we do that, again, through a sort of a, use the language of a theory of change. So, we look at, you know, how, how are their activities, how are they linked to delivering against those goals? So, for example, you know, E-Car Club, you know, we looked at where we’re deploying electric vehicles, which are often in the sort of lower paid income, poor areas, which basically provided clean transport to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it or spending lots of money on taxes or so on. So, tackling that transport poverty was a kind of key element, key thing which was being done. So, measuring those incomes, you know, how much people were saving, and so on. So, basically getting that benchmarks in, and then we, you know, we sort of, then looked at the, obviously, the reduction in knocks and socks and health impacts that electric vehicles were having, and then obviously, that, you know, that then scales up to the global, you know, where we’re at, encouraging the first drives of electric vehicles, we were sort of seeding that, people migrating from sort of internal combustion to electric vehicles and giving that experience, I think, to everyone. I remember, the first time you’ve driven an electric vehicle, you know, it puts a smile on your face, and I’m trying to do that.

[33:47] Andrew: So, we’re basically putting those metrics in there. We’re done mapping that out for other things. Obviously, the early stage, when people haven’t sold a unit, it’s very difficult to quantify the actual impact. But it’s really critical to get the metrics, get the baseline metrics in place, so they know what they’re measuring, you know, that they’re, you know, if they’re reducing costs for Rothko, in terms of underwater inspections, and that then obviously, then impacts through to greater deployment, offshore wind, but understand, you know, how many inspections you’re doing, what’s your cost base, and so on. So just getting those basic things in place. Because as they get larger and larger, and grow more and more, that then got a track record to show and can sort of evidence and also be proactive in terms of tweaking their business model again, to come back to this commercials, how do I drive commercial success by increasing my impact?

[34:43] Andrew: And so, yeah, we’re trying to enable companies to put those tools in place. We’ve just got a, just released an impact report on our first accelerated cohort, where we’ve looked at the commercial success, the value of lesson share price, though, the oldest one. But also, you know, what they’ve been delivering against those Sustainable Development Goals. And then we can start to see across that cohort, where the, sort of the biggest areas of impact are.

[35:14] Jake: Interesting, I guess, once you understand which companies have had the most impact, perhaps the businesses that are applying to come into the next cohort, you can then start to look at the similar areas that might do the same.

[35:24] Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we are just about to launch a new cohort for climate kick here in Britain, a series of accelerated programs, we’ve been selected to run a new style of accelerator, which we’re launching today. And, that’s going to be around the theme of healthy cities. So, that will be looking for companies and startups that can basically sort of look at immobility, we’ll look at building energy efficiency, distributed energy, and so on. So, creating these themes that are tackling a specific problem that cities and corporates within those cities are facing and looking for solutions, and basically developing that as one, almost kind of, yeah, impact focused, but clearly looking to take them on the same journey that have been through investment. So, we’re quite excited about how we can actually, you know—

[36:25] Jake: I’m excited just hearing about it.

[36:28] Andrew: And so, we’re definitely looking for about eight companies to participate in that and hopefully more in future years.

[36:39] Jake: Well, Andrew, thank you very much for sharing your insights and your time with us today. Thank you.

[36:42] Andrew: That’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

[36:45] 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 Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

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Andrew Wordsworth – Episode 6 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

James Johnston – Episode 5 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 5 of Green Add Venture with James Johnston.

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, take care when typing that in addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode. 

[0:55] Jake:  In this episode, we speak to James Johnston, founder, and CEO of Piclo. Piclo developed software to make our electricity grid smart, flexible, and sustainable. Learn how critical it is to begin your startup focused on a specific problem, how seeking investment from the right people at the right time is key, and how sometimes a pivot is the best way forwards. This is a great story, born out of academic dreams, and now delivering real value in the race to the green economy. In particular, I love listening to James’s bold vision of the future energy system. Enjoy. Hi, James, welcome on the show. Please, can you start off by giving us a high-level summary of your current role.

[01:36] James: I’m the CEO and co-founder of Piclo and I mean, other founders should know that means, I do pretty much most things, from commercial discussions, strategy, fundraising, team operations, other financial things. Pretty much the only thing I don’t do these days is actually do any coding, which is probably a good thing, to be honest. 

[02:04] Jake:  Great. Thanks, James. And as initial question, I’d love to start off with the problem or the pain point that it is you’re trying to solve. So please, can you talk us through how you came across this problem or what the problem is you’re trying to focus on?

[2:16] James: So, I’ll actually start it slightly differently, because we made the mistake of not starting with a problem, but we started with a solution. And, that solution, broadly speaking, was to come up with the Internet of energy, which is quite a big idea. And that translated into developing a peer to peer energy trading platform. And the problem was that the solution we built, we weren’t quite clear what problem it was solving and we went in, basically in hunt of a problem and, therefore, the first product effectively wasn’t complete success and therefore, we’ve had to sort of go through quite a long pivot away from that into the, what we’re doing now. And this approach, we took a lot of learnings from the peer to peer, one, essentially, don’t start with technology, don’t start with a solution, start with people, start with understanding who is going to be using it, what their problems are, and how you can help them and basically do their jobs or get on with their lives in an easier and better way. And, yeah, so that’s effectively the big lesson that we’ve had and just talking a little bit what the new product is. 

[03:29] Jake: Thank you, James, what an interesting initial insight into how important it is to focus on a real problem. I’d like to take a step back slightly and understand the personal journey that you’ve really been on. So, perhaps you could explain a little bit more about how you first got into the energy space and what it was that got you interested in working in this area and the steps you’ve taken to go about that?

[03:52] James: So, we’re in the wider, decentralized energy space and in that ecosystem, we focus on something called flexibility. So, flexibility is, essentially, the ability for assets such as batteries, electric cars, and demand-side response generators to shift when they consume or produce energy to different times and that flexibility actually has, when delivered to the system creates a lot of value. So, for example, if there is too much wind being generated at one part of the grid, and it creates congestion issues, and either the wind generator has to be turned off, or they start having voltage issues and eventually, they might need to reinforce or build a bigger network to deal with that longer term. Neither of these solutions is great but if you apply flexibility to this problem, what you get is a much more efficient way of utilizing more of the wind resource, and more of the existing grid in a smarter, a more flexible way. 

[04:57] James: So, in the wider concept of flexibility, we have developed a marketplace for buying and selling flexibility services. And the buyers of flexibility in the first instance are the Distribution Network Operators themselves, the DNOs, they can place a value on, as I said, avoiding unnecessary reinforcement works, when they can essentially set up a flexibility contract with someone that owns and operates a battery to provide the type of response they need when they have areas of congestion on their network. So, our marketplace, as you know plays, like all sort of online marketplaces has some key functions, first of all, it’s around visibility. In this case, the DNO is the first one to provide that visibility, so, they declare that they have a need, and they can articulate and signpost this need on our Piclo Flex marketplace. And then secondly, the owners and operators of these flexible assets, they can then respond and then also provide visibility and when they have their assets. And then the final thing that we do is run auction service so that the Flex providers can actually win some of these contracts and provide the services to the grid, which as I said is, you know, the overarching goal is to create a smarter, more flexible energy system. 

[06:16] James: Sure, it does come back to this concept of the Internet of energy. Before, so Piclo used to be called Open Utility, so that was what we found it. So, before Open Utility was founded in 2013, I was doing research at the University of Strathclyde, attempting to do and complete a Ph.D., but never quite got it over the line. And that Ph.D. research was focused on a similar area, I was looking at direct current micro grids and in the sort of, my part of my wider research and into this space, I realized I didn’t know that much about some of the big concepts of sustainability. So, I decided to sort of educate myself and learn all about what are the big challenges the world’s facing. 

[07:01] James: And actually, the end of that, I got quite depressed by what I was reading, because it didn’t seem to be a clear narrative for how we’re going to solve some of these huge problems. And, I, kind of, lead in that sort of data, not quite sure where we’re going in society, that’s a big societal question. Until I came across a talk by a chap called Bob Metcalfe and the talk was called the Enernet. And essentially, Bob was one of the inventors of the Ethernet protocol and also a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He essentially embodies the Internet and the development of the internet, he literally built it. Well, he gave a great talk at the Singularity University, which is a great institution itself, about how we need to take lessons from the success of the internet and how to transform communication and apply that same philosophy, generally speaking to the energy sector. And this was something, this talk was from 2009, so this is going back 10 years now. 

[08:04] James: And I got a lot of inspiration from that and it’s based on, you know, we need to meet some more goals because, you know, we’re sort of retracting in our stats and worrying and saying we need less, and we actually need to be talking about doing more and investing more and having a grander vision for how this energy system can be. And that’s where we came from. So, I did start with a very high-level thought of, how can I help play a part in building the Internet of energy, and an incorporated a company and instead of boldly to do that? And you know, there’s a certain level of naivety that you need to be something like that but one of the most important things that I did early on was realized that I couldn’t do this alone, I needed to have a founding team with me. And I spent a while basically being busy going to events in this space, CleanWeb with one of the sorts of meetups we used to go to within one of those that I met my co-founder, Andy, or who become the co-founder of the business. Andy has just much more of a software technical background than I did and so, I knew that there was going to be an essential component and then the two of us, we basically got cracking with trying to cord the Internet of energy. 

[09:20] James: And it was only after a couple of months where we, I think Andy mentioned, you know, what problem are we trying to solve here? We knew the big problem upon forming the entire energy system to decentralize one but in terms of who was actually going to buy this, was a bit more the big one. So, that’s when we realized that we needed another co-founder to join and that’s turned out to be Alice. Alice has a design background and effectively a good designer start with people, starts with their needs and understands what problems. And Alice brought that refreshing, sort of different approach, which, you know, we’ve taken, you know, basically our approach to solving problems now. And yeah, so we then started really trying to find the first practical implementation of the internet energy and that brought us down to thinking about a peer to peer energy system where you wouldn’t need to buy your energy from a traditional supplier, but you could buy it from your neighbor solar panels. And as a concept, it’s very neat and intuitive, but the reality is the rules of the system don’t really accommodate that. And that was what we had to basically pivot away from, wasn’t that the idea wasn’t necessarily good in a completely, if we had any fresh start for how the energy system would work, you would probably start there. 

[10:38] James: But the thing that we learned over the first couple of years is the energy system is heavily regulated, there is a lot of interest from government, and they’re basically, there are certain things you can and cannot do. And peer to peer energy is one of the things you cannot do. So, it took a while to really find that out, definitively, but we did and, it was off the back of that, that we then start, you know, we became basically in the process of building something that couldn’t, was fundamentally couldn’t really work. We learned a lot about the energy sector, and it was only with that knowledge that we actually managed to find the opportunity or see the opportunity that we’re now focusing on. 

[11:14] Jake: So much to really reflect on there. You use many times that those working in the space we familiar with such as pivot, it’s important to be agile, and it’s the one real kind of superpower that a startup actually has. And yeah, it’s fascinating to hear you on the other side of having taken that decision as a young business to focus on a different product. And I’m sure we’ll learn more about it as the conversation continues. But there I’d love to get your insights on is really around the team. So, you mentioned teaming up with co-founders and the process of finding other like-minded people that want to work with you, please can you talk a little bit around how important talent is and what it means to you to build a team?

[11:55] James: Yeah, so, the early days of company, you make some pretty existential, quick decisions, who are your co-founders going to be? Who are you going to embark on a journey with? And these are, at the time, they don’t seem that big because the total age of your company is about two weeks old or three weeks old, and you literally incorporated the company into my bedroom, on my computer in my bedroom. And I think I actually recommend doing that, I think I’d recommend using an accountant for any future reference, but we, well, that’s what I did. But you know, and you’re like, okay, well, I’ll, let’s just, let’s just divvy up this, this company, let’s, let’s embark on this journey. You know, give it a go, give it six months and then you know, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll go our separate ways. That’s the sort of attitude you have.

[12:41] James: But you know, if you have found something which will endure, which obviously we’ve been around for now over six years. It’s fascinating how quick you can make some of these decisions that then, you know, have huge impact. And I think it’s very hard to do like a what if, because, you know, what if I didn’t work with these guys, or some other guys, would that change? It’s impossible to really do that, because so much of our company’s identity is basically the collective people in it. And the founders have a very big impression on that, but also employees as well, early employees have big impact on, not just the culture of the company, but on what we end up focusing on because of experience, because of specific passions or things that are drivers. So, effectively what this is, is an organic, evolving moving thing, this company made up of it, you know, essentially, it’s made up of its people. So, this is just a sort of a statement of who we are and what we believe in.

[13:42] Jake: I personally have met so many amazing people working in this sector, it’s absolutely true, the team members are integral to everything you ever build, and the companies that you work with. Moving on to an incredibly important part of this podcast, and that is the investment piece. So, we wouldn’t be a VC and startup focused podcast, have we not talked about that. Could you share with us some of the insights you’ve gained from the investment conversations or investment friends that you’ve made over the years, the relationship between investor and entrepreneur is critical to the success of startups and really interesting to hear you talk about the timing and how important it is to have the right investor at the right stage of your business’s development?

[14:26] James: I think the first point is there are different investors for different stages, and you can cause a lot of stress by trying to go after the wrong investor and at that particular stage. So, for the first investor was Bethnal Green Ventures and, you know, I was in a, you know, the first six months and legal super early so they like, basically taking quite a big risk, but because it’s so mission driven, they’re like, you know, if this is it, do I want to see this company existing, is it good for the world, but they basically take quite a bit of a punt on their investments. So, I say, though, that they are very popular, so there’s probably harder to get into Bethnal Green Ventures than it was back in the day.

[15:07] James: But yeah, they’re like an incubator, accelerator program and that was perfect for what we needed at that time. We were very young and fresh, full of energy, you know, not necessarily focusing on the right things, that was definitely what we needed. We’ve got a lot of support from grants from the government over the years as well, that’s a different form of investment, not equity investment, but its financial and it’s backing from the government and gives you time to test out things. And, that was the next step for us, was to get some of these grants in place from the government, also from private sources and nominate trust, give us some money as well. Only after about two years, I think we were ready for an angel investment. And what I mean by ready, is we knew enough about what we were doing, you know, still ultimately, we’re very early stage and it was huge risk and ultimately, we have pivoted away from that original model I mentioned. But, still, we were ready, and we started with our first angel investment round and this was just a handful of angels that we, you know, we’d ever met, or we had known from our previous contacts.

[16:12] James: And, then since 2015 and now or the last round, which was the Green Angel Syndicate round, last year, we’ve raised a round of, about 1.4 million pounds and, this, I wouldn’t describe fundraising as, from our experience being very straightforward and neat process. I probably spent a lot of my time over the last three or four years with investment and closing many rounds when we had a critical mass of investors at each stage, rather than just having one or two investment raises is actually a whole series of mini rounds. And so that’s what has been appropriate for us, the Green Angel money was very good because instead of spending a lot of time with one individual investor and then receiving one medium sized check, let’s say 25 or 50K, you put the same amount of effort, maybe a little bit more, but then you get a collective group of angels that rely on that due diligence. So, it’s actually a very efficient process. And I think that was very good experience from our side. I think going forward, you know, we’re really keen to look at how we can get institutional money.

[17:20] Jake: Moving on from that James, I’d love to talk through the mission, it’s very obvious speaking to the passion that you have for this space and back at your university days, the overarching goal that you had about the internet of energy. I’d love to talk through the current project in Piclo and how that relates to mission and with that as well, the impact that you hope to have? So, how important the mission of the business is and ultimately, if your business is successful, the impact you might have will be, in terms of the amount of infrastructure investment that isn’t required due to a software platform, just like what you were building? It makes one wonder what other opportunities that are out there that is similar, where you start to solve real requirements that the green economy needs now and investing and building those businesses today is critical for the future.

[18:12] James: So, we’re a mission driven organization, so this is very much front and center our minds, our mission is to decarbonize the global economy. And so, it gives you a hint that we’re thinking big and beyond just the UK. We share this mission with a very large and growing number of people, which is great, because it’s not just going to be one company that makes this happen. There’s a whole series of different companies that need to share that vision. They might be competing companies, but even if they share the vision, then you know, they’re competing to make the right thing happen. But it’s just that idea that everyone has got that, especially an energy system and working in energy system, having that in their mind, some way, you know why to get up in the morning. And our role in that is around, it’s all around the marketplaces. So, in order to get to a point where we have, whether it’s 100% renewables or, or 90%, renewables and 10%, nuclear or whatever. You know, we’re technically agnostic really on that point, you know, we do know that we need to get to a system which is radically different than it is now. And that system needs a marketplace or marketplaces that can facilitate the hugely more complex, you know, complexity that needs to be managed on, when you have millions and millions, plenty, even a billion different generators and smart devices and cars. So, these cars, batteries on wheels, you know, effectively a generator and also can be consumer and it moves around. 

[19:41] James: So, it’s quite a complex ecosystem we’re talking about, and you need a very different type of marketplace that can facilitate all these transactions. And, that’s, you know, that’s what we’re trying to build. So, it’s definitely a journey. One of the challenges we have in terms of measuring impact is, because we are focusing on systemic change, you know, we’re not just focusing on one particular user group or one type of specific problem. We’re talking about shifting $2.2 trillion a year industry, and you know, so it’s a big thing. And, how do we feel comfortable making progress? I think we do need to have metrics that we can measure and the ones that we are measuring or cost. So, are we reducing the cost for consumers? And why does that relate to the organization? I think it’s fundamental that we do transform the energy system, but don’t end up doubling up our costs. I think we need to do this in an affordable and an efficient way. So, that that’s really important.

[20:45] James: The second metric we look at is how much more new renewables can be connected to the grid or how much car, essentially another impression of that, how much electric cars can be connected to the grid, essentially displacing combustion cars that we can somewhat, sort of directly attribute to because of our marketplace existing. So, those are the sort of couple of the metrics that we can look at and we can measure, and we can see if we’re making progress. It changes slow in the energy system, so, you know, we are six years old, but we’re only really, you know, with big pivots, we’re only really getting started with the traction in the last couple of months really. We had the first auction, we completed on the platform and to give you a sense of the scale, so that around about 450,000 pounds of flexibility contracts were awarded via our auction. And, to give you a sense of that, that essentially saves or differs the need to invest conservative estimate, 7 million pounds of actual infrastructure. So, you’re replacing expensive infrastructure. It’s starting, you know, really, we’re starting to get some data and I think of actually making an impact that can be directly attributed to us. But I think there’s also, the indirect stuff is huge as well. So, if we can be seen as a leader and creating white papers and moving the conversation forward, that inspires others to do the same, and to develop similar solutions, other solutions, you know, and that has a big impact as well. 

[22:16] Jake: Well, James, that was a great moment to finish on. And thank you so much your time, really appreciate having you on the show. Thank you. 

[22:22] James: Have a good weekend.

[22:24] 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 Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.


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James Johnston – Episode 5 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Liv Sibony – Episode 4 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 4 of Green Add Venture with Liv Sibony.

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, take care when typing that in addventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the episode.

[0:54] Jake: In this episode, we speak with Liv Sibony, founder of SeedTribe. SeedTribe is an impact investment platform connecting entrepreneurs and investors focused on the United Nations SDGs. Listen to learn how important purpose driven business is, how collaboration is at the heart of scalable impact, and how sometimes it’s the communication of the emotional elements of a startup that really grabs an investor’s attention. Liv’s passion shines through in this extremely insightful interview, enjoy. Hi, Liv, welcome on the show.

[1:25] Liv: Thank you very much.

[1:26] Jake: So, to kick things off, a snapshot, please, can you give us a summary of your current role?

[1:31] Liv: Sure. So, I am the CEO of SeedTribe and SeedTribe, at its core, connects angel investors with impact for startups. So, we essentially help find investment for impact for startups, which means profit driven organizations addressing a social or environmental challenge. So, actually taking a little bit of an evolution, I’ve actually realized that there’s a lot of infrastructure and plumbing that needs to happen within the ecosystem in order to help it grows, it’s quite niche at the moment. So, I’m slightly evolving it beyond just connecting entrepreneurs and angels, and helping entrepreneurs just build great businesses by providing a wider ecosystem around that. So, whether that is connecting them with other forms of funding, like grants or debt, or things like that, but also possible partnerships with corporates who want to take part in their or connection to accelerators, etc. So, actually, there’s a lot of scope for collaboration and partnership within the space to help businesses become great, without only having the purpose of looking for equity investment. So, it’s slightly broadening the reach.

[2:41] Jake: Awesome. I can’t wait to learn some more about Liv, as the conversation goes. Today, we want to try and explore the investment side of things, and also entrepreneurship and you’ve been both an entrepreneur and investor now, so in order to follow that journey, let’s take a step back and rewind slightly as to how things started and understand you did linguistics at UNI, so perhaps you can talk us through a little bit of the journey that got you to where you are today, then Liv?

[3:03] Liv: Sure, it’s probably one of those journeys that makes more sense when I look at it in retrospect, then particular design at the time, as these stories often do. But I guess essentially, I grew up in Monaco, in quite a sort of financially privileged environment, and also a non-environmental environment. And I was probably slightly scarred by all of those perspectives. And it really always, sort of drove a passion for me to be much more involved in both social and environmental projects. So, I always thought I’d work in charities and that’s how I started my career, and then I actually realized that there was quite a few challenges in that third sector space for me and my experience of the organizations I worked at, I then moved into public sector, and then somehow wangled my way into the corporate sector working at Goldman Sachs for seven years, which is also an interesting learning experience. And essentially a sort of mixture of having worked in third public and private sector really helped me understand where I felt the challenges were in each and the opportunities and that led me to set up my startup, Grub Club. And the idea with Grub Club was that, so what we did is we connected through our platform, we would connect talented chefs with underused spaces in order for them to create temporary restaurants. And then we would showcase those dinners on our sites to bring diners to the platform.

[04:34] Liv: So, really, it was a sort of discovery and booking platform for amazing dining experiences. And what it did is it provided the opportunity for people to share a meal for people who didn’t know each other, to be able to meet away from technology, and for chefs to be able to have a platform to grow. So, it was a little bit of an antidote to the sort of cookie cutter, high streets and walking past with the same restaurants everywhere and everyone in twos with their heads down on their phones, and just, so actually food is really powerful, connective for people, and something really soulful and inspiring and creative and that just bring that back. So, it was really a way to sort of use that to bring people together, and to give chefs a platform to be able to grow their brand and business so that maybe one day they could open up their own independent restaurant. Interestingly, though, my real purpose was also connecting people to the supply chain within food, so that people better understood where food came from, because I felt really upset actually by people’s buying patterns and where those people who can afford to, was still buying your, sort of Tesco value chicken every day. And I just thought, well, you can afford not to do that, that would be great not to do that. And I thought lead by example and show how delicious food can be. If you spend a bit more money on it, if you’re a bit more mindful about etc.

[05:59] Liv: The one big thing I learned from that was that, that was my real purpose. But it wasn’t embedded into the mission of the company. And the more we grew and scale the company and had to go for another round of investment and another investment, the further away we moved from that. And the more we just had really beautiful, wonderful, expensive middle class dinners in cook spaces and it was nice dinners but honestly, it was moving further and further away from the true purpose that was driving me to a point where I just sort of felt the business is great and exciting, etc. but it’s not really where I want to be going. So, we sold the business, and it now exists under the guise of, Eat What You Are, as the US counterpart, so it’s still going, it’s still does what it does. But what it really taught me and what really drove me to sort of embed this into SeedTribe is actually understanding how you can really use purpose as your actual business model and those two need to be heavily interlinked.

[06:58] Liv: And actually partly just five years of being an entrepreneur, and just being beaten around in the eye of the storm, and really understanding all the different challenges that entrepreneurs go through and really empathizing with that journey, both in terms of building your business, but also in terms of seeking investment, that in addition to that, actually, for me, I believe that we can use business as a force for good. And that is really what drives me. And so, it makes me be incredibly strict on taking on the businesses that I do at SeedTribe and I’m really trying to understand where there is no compromise, where the purpose is the business model, and you make money from it. Because if you can’t make money, you can’t pay the bills, and you’re not going to have any impact at all. But at the same time, you can use that as a force for good rather than a sideline.

[7:46] Jake: Well, Liv, thank you so much for sharing all that. There’s all sorts of steps that I think is so fascinating when it comes to meeting people and initially your talk of personal motivation from where you grew up and that all the way through to your experience in the banking sector, giving you kind of, high pound will to, then jump into being an entrepreneur. It’s a step that a lot of people never actually go and take. And you know, the financially minded people will probably perk up when you talk about an actual exit, which, of course makes everything work. Yeah, so Liv, I’d love to focus on your SeedTribe experience at the moment and the business you’re trying to build. It’s very clear your mission when you explain that, how that translates into real product now is super interesting. So, perhaps you could talk a little bit about then exactly how you look at the businesses, you’re potentially investing with or into and from a thesis perspective, what excites you so much about this space? And in particular, for us here on the Green Addventure, we’re looking at environmental sustainability, so yeah, your wider thesis, what’s specifically focusing on the space?

[8:44] Liv: Sure. So, just to clarify, one thing is actually we’ll connect the angels and entrepreneurs, so we don’t directly invest ourselves. But what we do is we sort of use that investor lens in order to decide which businesses we would take on board and showcase to investors. So, we still apply that mindset, but I guess I just want to be transparent that we don’t directly invest ourselves. So, I guess it’s really sort of twofold, in a way environmental projects are probably my favorite, partly because I increasingly, on a personal level, feel really deeply connected to nature and the planet and just feel we need to protect it. But partly also, because there’s a much clearer business model that can be made with more clear revenue streams that are less shades of gray, than some of the social projects. So, obviously, first and foremost, what is again, the purpose of the business? And again, I’d say on an environmental perspective, there, it’s often quite straightforward, right, I’m an energy saving device, I’m a machine that turns dirty water into drinking water, or I build renewable energy devices or something like that.

[09:50] Liv: So, the purpose tends to be quite well embedded, which is sort of nice and clean. And then it’s really actually just looking at the business model itself, so is it genuinely, a viable business? So, I guess, as usual, the top thing we look at is the team, what’s our experience, are they well positioned, and it may be, we tend to look at relatively early stage businesses, so they are revenue driving, but they are pre-venture capital. So, they tend to be raising up to a million. So, it could be quite a small team often time and they won’t be complete, and they’ll be areas missing, but at a minimum that they’ve identified what gaps there are in the team, if there are any key ones. And in an ideal, whether they’ve actually identified who could come on board to actually fill those roles once and the investment is ready. So, I’d say that is, again, the key, because if it’s a really great team, no matter what challenges will happen, they will be able to overcome them, and we understand pivots happen, and a lot of changes along the way. So, you need to be sort of flexible and adaptable, I think you need to have the right experience. But humility is also really, helpful. We really value that aspect of an entrepreneur. So, you need to have that balance of being confident and knowing what you’re doing but also being aware that you don’t necessarily have all the answers and you want to listen to what other people may suggest, whether you then take that on board or not, then remains to be seen.

[11:24] Liv: So, I think that sense of humility is important. To me, I really appreciate the sense of collaboration as well, I think, especially when you’re looking to address environmental challenges, it’s about something much bigger than what one individual, person or team can do. And slightly thinking outside the box in ways that they can partner with other organizations, whether that’s another startup or corporate or a government agency, or whatever it is, I think there’s a lot of opportunities to scale our collective impact by being a little bit more open minded about how you work with other people. So, I think there’s quite a big sort of mindset shift there, in terms of not just being a land grab of everything being about how I’m going to grow my business and get the biggest slice of the pie. It’s how we can collectively reduce carbon emissions and ideally, we all have a smaller slice, but have a significantly bigger pie. So, I think we will benefit from it, but it is about looking at business in a slightly different way.

[12:30] Liv: So, first and foremost team, obviously, the classics, you know, is the market big enough? Does the business model make sense? And unfortunately, there is an element of just right time, right place. And I would say that it is really important for someone to be coming up with a product that is suited to the market as it stands. So, there are times when maybe people have a really pretty awesome product or concept but it’s probably just not right time for it. And I think that’s really important. So, I do really think that no matter how great it is, if you’re just a little bit too, out there, for us, it’s just quite difficult to find the right investors who would actually invest into those products, investors, I find a lot more traditionally minded, than we may think, and tend to be more excited by something that is current affairs. I mean, I’ll give you an example, we are finding investment for a company at the moment who has developed a bio-plastic. So, it is a product that uses organic waste, so it’s, sort of food, landfill, and they sort of break it down and then they are able to produce a whole range of different types of plastic that serve different purposes. So, they can create your single use plastic that is completely biodegradable within weeks, and you can literally throw it into the sea, and it will just turn back into food, which would feed the fish. So, that is magic, and I would say now is the right time. Had we not had David Attenborough and someone had come up with this product, I don’t think it would have been the right time, they’ve been working on it for seven years, now is the time for the product. And everyone is sort of climbing over each other to try and invest into it. But that’s because it’s something that suddenly everybody cares about.

[14:21] Jake: So much, you’re saying resonates really, really strongly Liv. It’s amazing, I mean, in particular, your point about collaboration and scale and it’s one of the founding strategies so, we say in starting this podcast, is there’s so much interesting work going on out there, that people don’t necessarily know about. And it’s only by drawing attention to it and helping tell the story that more and more people will get drawn in, more and more people will hopefully start to work towards these goals that we hold so dear. And yeah, of course, some of the traditional techniques that you’re using to analyze and reduce risk at an early stage are pretty kind of synonymous with most investments. I’d love to, Liv, dig a little more into your actual business itself, so SeedTribe is a platform that is connecting investors entrepreneurs together. But inevitably, as the almost due diligence in between, you need to be able to market these businesses to the investors themselves. So, if you don’t think it’s a good investment, then it’s probably not going to be one for one of your network members. Could you talk to us a little bit about how you actually look at these businesses and how you sell them onto the companies or sell them to individual investors internally? You’ve already mentioned that you’re slightly earlier than perhaps the traditional VC model, which inevitably means it’s a certain type of investor that so the pre-seed our seed stage. I’d love to learn a little bit more about your theories for operating there and quite how you translate those, you know, so many ideas out there, how do you pick the right ones and market them in the right way? Or is that how it’s done? I mean, are you thinking of it like that, or, you know, please explain around that.

[15:44] Liv: Yeah, so it’s, well, it’s a gray area, in all, we’re treading a fine line. And because the way in which we operate is not regulated within the angel space, so we actually have to be really careful to make it clear that we’re not actually endorsing any of the businesses, even though of course, we’ll put forward our very favorite ones. So, part of the wording is actually really key. In a way, it’s quite a good exercise in being extremely neutral about any of your language, because we have to make it clear that we don’t actually do the full due diligence on edge, we’re just showcasing businesses that we find interesting. We do, of course, do our own sort of quality control in deciding which ones we think sound the most interesting. So, there’s all those elements that I sort of mentioned. So, we sit on a weekly basis as an investment committee and look at all the business pitches that have been put forward to us in that week and then we sort of choose the ones that we each prefer, and then pitch it to the rest of the committee. And essentially, you have to just defend that business idea to the rest of the committee and that sort of helps to decide–

[16:51] Jake: It works like an internal Dragon’s Den?

[16:53] Liv: Yeah, exactly. And I guess out of that comes, you know, three potential outcomes either a complete no, or a yes, that’s absolutely amazing, or what often happens is a, maybe let’s just check these 10 extra questions that have come up from the team and just make sure that we are on track with it. So, that’s how we sort of looked and choose the businesses. So really, what’s good about that is that, again, I guess it comes back to the idea of collaboration, this is an internal thing. But the five of us who sit in the Investment Committee have completely different angles, experience perspective, interests and it’s a really good sort of acid test, as it were to really make sure that it covers a wide range of angles. So, no one has any vested interest, we actually just genuinely care about putting the businesses that we get most excited about and to our network of investors.

[17:46] Liv: So, once those businesses have been shortlisted, I think the other thing is positioning it in very sort of simple, layman terms. So, coming back to this same plastics business, honestly, it took us quite a while to get for the line with accepting that business, because they are a bunch of scientists who are unbelievably technical. And we literally look to their pitch deck and could not understand a word of what was going on. And then it just makes us feel just a little bit, sort of, not very up to date, you know, or favor things. And then we realize we’re not plastic technology scientists, and neither is 99% of our database. So, actually, let’s just remember to be human about it. And in a way, it’s sort of helping, like asking those really basic dumb questions about what they actually do and how they make money and how scalable this is, in a way that is sort of simple, and is really helpful. Because at the end of the day, if you think of, everyone tends to sort of, people who are not involved in this space, sort of asked me, what do angel investors think, you know, what do they like, etc. And it’s like, an angel investor is just a normal human being like any other person, and there isn’t really a sort of one size fits all of how they think or how they operate, nor what their background or speciality is.

[18:59] Liv: So, you can take a hedge fund manager who just has a bunch of extra cash that they’re happy to invest in, and they can take part in the SCIS and in the IRS tax benefits, that is not going to make them a plastics expert. But they might have been scuba diving and realize that they want to help address this problem and want to be involved in it. So, actually, no matter how clever and experienced the angel investor is, they’re also not going to be an expert in absolutely everything. And sometimes there is also you need to understand that there’s that emotional pull as well. So, there’s another business we’re working on, it’s not environmentally focused, it’s on cancer research, really cool, sort of big data analysis to detect the early signs of cancer. Again, you don’t just have to be a healthcare expert, you might have had personal experience with cancer in your close circle, that you feel that this is how you want to spend the money, rather than just funding on a sort of charitable basis. So, I think there’s a number of different angles we can get to and we just need to remember to be human about how we present it in its simplicity.

[20:04] Jake: It’s something I think about a lot, in terms of the amount of money that is flowing out there that potentially could be in this space. And it’s, I mean, certainly from an environmental lens, you’re looking at the Paris agreements, and some of the targets that Western businesses or Western economies are setting for themselves, whether it’s no diesel by x, or in the UK, it’s in a climate emergency, or its net zero by 2050. These are all targets we want to try and meet. But it’s only businesses that are starting to be built today or around now that will actually achieve those with the technologies they’re creating. So, somehow, making it easier for people to put money into these early stage businesses without being experts is really part of what you’re doing, which is such an exciting business to be involved in. And it’s a nice point for me to ask me, if I was a founder trying to raise money, what is the best way to approach investors, do you think?

[20:50] Liv: So, just one on that point, which might be helpful or not, but the point about the Paris Agreement, I think it’s a really exciting time to be starting and growing a business, in particular in the environmental space. So–

[21:05] Jake: I totally agree, I think there’s a huge commercial opportunity alongside the purpose that we’ve touched already upon.

[21:11] Liv: Exactly. So, we could look at it, going, oh, my goodness, we’re all going to be flooded underwater and die of ocean acidification, or you could go, oh God, there’re amazing opportunities and, let’s just focus on being positive and constructive about it. So, I’m with you on that. And so, for example, just at the beginning of June, this year, a few weeks ago, the government enshrined into law, that we will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That is amazing. And for example, as an entrepreneur, working in the environmental space, that is something you could really latch on to, which is saying, there’s an opportunity here, which it’s going to be law, that we all have to reduce our carbon emissions. So, by coming in the early days, these are incredible opportunities and we’re not entirely sure what law is going mean, but we know that these things are going to change. And if you read some of the parliamentary debates, the only positive constructive ones I seem to read about at the moment, are people putting forward interesting motions to, you know, find ways to reduce carbon emissions. So that, for example, tying that into the bigger picture, I think, is really helpful argument for investors as a starting point, I would say you also just want to play for the second stage that we look at, which is pre-VC. And I would say you want to find that balance of absolutely, number one, I would keep it commercial. I just think you need to show you’re talking to people who come in with a hat of, I’m looking for an investment opportunity.

[22:43] Liv: And that same person might have a philanthropic heart, but in the current scenario that you’re speaking to them on, they are looking for an investment opportunity. And that is the language you need to speak to them, no matter what the other purpose is. So, first and foremost, this is a minute business model, I’m really serious about it, there’s a great opportunity here. But in addition to that, there is that additional bonus of that emotional tie of caring about the bigger purpose. And then that is suddenly, the mecca of all kinds of investments, which is, you are looking at a purely commercial opportunity, but you also get the amazing feel good factor thinking that you’re contributing to something bigger. And I think that we need to really embrace that. And there’s something that we call the golf club test t the Investment Committee table, sorry, I’m surrounded by men at the Investment Committee, the golf cup test.

[23:39] Liv: Generally, it is something that investors will be excited to talk about when they are on the golf course. And so, there is really that sort of excitement factor. And if you can tie that in to how someone feels about something, I think that is what the game changer will be. So, I’d really focus on both. I’d start with commercial first and foremost, because it’s a business, but I think that greater purpose is what helps give it the edge. I would like to go on a limb and assume that given two equal commercial opportunities, you’d assume everyone would choose the one that has the added bonus of some larger purpose to be the deciding factor.

[24:2] Jake: And certainly, fair interaction on the SeedTribe platform, that’s what they’re there for. So, if you’re looking at it from a kind of jewel, pillar of financial return impact and inevitably a funds got the same financial impact, you go for one with the higher social impact. And that leads me nicely to speak really around personal mission and passion and an overall impact of this project SeedTribe, so it’s very clear throughout your personal journey, Liv, this interview today, what drives you, in terms of taking your experiences and putting them together to focus around purpose and do that with a commercial mind? SeedTribe’s obviously growing as it stands, and sounds really exciting, your personal mission, you’ve already explained. But if some of these businesses do succeed, I mean, what kind of impact will they actually create? And it’s a very difficult area to quantify, is impact reporting but have you guys looked into that at all or what are your aspirations for that?

[25:13] Liv: That is still a learning journey, if I’m honest, because I’ve realized that the impact that you have is very individual to each business. Again, when you’re looking at the environmental side, it’s a little bit more straightforward, because you can, you know, at the most basic level, reduce carbon emissions, if that is what you’re looking to address. So, there’s that side of it but I really tend to ask companies on an individual basis, what is the impact that you like to have and how will you go about measuring that, and really get that from each business. Because I started off trying to see if I can get some kind of capture tool on measuring everyone’s impact across the board, and I couldn’t get to it. And then the more research I did, the more I realized there were entire organizations trying to focus on that. So, that’s, I think, something that’s really important to work towards, something I realized, I don’t know how to actually change if I’m honest, which is why I asked people how they approach it. And then it’s really about whether I believe that that is a genuine focus of theirs, and that I believe in the way that they look to measure it. So, I’m more collecting other, people’s feedback on it. But I do think that it’s a really important question to ask because, you know, these environmental opportunities should really be addressing this wider concern. So, unless you’re measuring the impact in an environmental sense, then in a way, you’re not really properly focusing on how you’re going to address the problem.

[26:41] Jake: Yeah, I mean, it’s a really good point, for example, plastic, although it is a big problem, it’s not a huge creator of emissions. So, at the very start of our conversation, you touched on the supply chain of food. I mean, it’s a huge issue that we have to deal with, in terms of the wastage, in terms of the meat heavy diets that people are tending to move towards globally. Yeah, there’s all sorts of things you can actually measure that do make a difference when it comes to looking at this. Liv, we got time for one last question, so I’d love to understand, you know, if we take today, and we fast forward, to say 10 years, where do you hope to be? And how will SeedTribe look at that time crystal ball time?

[27:17] Liv: Good question. I’ve not really thought 10 years ahead. I would see, I really just coming back to the idea of collaboration. I think, for me, that is what the game changer is, I guess it requires having a strong identity. So, each person knows what their own purposes and what they’re focusing on. But I suppose in an ideal world, I believe that we all need to work together in order to address some of the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges. And no one in isolation can do that. And I’m talking at a local and a national level, I’m talking cross sector. So, I believe that small businesses need to partner with corporates, but also with governments and with civil society, I have a real sort of gripe, I get really upset when people always think sort of government’s issue to sort out and we’re just waiting for them to go and change it. Actually, government is voted by the people and we are the ones who have the power to change it and the duty to also take responsibility on making a change.

[28:12] Liv: So, I believe that there’s scope for collaboration on that side, but also between countries. So, if you continue on the plastic or the food analogy, actually, it’s all completely interlinked. And the food that we buy comes from all the different countries in the world, the plastic that we create, and get rid of, and the products that we sell that got plastic in them, have a global impact. And actually, it’s, unless we all work together, internationally, I don’t think that this can happen. So, with all of that in mind, the thing is really, business as a force for good. And I sort of take the angle of new businesses, because we don’t have the baggage of the sort of infrastructure legacy that large companies have. So, the focus will always be on supporting new businesses, to create systems or to create business models that are used as a force for good. But with that at its base, it’s about collaboration, it’s about bringing government into it, in order to be able to influence policy, in order to enable better creation of these companies. It’s about bringing citizens into this who can help support these missions. It’s about bringing corporate saying who can learn from the innovative startups, funds there, maybe look to sort of do more business with them, etc., so that that helps them work in a more impactful way. So, I’d say yeah, a global platform of collaboration, focused on using startups as a force for good.

[29:42] Jake: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for sharing your insights and your journey with us today, Liv, thank you.

[29:46] Liv: Thank you for having me.

[29:47] 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 Remember that ‘add’ spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add, with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

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Liv Sibony – Episode 4 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Matt Mclaren – Episode 3 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Here you’ll find the full transcript for Episode 3 of Green Add Venture with Matt Mclaren.

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 Adventure. On the show, you’ll learn from the critical insights of both founders and investors, 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 Take care when typing that in, adventure is spelt with a double D. Thank you for listening and enjoy the episode.

[0:55] Jake: On the show today, we speak with Matt Mclaren, cofounder and CEO of Entomics. Entomics is developing technology solutions to grow insect, aiding in the fight against food waste, and reducing the carbon impact of supply chains. Having recently closed their seed round, including investment from Green Angel syndicate, they’re now looking to scale their business. Matt shares fascinating insight on how resourceful you can be well as bootstrapping, how important a blend of talent in the founding team can be and just why insects could be the key to a more circular food system. Enjoy what I found a fascinating conversation. So, hi, Matt, welcome on the show.

[01:35] Matt: Thanks, Jake, good to be here.

[01:37] Jake: So, just to kick things off Matt, I’d love to start from a very high level, could you please introduce yourself and explain a little bit about your current role?

[1:44] Matt: Sure, no problem. So, I’m Matt McLaren, I’m the CEO of Entomics Biosystems Limited and we’re a company based in Cambridge, a startup focusing on using insect bioconversion to turn waste into useful resources like animal feed in a much more sustainable and natural way.

[02:00] Jake: Wow, that’s a great opening line, thank you. Okay, and so to dig into that and start to unpack slightly, did you have a particular problem area that you started at, that you figured was something that was felt by many people and it was something that you really wanted to try and find something, let’s say, a solution to actually deal with? How exactly did you end up at that starting point, shall we say?

[2:20] Matt: Yeah, so, we actually started out about four years ago, just as we were all studying at the University of Cambridge, myself and my colleagues. And we actually had, we’ve got to get, I guess, serendipitously, throughout, you know, the various events and things, we met each other at a sustainable challenge, which was based around the idea of basically solving a food waste challenge or coming up with innovative ways to address food waste, which is, of course, a huge issue around the world. So, we really started off with the very first principle, look at food waste, and trying to understand, you know, what it was and what the market looked like, and what kind of technologies you know, were available, that could be a solution. And of course, there’s things out there like you know, composting and anaerobic digestion, which is pretty common UK today. And I think especially four or five years ago, there was, I guess, a few up and coming companies and a bit of literature coming out around insect bioconversion, which is, of course, how, you know, in nature that this is how a lot of these kind of natural recycling processes occur. Different types of insects or microorganisms, basically turning low value food waste into some kind of resource or energy.

[03:22] Matt: So, we really looked at insects as almost a natural way, as converting or transforming food waste in something more useful. So, I think we didn’t really start off with the very first principles blank page, look at food waste to start with, which really led us towards insects as being quite, I think, an attractive or interesting solution, which seemed to be, again, early stage enough that it was, you know, quite exciting and quite innovative but there was enough, I guess, established literature, and even a few companies out there that had done enough work to show that it was possible. And it was likely to be something that was interesting at a commercial level going forward. That’s how we arrived at this sort of the unusual idea of using insects as a food waste, as conversion.

[4:02] Jake: Awesome. And I mean, a few things to unpack there straight away, man. I mean, food waste is a colossal problem and I couldn’t agree more. One of my favorite books I read in recent years is the, Project Drawdown and they talk about the impacts of the reduction in deforestation, if we can actually stall for 30% of produce that we currently waste on an annual basis, literally perishes, it’s absolutely crazy. And then the secondary of being, you know, using nature to solve some of these man-made issues, it’s such a great, kind of, Genesis, I guess, to come up with an idea. Oh, fantastic and I really follow the thought process there, what an awesome starting point. The third point, I guess, to bring out as well as the fact that you were actually already at Cambridge, and I’m sure there must be so much innovation and exciting technology, and people at an institution like that. We’ll unpack a little bit how you found your team later on but just to carry on along this kind of problem, solution step. So, you came across insects, well, how do you solve food waste with insects?

[5:03] Matt: Yes, I think we are, again, we sort of pretending that we’re sort of saying that nature actually has the blueprint, we’re just trying to, I guess, put some structure around it. But the idea is simply that there’s certain types of insects, like the black soldier flowers, the insect that we use, the grubs are very good at essentially converting low value food waste, metabolizing that into high value fats and proteins as they grow, which is, of course, a natural feed for things like poultry and salmon. So, it really is just almost, you know, letting nature do its thing and providing the structure around it from the engineering and a bit of extra biology to make that, I guess, scalable. And really, we are sort of saying that model is something which nature already does, and which you know, looking at the end markets there, it is totally natural for chicken to be scratching around and eating grubs and it’s actually something which we see, as you know, consumers really getting behind in terms of going back to a more natural, I guess, feed.

[05:56] Matt: So, again, we can talk about the issues around the food industry, but certainly, the idea is that it’s quite simple, like most things in nature. The hard part is, of course, putting the structure around it and making it scalable, but certainly the idea of insects, I assume, metabolizing low value stuff into high value stuff that is, in its essence, what we’re looking to leverage, a natural solution, which already exists.

[6:18] Jake: Interesting, okay. And like, all startup ideas, you’ve got this idea, you’ve got this concept, well, a theory that you know, I love using is the customer discovery process. So, even if you could solve this problem, who’s actually out there, that might want to buy it from you? As a team, you got together, you assume have some complementary skills, how did you go about really kind of trying to justify this assumption that you were making about the solution you put together?

[6:46] Matt: Yeah, well, I think the first thing was just doing a lot of, you know, reading, really, advancing the scientific literature side of things, and also just about the market. You know, we didn’t have direct backgrounds into the food or agriculture cells, we came from backgrounds like an engineering, biology, I myself was in finance consulting. So, it was very much a sort of a learning curve to understand what is, food waste, you know, what kind of challenges are there and what does the market look like, in terms of existing solutions and what’s already out there. We started off, I guess, by looking at, you know, what happens in our local area. So, we started talking to some supermarkets, we talked the local Cambridge council here, we talked to people who were experts in technologies like composting, anaerobic digestion, to understand how they kind of had built businesses, and what kind of economics drove a lot of the food waste industry. And it is quite interesting, because it is something which, you know, like most things to do with food, it’s very complex and certainly there’s no government regulations and safety regulations, which are also, I guess, clouding the, I guess, the numbers as well, in terms of it’s not just, you know, it’s not just about the technology, it’s about consumer safety, and it’s about traceability, and it’s about, you know, making sure that when people buy food at the store, it’s going to be something where there is that balance of trying to meet them sustainable, but also trying to be safe.

[08:01] Matt: So, we learned a lot about the industry but yes, certainly, it’s something which we felt like there was gaps, and there was, I guess, opportunities to improve. You know, we look at things like obviously, landfill being the worst-case solution, certainly trying to divert as much food waste from landfill as possible. And even before that, looking at, you know, ways that other people are doing interesting work around reducing food waste in the first place, like you mentioned earlier, I think there’s, obviously before we even talk about our business, we also need to recognize that, you know, reducing food waste in the first place is almost the first priority. Then for the unavoidable fraction or the stuff which actually inevitably gets left, I think, we saw anaerobic digestion as probably the gold standard in the UK and Europe today. That’s essentially the process where you try and capture rotting food, you capture the methane, and you use that with energy or heat, which is certainly a great step forward. And there’s been a lot of investments in this country and elsewhere, over the last sort of 10 years or so. And it’s something which, you know, there is a subsidy tied to that, ir this sort of indirect subsidies around, heat incentives, there’s you know, feeding terrorists, it’s something where the governments already tried to get behind this and make an effort to make the industry more, green.

[09:12] Matt: I think, for us, it’s interesting, trying to understand how we fit in the subsidies, how we kind of can navigate not just the commercial challenge, but the regulatory challenge. And, you know, also these things require a huge amount of investments and how we kind of position and how we look in at the market for green tech and Agri tech investments, and being able to compete, I guess, on a commercial basis, ultimately, long term. It’s something where we’ve been lucky enough to get a few sorts of startup grants from certain organizations and the government. So, that helps us develop some of that technology but certainly, you know, getting up to, you know, on a parody, if you like, on a commercially competitive level is the goal here. And I think if you think about the waste hierarchy, some people have this idea of a pyramid where, of course, the first thing to do is not waste at all, the second thing to do would be to try and feed it to people, you know, through charities, or food banks and the like.

[10:07] Matt: And I think from there, you see, that actually seems to be a better use of food waste to try and put it back into the food chain, either through animal feed, or even through composting, before you think about making energy from it. I think the idea is that there’s already great renewable energy sources out there, that sort of burning food waste, essentially, for energy, and heat maybe isn’t the best use of longer term, but we certainly recognize that there’s been some great steps, you know, made in the last sort of 10, 15 years, and we feel like, you know, putting food back into the food waste, back into the food chain as something which, you know, it’s actually quite a compelling theme for us to be to be working on.

[10:48] Jake: It feels like it has a nice, kind of cyclical element to it in that sense.

[10:52] Matt: Yes, absolutely.

[10:54] Jake: You know, I’ll try and comment as a green energy buyer in the UK here, an on-grid apartment in London, you can buy renewable energy tariff, but you cannot buy green gas, I think the best green gas tariff is 93% natural gas too. So, that’s even with all the anaerobic digesters that are currently being utilized in the energy market here. Presumably switching to electrical heating, will be an easier way of transforming our heating system but another topic.

[11:26] Matt: Certainly, it’s all part of the sustainability challenge, and some great work going on there as well in the energy space.

[11:33] Jake: And so much stuff to really talk about, it’s amazing Matt, what a journey you’ve been on, it’s awesome to learn about. There was clearly lots of research that you did with you and your colleagues at an early stage, you’ve seen a problem, you’ve seen a solution, you’ve seen an opportunity, like all entrepreneurs, it’s that kind of leap of faith moment. And you go, okay, right, this is what I want to do full time, this is what I want to go for. Do you have any time on reflection that you really realize this was what you wanted to spend your time on? And realizing that, you know, one of the kinds of Holy Grail, so to speak, is the early traction? It’s like, how do you go out there and you get a little bit of early traction with it, so a letter of intent from a business or your first paying customer? I’d love to hear a little bit about how that process went for you.

[12:15] Matt: Yes, certainly. So, I think we were relatively lucky in the sense that myself and my colleagues, were actually really close, quite close to graduating when we were sort of working on this idea. So, once we graduated, I think that was that moment where as you said, it was a choice, or do we keep working on this part time? Or do we just drop it and you know, try and get a real job, I think the idea was that, we had been, I guess, working on a few little prototypes and things which were quite interesting. But the first real, I guess, proof point or bit of traction, or maybe even motivation was, we’d applied for a very small, you know, almost innovation competition, which was run by Shell, funnily enough, and that would know supporting sort of green technologies and green–

[12:55] Jake: Yeah, the Shell Foundation, it’s cool, isn’t it?

[13:00] Matt: Absolutely. And show, it’s called the show live wire program. And again, it’s a really good little program but certainly, we had applied for that, failure early on. And we ended up, I guess, winning this sort of monthly innovation competition, and we got, you know, just a few thousand pounds, which was, again, not much in the grand scheme of things. But I think, in terms of motivation, in terms of maybe validation of what we were doing, I think we were actually like, whoa, this could be something which, you know, other people find as interesting as we do. And that I think, gave us a bit of motivation to really just spend six months to do it full time, build the first of all prototypes and see what we could actually do. And so, there was a few more points after that, where we felt like, let’s keep it going. But I think that was probably for me, looking back the moment where we felt like this could be more than just a cool little University project, which it was up until that point.

[13:54] Jake: Right, it’s just amazing when you hear the journey people take in the decision-making processes along the way. Because it’s almost like, a set of stepping stones instead of milestones and although you can dream, that big vision in the future, you’ve actually got to trace it back to those first steps are so important.

[14:13] Matt: Absolutely. I think just, you know, there’s lots of people have, you know, these big visions, they want to try to change the world, but I think it is just a series of small steps, and even little, you know, little things like that can do a lot for the, you know, just, as I said, the motivation or the mental side of things, even now, let alone that the commercial side, I think a lot of it is just the confidence to keep going or the confidence to kind of push through certain challenges. Yeah, little steps like that and certainly a few backward steps, of course, along the way that hopefully the right direction.

[14:43] Jake: Oh, no, what am I doing spending my time on this?

[14:46] Matt: Yeah. Sometimes you don’t really know until you actually do something, and it doesn’t work and that’s fine. You just got to move on and cut your losses.

[14:54] Jake: It’s just such good insight, I mean, for those people that will hopefully be listening out there, to hear about someone’s real story where, you know, you did take a bunch of small steps and actually, that’s now developed into where you are today. And well, that brings me nicely on to the next stage, I guess, to talk more about Entomics in its form today, you guys have recently closed a financing round for which the Green Angel Syndicate was apart. And therefore, you’ve already been through a proper investment round, along with some of the grant applications you would have done in the past, which is such an important part of it. So, for people listening out there, I mean, what advice would you give to people when they go to begin a fundraise? And what kind of idea stage or stage of the business were you at when you began? And, yeah, any insight on how to best go about it?

[15:41] Matt: Yeah. And I think it’s a complex question, in the sense that different technologies, or different companies will have different requirements, in terms of what they need to do to grow or to be successful. Certainly, some things, you probably don’t need a huge amount of, maybe cash to get first, you know, prototypes or minimum viable products working. So, I think for us, it was all about, before we started thinking about investment, it was almost proving to ourselves, that this was something that worked or at least was feasible, and that we could be selling to other people to actually, you know, sort of pull it off. And I think that really goes back to the idea of bootstrapping, and just using very little resource to try and create just some basic proof points to start with, not just for investors and customers, but I think also for yourself. So, it’s amazing, if you really try and you know, lower your costs to start with what you can do, I think, with just a couple of smart people, even just part time to start with, if you can’t afford to dedicate your full time to a certain venture, there is quite a lot you can do, I think just to just validate those early stages in terms of technology, or in terms of the customer traction.

[16:46] Matt: So, we did try to spend almost a year and a half, you know, just scraping together from small little competition winnings or a few small, corporate, you know, almost donations, I guess, again, nothing big, but certainly just enough to keep things ticking along before we felt like we had the vision and the technology, at least crystallized enough that we had to have a viable investment proposition. And certainly, in our kind of industry, where it is the intersection of things like sustainability, you know, in food security in the UK, food waste, there’s a lot of things which, these are big challenges. And we were lucky enough to get a few small grants around innovation for developing these early stage technologies. So, that certainly helped us in terms of investment. Yeah, at some stage, it’s just a choice, how quickly do you need to grow? Or what kind of stage do you need to be at for your customers to feel like, you know, they want to sign up? And for your kind of technology yeah, is it something where we needed that support, and we’re very grateful to have, you know, investors like Green Angel Syndicate, 17:49 [inaudible], as well as other high net worth individuals on board, because they provide, obviously, the support to get us to the next stage.

[17:55] Matt: But also, they provide some excellent guidance and just insight into different networks and different industries, which we might not have. And it’s a lot of people who’ve done quite a lot of things, which we’ve certainly been benefited from their insights. So, I think, yeah, looking back, I think investment is fantastic but it’s certainly something which differs, you know, by the company, and the requirements should be based on what you actually need to grow, not any kind of arbitrary number. And it’s something where you, I think, for me, looking back, there is quite a lot you can do. This is, I guess, to start with, to prove the concept and to get traction with, you know, very small amount of resource, you know, bootstrapping, whatever you want to call it. And I think that’s also key and it helps you, maybe hit a few dead ends and you know, get on the right path, maybe before you really try and lock down these funding rounds.

[18:48] Jake: Because there is a sense of responsibility as well isn’t there? It’s, yes, you are selling some of your baby, some of your idea, in exchange for capital, and in exchange for some of the experience in context that comes with it. But equally, once you have a full-time investor on board, you then have some shareholders that actually really do care about the success of the business alongside you. And so, yeah, making sure you’ve gone down those slightly blind alleys beforehand, I guess, it’s really helpful to me that you don’t have to go back to investors and go and say, guys, I’m afraid we burn through that cash and we hit a bit of a dead end, but, we’ve got another great idea.


[19:31] Matt: Yeah, well, I think it’s certainly tried and minimize those at least. And even as a small company, we’re still a small company, I’m sure there’ll be moments when, you know, we’ll have to keep tweaking or pivoting. But yeah, I think looking back to four years ago, we certainly feel like we have a bit more of a grasp or much more of a grasp of the challenge. And that’s, I guess, just a necessary part of going through the process over the last couple of years of learning and failing and getting up again and improving.

[19:58] Jake: And so, a big part of investing at this stage is, of course, the team that you’re investing into. And an investor will look at the metrics about the market size, they’ll look at the potential exit comparable, but at the end of the day, you’re investing at such an early stage in the business, you really have to implicitly trust in the talent of that team. Could you unpack a little bit about your colleagues and how you guys came together? And how exciting it is, as a young startup with a really cool team with you?

[20:26] Matt: Yeah, absolutely. So, like I said, we actually were all students at the University of Cambridge. And we actually were graduating relatively close together, I guess we’re in our final years. So, you know, for example, one of my colleagues was studying engineering, another colleague was studying biochemistry or cancer research, I was actually in the business school doing an MBA. So, I think if you think about all the different skill set that actually is, maybe the perfect little, I guess, skill set that would be useful for insect bioconversion, which is essentially integration of engineering and biology, in some sense, in terms of that the technology side and me hopefully, being able to add a few things on the commercial side. But yeah, we seem to be–

[21:06] Jake: You have to be able to sell at some point, right, so an engineer who does value a sales person in that sense, or someone who’s better on the financial side of things, but at the same time, the hardcore kind of scientific chemist, is also needed, I completely follow you, it’s an awesome, sounds like an awesome team.

[21:21] Matt: Yeah, and again, that’ll change, I’m sure, by different companies, you know, what, sort of, team you need to start with, but we felt like we had the right mix of skills to get this going and it was appropriate to what we’re trying to do. And we’ve actually, too, build the team up to I think that 10 individuals now, so also trying to complement the team with you know, additional engineering and biology support, also some project management support, and, you know, even interns during the summer to try and almost plug little gap to interesting, kind of, side projects that might be worth pursuing. So, yeah, we’ve, sort of tried to add to the team, over the last, you know, couple of years in terms of what we actually need now, but also looking forward towards what we actually need to build towards the future. And a lot of it is around again, just a constant challenge of really complex, you know, biology and engineering.

[22:09] Matt: And it hasn’t really necessarily been done before at big scale, there’s a few other companies who are leading the way I guess, and pioneering different things, but it’s a new industry, and even things like regulatory approvals and certifications and these kind of things are all, almost a new topic of conversation, when we speak to, you know, regulatory agencies or companies, we have to almost break new ground, you know, as we go, and yeah, we try and hire bright young people who are passionate about sustainability. And that sort of obviously, is just as important as what sort of technical skills they bring. So, yeah, we think we’ve put together you know, some good people, and we continue to hopefully build that out and grow the team going forward.

[22:51] Jake: And that leads me on brilliantly to ask my next question. So, so much of what this is all about is the wider mission, so we all understand there is a serious problem with sustainability at the moment, and how we manage the next 50 years in our missions is a very important step in our children’s lives if we ever get to that point. And it’s very clear listening to that, you know, some of your passion to do this, is coming from this mission, basically, which is around sustainability, just from that impact perspective, if a business like Entomics, really gets to scale, what kind of emissions reduction impact might the business have? In say, you know, well, in your wildest dreams, I mean, just to kind of break down a little bit about the food chain that it changes, and the emissions that are removed there and the impacts that that might have?

[23:45] Matt: Yeah, well, it’s certainly a very interesting question and a very complex one to even measure.

[23:50] Jake: Of course, I agree.

[23:54] Matt: Yeah, the idea with insect bioconversion is that it’s not just sorts of direct impacts, it’s also trying to see the benefits of indirect, you know, land use change. And I think the big one, sort of for us, is obviously, there’s the food waste challenge of getting rid of food waste, which I think, emits, you know, there’s always statistics around the idea that food waste, if it was classified as its own separate country, like that kind of category, even the third largest greenhouse gas meter of the US and China. So, there’s actually a huge amount of contribution to greenhouse gases coming from food waste as a thing, which maybe doesn’t get appreciated as much, as you know, talking about fossil fuels and different other areas. So, food waste definitely is a massive issue, and one third of all food is wasted globally. So just a huge amount, there’s that kind of direct impact–


[24:41] Matt: Yeah, well, I think that the challenge with some of these agricultural and sort of food related challenges is that they are so big, that sometimes you almost feel like the numbers are just hard to comprehend them but, you know, those are the kind of things which, you know, we do need solutions to and not just insect bioconversion, but other really great solutions to try and, you know, reduce the impact of food, its impact on the environment to make it more natural, more circular, more sustainable. So, there’s certainly for us, you know, the ambition to try and, you know, significantly reduce the impact of food waste on the environment by diverting it to a use where we’re making the most of it, and we’re basically turning it from a waste into a resource again. But further downstream, I think you look at what we’re trying to do in the animal feed side and things like you know, feeding poultry or feeding salmon, which they eat insects in the wild naturally, of course, I think we’d be trying to actually, to some extent replace or supplement some of the ingredients that are used today, like soy, for example, like a protein, which comes mostly from overseas places like Brazil, with sensitive rainforest regions, that deforestation, these kind of land use issues at the front of mind of a lot of retailers, a lot of consumers, a lot of NGOs who realize obviously, there’s, how do you even measure the impact of you know, cutting down an acre of rainforest?

[25:59] Matt: There’s so many sorts of biodiversity related issues, there are so many kinds of future, you know, potential negative shocks that could occur from these kinds of sensitive ecosystems, you know, being removed. So, I think the idea is that if we can actually introduce an ingredient or feed, that’s actually been powered by a waste source, quote, and quote, rather than kind of planting fresh crops and, and cutting down rainforest to actually feed the world. That’s something which, again, we’ve got some, you know, numbers internally, and we’re still messing around with things, but it’s actually really difficult, if not, currently, you know, impossible to get numbers on what the actual impact on that looks like. And certainly, for us, it’s a combination of all those different things which seemed to fit, you know, this storyline around insects, you know, converting stuff from waste, and creating your natural high value feed products.

[26:47] Matt: And so, soy is the big one, you know, that a lot of people talk about, there’s also things like fish meal, which is present in the diets of farmed salmon in Scotland. So, again, just the way that the industry set out, you know, you have a lot of feeds that would include things like fish meal, which comes from small forage fish, like anchovies, from places, you know, primarily Chile and Peru, places in the world where these fisheries exist. And transporting fish meal from anchovies, across the world to Scotland to feed farmed fish. I mean, again, there’s certainly been some improvements in the way that quoters have tried to manage those fisheries and there are some, you know, obviously great interventions that have slowed or improve the health of those fisheries.

[27:29] Matt: But I think we would just suggest that if we can actually build, you know, feed solutions that are more local, that are actually based near the end user that don’t have to have all the carbon miles attached and actually don’t have to almost take, you know, again, harvesting almost fresh fish, which humans could eat, these kind of things seem to be where insects can sort of be an interesting solution. And not the only solution but something, which at least, addresses some simultaneous challenges which are out there, both on the food waste reduction side, or, you know, food waste reallocation side and also on the feed sustainability side. There’re almost two ends or two sides to the insect bargain version solution, which we feel they’re solving multiple problems at once.

[28:18] Jake: So exciting. Well, Matt, I must say thank you very much for sharing that with us. I was going to ask a final question around vision, but I feel like the last question is really summarize so many of the areas that you feel like your business, who will have real impact in and that really covers my last question, I think. Thank you so much sharing your story at Entomics and I appreciate your time. Thank you

[28:42] Matt: Thanks, Jake and good luck with the podcast. And thanks for having me on, it’s a pleasure.

[28:46] Jake: No problem. Cheers, Matt.

[28:48] Matt: Alright, thanks, Jake. Goodbye.

[28:51] 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 been 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 Remember that add spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes, that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

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This episode is hosted by Jake Woodhouse – connect with Jake on Linkedin or Twitter

Matt Mclaren – Episode 3 – Green Add Venture Podcast – Full Transcript

Juan Pablo Cerda – Zeigo (RE-Search) – How Smart Tech Is Changing The Renewable Energy Market

[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 Adventure. On the show, you’ll learn from the critical insights of both founders and investors, 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 Take care when typing that in, adventure is spelled with a double D. Thank you for listening and enjoy the episode. 

[00:55] Jake: Today we speak with JP Cerda, founder, and CEO of Research. Research aims to build a marketplace for B2B renewable energy purchasing, recently closing its seed round, including investment from the Green Angel Syndicate. Listen closely for tips on how to market your vision to investors, how important building a talented team is, and how solving real problems is such a successful starting point. JP is at the helm of an extremely exciting clean-tech startup. I hope you enjoy the conversation. 

[1:26] JP: Hi.  

[01:27] Jake: JP, welcome to the episode. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. 

[01:31] JP: My pleasure.

[1:32] Jake: So to kick things off, I want to start from a very high level, can you give us a bit of an overview, on what it is you do at the moment?

[1:40] JP: Yeah, absolutely. So, right now I am the CEO of a company called The Company. So, essentially, we are a half tech, half energy platform that we want to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy globally. And essentially, we are working hard to make things a lot easier for energy buyers and the strong focus, actually, the only focus is renewable energy. So, we kind of convince companies to buy renewable energy and ditch the fossil fuels. And it’s been great, it’s been a very interesting journey but now we are getting somewhere in that mix between energy and tech, is working really well. And we are in the later stages of implementing AI to the platform, so that the AI algorithm can learn from every interaction because you know, for us data is the key. And, also facilitate the process to all the energy buyers. And essentially, make sure that the process gets simplified and technology does help a lot with that.

[3:01] Jake: Okay, great start, thank you. So, to help the listeners out there, I want to really dig into the problem that is, shall we say, that you’re trying to solve? So lots of entrepreneurial ideas come from this base of, you know, solving a problem, so can you unpack a little bit, exactly what the problem is you’re trying to solve?

[3:22] JP: Yeah, I mean, the problem is, one, the market is quite complex. And our focus is, well currently, our focus is power purchase agreement, which is essentially a large contract between the corporate offtaker and the company that builds solar farms and wind farms, in these cases, developer. And the problem is that the length of the contract is quite meaty. So, it’s basically a minimum of seven years, probably up to 15, 20 years and is a high-value contract, so, not many companies are happy to commit to. And, you know, there’s a lot of excuses in the industry and what we’re trying to do is, make sure that we simplify every single stage of the process. 

[04:16] Jake: Okay, and so, I guess, bring that back a little bit, as a B2C consumer like myself, we think of energy supply businesses like Bulb who will sell only a renewable energy contract, you’re working in the business to business space. Yeah, okay, completely understood. And so, the solution then that you’re working on today, can you talk through a little bit of that?

[4:38] JP: Yeah, sure. So, essentially, what we’re trying to do is build a marketplace. So, normally, if you’re, imagine you’re a large corporate, let’s say, you’re Google, and then you’ve got a target to be X percent renewable by 20X, right. And then your options are very easy, so you can either go out to the market yourself or you engage with a consultant, in which case is going to be quite expensive. And there’s no real neutrality in the market, so there’s no, you know, no player, that it’s quite transparent and neutral, and we’re trying to be that player. And, currently, those are your two options, so you do it yourself and spend a ton of time finding developers and finding projects, or you go through a consultant, in which case, it’ll be quite expensive, and you don’t know what your options are, and either covering the whole market.

[5:32] Jake: And so if I was an SME of some form, and I was looking to buy a 10-year contract, a PPA, how do I currently go about that, then? So, the consultant, if I chose that route, how much might that cost me?

[05:49] JP: Quite a lot, so probably, you would start in the 80k region, just to find a project. And, my previous company was actually a consultancy, so I know what it takes and how complex we make the process just to kind of justify our fees and, it shouldn’t be lower that. The reason I set up this company is because it should be very easy, it should be like going to Amazon and typing in, I want to buy a TV, right, and then all your options for any TV should come up. And what we’re trying to do is, facilitate that. So, any corporate can come into the portal and just say, I want to find renewable energy in my Spanish operations and then they should be able to see every project, right? And then they can, you know, filter down to exactly the size, exactly the ten-year and just be very simple and then connect with a developer. That’s, I think, how it should be.

[07:02] Jake: Fantastic. So, it sounds like the previous experience you had in your last role has been a, in a sense, that’s where the genesis for this company’s coming from and it’s always so exciting to meet people and entrepreneurs out there who are working on personal pain points, because, you know exactly how much it costs to actually buy a 10-year PPA. And it’s when you spot those opportunities, to make someone’s life easier for a fraction of the price, that you have an interesting opportunity as an entrepreneur to exploit. That’s absolutely awesome. And the next, kind of step I guess I wanted to go through was really around the customer discovery element of startups. So, I guess we’ve covered the fact that you had a personal pain point in your previous job, or perhaps you noticed an opportunity in your previous job? Many people struggle with the concept of diving into a startup and founding something for the first time, how much of the, so customer discovery, so how much research did you do prior to actually deciding to jump into this project research at the moment? And how would you advise someone out there to think about these steps?

[8:14] JP: Okay. So, if we start from the very beginning, my background is quite similar to yours. So, I’ve been involved in trading and operations for nearly 10 years and I was working for very large oil majors, like BP and Shell, and I was involved in the trading operations of various dark commodities, like plastic, and sugar and metals and gas. And, basically, very similarly to you, what I decided to do was focus on my passion, which was renewable energy. And I noticed that fossil fuels weren’t doing anything, good for the planet, and then took the leap and set up my first company. And to be honest, I didn’t did a lot of research–


[09:14] Jake: Not much research to start the first company, you mean?

[9:16] JP: To start the first company, yeah. Exactly, so–

[9:19] Jake: So you’re a second time founders, so


[9:23] JP: Yeah, absolutely. So, actually, I think if I would have done my research, before setting up my first company, I wouldn’t have done it.

[9:38] Jake: Which sounds so crazy, in hindsight, doesn’t it? It’s like, what am I doing?

[9:43] JP: Exactly. So, like thinking about it now, I was a little bit crazy, just to take that leap. And I had a literally just had my first kid. And I thought, yeah, it’s a great idea to leave the comfort of a huge company and go on my own. And I remember perfectly, my first day, I was sitting in front of my desk at home thinking, right now, what should I do? How do I get my first client? And luckily, it did work out quite well. And I exited the business about four weeks ago, so we sold to a large Suisse multinational, and thank you I learned quite a lot in the process, because we were self-funded. 

[10:34] JP: So, we basically, I started in my spare bedroom, and then recruited this guy. And at the time, I couldn’t offer him any financial incentive, so I promised him like the world. And you know, the prospect of being part of a very sustainable company and from the beginning, we only advise companies to buy renewable energies. Our strong focus on in my previous company was to convince companies to just buy renewable energy and power as a consultant–


[11:16] JP: Yeah, exactly. So, we started with very small companies, and within our networks we went out with to friends and family and started buying energy for their businesses and advising them on their strategy because we did have quite a lot of experience in buying for very large corporates. And, but we also noticed that there was a lot of issues in the industry. And, for example, the consultancy, the energy consultancy business is quite dodgy. So, we wanted to be the most transparent company, that we became a B Corp. We committed to only buying renewable energy for our clients and that was a differentiator four and a half years ago, there was no other company doing that. And that’s how we started getting that reputation in the business. 

[12:13] JP: And then subsequently, when we started getting larger clients, we started getting into the power purchase agreements, which was a fascinating thing, because they were popular in the US, and they were being signed, like, you know, like, leases or anything, but not in Europe. And we were wondering, why not in Europe? And Europeans tend to be more risk averse but also, the industry itself, was putting, obstacles that shouldn’t be there and excuses as well. So, we, you know, when I saw that, my first company, I thought, actually, this can be done a lot easier with the use of technology. And, again, I thought, okay, because it’s a tech company, I need to do a, we decided that we needed fundraising, which was quite, good, fun. And then, went for it. And I’m really glad we did, because now it’s becoming the norm to be a platform and facilitating a process throughout technology. 

[13:35] Jake: So, and JP just to trace back a few steps, you’ve essentially noticed the opportunity for a software solution to help develop the renewable energy, only PPA marketplace here in Europe, and a lot of that experience and opportunity was seen because of your previous business? 

[13:55] JP: Yeah. 

[13:56] Jake: And it’s through that chronological order, you’ve then go, right, okay, let’s try and exit the first one and if you can, jump into the second?

[14:05] JP: Correct,

[14:06] Jake: Yeah and to those listening out there, I have to be very honest and admit that I’ve been lucky to invest into JP, at such an early stage in this new project and it’s just this kind of deep, expertise in areas that is so interesting as an angel investment, because it’s really the people you’re investing into. And this insight that he’s explaining is phenomenal for this kind of thing. Well, you mentioned the phrase, fundraise, it brings me on nicely to the next area, it wouldn’t be an entrepreneurship and VC show if we didn’t talk about the investment space. So, perhaps you could talk a little bit about how you market yourself, how you approach investors, and any tips you have from your experience during this process?

[14:52] JP: Yeah, sure. So, first thing is the market, so the market needs to be quite attractive. And the renewable energies base is growing and not only, it’s quite profitable, as well, but it’s actually quite good for the environment. And that requirement on my side was covered and for the investors that I approached, was covered as well. And second thing is to have an innovative idea. So, it’s, I didn’t realize how difficult was it to actually stand out from the crowd because there’s a lot of very intelligent people, a lot of very clever people with great ideas. So, how do you persuade a group of investors to choose your idea? And that was one of the main aspects, it has to be innovative, has to be creative, and has to have a lot of potential. 

[15:51] JP: And finally, the third thing is the idea itself has to have a lot of future, it needs to grow, and it needs to have very strong growth prospects. And because of the technology side of the platform, and it can be very big in the future. And we can implement different things like battery storage, you know, peer to peer energy, procurement, you know, the possibilities are great in the space of renewable energy, which is a great industry.

[16:34] Jake: Yeah, and particularly the software angle is also very interesting when you’re looking at the scalability of an idea. And, you know, you’re currently trying to build a business that simply doesn’t exist at the moment and that is, you know, the buying and selling of PPA. So, there was actually one company I wanted to mention, which was a business I followed a little bit from a few years ago called Level 10, we’ve had some pretty good traction actually in the US. And, actually, I mentioned the phrase, traction there, which is another topic that I wanted to try and unpack. So, we’ve covered two things there, competition and traction, perhaps we’ll take the first. So, you’ve come up with an opportunity, you’ve seen the space, you go right, I need to prove some early traction here and get some investment on board, from the traction perspective, having gained the investment that you gained, how have you gone about trying to pick up your first customers and some of the areas that would be really interesting to hear about?

[17:30] JP: Yeah, absolutely. So, and we started off by trialing. So, we did a minimum viable product about six months ago, and tested the concept with a few corporate clients, that went really well. And they gave us very honest feedback on what, the new portal, the new version should have, we listened very carefully to that feedback and they became early adopters of the new version. So, we’ve had the new version for a couple of months, and we’ve already got, quite a lot of very large corporates using it. And we’re still developing the third version of it, which will incorporate the artificial intelligence side of it. But feedback is, from your potential clients is very, very important. So, we are from the third version, going to charge a subscription fee to corporates to use it. But we wanted to make sure that it actually had features that they needed, and they wanted. And so, we’re getting there, and it’s working really well.

[18:45] Jake: Fantastic. And that’s a great product development story, shall we say? So, you know, when you spot an opportunity, that’s great. But actually, you then have to deliver some form of, you know, hack together product to test that hypothesis. And once you do, inevitably, people interact with it in a slightly different way to what you expected. And it’s then the ability of a startup to be the flexible innovation, I don’t know how to describe it, like, you can change very fast basically. That’s the really exciting thing about working in this space and taking the product from from idea to small MVP, to a bit of feedback, and then the iteration process. And you mentioned earlier, stage three, fantastic, well done. 

[19:28] Jake: And yeah, so I just wanted to draw back round to the competition story that I was mentioning. Some of the other areas that we talk about a lot in this space is defense ability and, you know, being an acquisition target, obviously, very exciting for the future but in the meantime, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t get gobbled up by the market forces at play. So, I appreciate that Level 10 isn’t the same businesses as yourself. But yeah, could you talk through a little bit about that, when you’re thinking of, you know, you’ve got your proven pilot has been completed, your prototype is in the market, how do you look at the ways forward, then?

[20:04] JP: Yeah, I mean, competition is very important and, and it’s quite useful sometimes. And, in the case of Level 10, we, we didn’t know about Level 10, when we were developing the MVP. And then we had an intro from the media, so we issued a release, a press release. And about two months later, we saw, like, an exact press release from Level 10. And we’re like, these guys actually doing very low things. And then they are in our radar now. Because, you know, it’s quite good to have competitors because what these guys are doing is great and they’re actually focusing on renewable energy, which is fantastic. The market is big enough for various players and if they get PPA signed, then we’re very happy because you know, we’ve got the same aim. 

[21:15] JP: But actually, it’s quite healthy to have competition, because, you know, you don’t rest on your laurels or, you know, you stay focused, as you say, you have a lot of advantages for being a startup and Level 10 is very focused on the US, we’re very focused in Europe. And we complement each other I think. And but yeah, it’s good to have.

[21:39] Jake: And inevitably, the energy market in the US is different to Europe. So, you’ve got different energy buyers, you’ve got different energy generators, there’s no reason why a marketplace would cover both. So, I completely follow you. It’s a fascinating area. Okay, JP, thank you. Well, the next thing I wanted to really talk about was your team. So, when you’re investing into startups, or whether or not you’re trying to build a startup, the talent that you’re able to attract to your founding team is so important from whether or not you’re going to pay someone the best salary in the world, or actually more than likely not what their market rate would be at one of the large technology companies or one of the large industry players. So, as we mentioned, or JP touched on earlier in the show, I used to work with the fossil fuel business, and there’s no way that you would make the same money on the salaries you do in the startup space is what I previously used to. But that’s another story. So yeah, could you speak to us a little bit about how you identify the first hires that you make, or the co-founders that you may have in your business and, and just how important that is to get the right people sitting next to you every day?

[22:47] JP: Yeah, I mean, the first hires are the most important thing. And as a startup, as exactly as you say, you haven’t got the resources to, just go to the market and get the best of a certain area. And you have to get very creative, and you’ve got different superpowers as a startup, you, you know, you’ve got the flexibility, and you’ve got the excitement, you know, the prospects of growing within the company And, and you don’t really have them in very large companies, as you know. You get stuck in your position for probably years before you move on, right, it’s very difficult to grow very quickly in a large company. And also, the work becomes very tedious after a while, because you know, it’s very repetitive. 

[23:42] JP: In the startup world, every day is completely different. I mean, and that’s something that is quite attractive to some people as well. And so, we try very hard to attract the best talent that we can. And I mean, quite a lot of people say that, when do you hire, you should hire someone that you could work for. And, it’s so true. So, it’s very exciting when you start building a team and then they align themselves with your vision. And then comes to a point where you actually look up to them and say, and think, wow, well, these guys are producing, what these guys are doing is amazing, I couldn’t have done it. And that’s when you think, yeah, I’ve got a great team, because I’m kind of codependent on them just as much as they are with me and we communicate very well, and communication is essential. And we work very hard and really well together.

[24:51] Jake: Now awesome. And it’s a lot of fun when you get into a good team with some amazingly talented people, trying to envision a future that doesn’t yet exist. And of course, it is fraught with risk but equally, the, well, we’re working here in the sustainability space. So, there’s so much value add to be involved in an area where you know, there is genuine impact from the work that you do if it proves to be successful. Now, I cannot overstate more, of course, the potential failure rates are very high. And that’s a nice way to draw to the next area that I want to understand, JP, so it’s really about impact and passion. So, the space, that is, let’s say the clean tech market, the reason that I personally enjoy working it so much at the moment is the potential impact of the work that you do from a climate change perspective and it’s absolutely essential that we change the way that our economies currently function in order to reduce the emissions levels. I think it’s, you know, well, we certainly will be in agreement and whether or not this is a worthy mission. But I’m yeah, I mean, this whole question of like, what gets you out of bed every day? I mean, kind of combo question around passion and impact. So, what is it that you know, really gets you fired up about this particular project at the moment? And then equally, if, you know, research does become a massively successful business, how much impact you think it potentially can have from an emissions perspective?

[26:22] JP: Yeah. So, in terms, the challenge is what excites me. And the fact that I’m creating something that didn’t exist is to me, fantastic. And if we go back a little bit, when I was trying to pitch the idea to investors, it was it was actually quite complex. Because when you try to pitch something that doesn’t really exist, you know, an idea, then your natural instinct is to say, oh, we are the Amazon of renewable energy, or we’re going to be the of renewable energy or whatever. Exactly, so you kind of try to explain a little bit what you’re doing with existing companies. But when there’s no existing companies, then you just have to go for it and refine your elevator pitch Yeah, I know, exactly. 

[27:23] JP: The other, the challenge, it’s very exciting for me, in terms of the prospects and what’s going to happen in the future and the impact that it’s going to have, it’s massive. So, for example, one key element of my pitch was the size of the market but it’s very difficult to quantify, because you can say, okay, the existing renewable energy market is x, so, my total, my time is x, right? So, what we’re actually trying to do is convert the companies that are using fossil fuel energy or brown energy to renewable. So, that’s a completely different market, it’s 20 times the size, right? 

[28:17] Jake: Because I think when you look at some of the stats on resource consumption, so, coal, peak coal is around now, oil, maybe 2030, somewhere 2038, gas up into 2060. Meantime, you look at electricity consumption, versus those curves, like it’s just ginormous, the growth in electricity demand and the demand. Yeah, absolutely. So, how do you calculate your time against the market that doesn’t even exist?

[28:43] JP:  It doesn’t even exist and actually, as you know, we are only consuming, so right now, 20% of the energy come from renewable sources. And we’ve got 80% of market that we need to conquer and that’s the exciting thing. 

[29:01] Jake: Though, fantastic, well, if, you know, all going well, the amount of emissions saved from a platform like this would be absolutely ginormous, in terms of the energy being consumed being renewable versus the existing fossil fuel market, so fantastic. Okay, well, we are coming to the close of this interview. So, thank you very much, JP, I guess there’s a couple of other areas that I’d love to unpack. We’ll have to save it for another time, I guess. But as an entrepreneur, a really important area is mentorship, just out of interest, have you had any particular mentors along your journey so far that have helped you make your step into entrepreneurship or help you made some difficult decisions, and in particular, those moments where, you know, resilience is actually possibly one of the largest assets that a founder may have? How important is that to you?

[29:54] JP: It is very important, especially in the early stages, you need to get as much advice and as much help as you can. And, as I was saying, before, when I started my first company, I just literally dived into the unknown, with a desk and a laptop. And then I started to speak to various people, family, friends, and people that have been very successful, people that have not been very successful. And it’s all that feedback that you can get, helps you throughout your journey. Because as we discussed before, we were talking that it might, it could be quite a lonely journey.

[30:42] Jake: Yeah, it is sometimes, yeah.

[30:44] JP: So, basically, imagine, I started from, basically my spare bedroom, on my own, you know, talking to myself, and just like, you know, just having a monologue of myself saying, JP, what are you going to do now? I don’t know, what should I do? So, talking to people and talking to, and every sort of people and getting the advice, but just taking the best advice from each one, helped me a lot in my career. And now, I’m fortunate enough to that I joined an accelerator, and I’ve got your, your angel syndicate behind me. And I can tap into great minds, and people who have been very successful in what they do. But when you’re starting your own company without that, you know, the advice that you can get from your family and friends is very valuable. 

[31:42] Jake: Yeah, awesome. Well, JP 30 minutes has flown by. Thank you so much for your time.

[31:47] JP: I know, that was really quick. 

[31:48] Jake: And, yeah, thank you very much.

[31:53] JP: No worries at all, thank you. 

[31:52] Jake: That was the Green Adventure, 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 been 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 @JakeWoodhouse, spell as it sounds, but drop the final ‘E’, my email Remember that add spelt with two D’s. Finally, for the notes, links and episodes, that will be coming, visit Remember, that’s add with a double D. Until next time, we’ll be back soon. Thank you and goodbye.

Juan Pablo Cerda – Zeigo (RE-Search) – How Smart Tech Is Changing The Renewable Energy Market