Energy is, and will continue to be, one of the defining challenges of our times. The dilemma can be easily summarised thus:globally, to cope with growing demand, we need to generate more,and cleaner, energy. The risk coming from climate change, on the other hand, means that energy must be produced in a way that minimises CO2 emissions.
As an energy company, Shell is aware of the magnitude of that challenge. Energy is crucial to enhance quality of life for people worldwide and drive prosperity in developing areas – and in the future, we are likely to need much more of it in order to power a more connected planet, transformed by emerging technologies such as robotics, energy storage, autonomous vehicles and AI. Still, those very benefits might be jeopardised if novel, low-carbon energy solutions are not found. To help solve that, Shell has been promoting a number of programmes that support and encourage young entrepreneurs and innovative businesses at the forefront of energy transition. Among these programmes are Shell LiveWIRE, a monthly grant for 16- to 30-year-old founders, and Shell Springboard, designed to help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) implement and scale up their visions; in 2017 alone, Shell awarded £440,000 in no-strings-attached capital to low-carbon pioneers.
Launched in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2015,the #makethefuture Accelerator has toured the world, from Bangalore to Singapore. It returned to London’s inspiring Olympic Park for Shell’s fifth Accelerator event, held on May 25 as part of Shell’s #makethefuture festival, which celebrates the development of clean-energy solutions through the nurturing and support of bright ideas.
At the core of the Shell #makethefuture Accelerator is the idea that financial backing is not the only thing startups need to thrive and succeed in this sector. Guidance, inspiration, the support of a wider network and assistance in dealing with things such as marketing, human-resources management and business planning are all critical factors.
The #makethefuture Accelerator is one way Shell strives to provide young entrepreneurs crucial support. Ultimately, though, to tackle our world’s current energy challenges,companies need to fashion themselves into mission-driven organisations. What that means is that companies must embrace a strategy that goes beyond a convincing business plan, and which is instead driven by a purpose able to resonate with investors, staff and customers alike. How to do that? Many of the event’s attendees had pretty good insights on the matter.
Shell LiveWIRE 2016 winner Carlton Cummins recounted how his startup Aceleron was born to be a clean-tech company. Cummins had initially been working on an electric bicycle powered by used battery packs. The idea didn’t fly with investors, but one of them suggested that he focus on the battery pack, because the idea had potential.
Today, Aceleron transforms used lithium ion batteries from vehicles and appliances into battery packs for bicycles or home-energy systems. “What we do is reuse an existing resource to produce a novel and more accessible product,” Cummins explained.
Furthermore, Aceleron aims to inspire other companies in different regions of the world to follow its lead – and create battery processing facilities that would both encourage local entrepreneurs and provide the public with cheaper batteries. Laurence Kemball-Cook, whose company Pavegen manufactures special tiles able to convert pedestrians’ footsteps into electricity, also believes in the importance of inspiring and leading by example in order to engage the general public about clean tech.
Kemball-Cook, who won the Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award in June 2011, started putting together the technology in his university lab. “I was working all night long, every night,” he said. After he had a prototype, he trialled it by secretly installing it on building sites. Fast forward to 2014, and Pavegen was reaching out to places much farther than building plots in London: thanks to a collaboration with Shell, Cook brought his tiles to Rio de Janeiro. “We flew to Rio and visited a favela with a huge soccer pitch. Kids there didn’t have anything to live on apart from soccer, but the lights didn’t work,” he recalled. “As part of the Shell #makethefuture campaign, we installed 200 tiles in the pitch. They stored up energy as the kids played and the lights turned on. It’s a cool energy solution, and a way of inspiring new energy entrepreneurs.” Sometimes the real challenge for purpose driven companies is changing mindsets which have become deeply entrenched.
Tom Robinson, who launched the award winning company Adaptavate to manufacture low-impact construction materials, got the idea for his business while working on a building site. “I was on this site and I thought: ‘What are we going to do with this waste material going to landfills?’” he said.
For everybody else, it seemed normal that tonnes of building material would pollute the ground. Robinson decided to prove that things could be better. Similarly, Shellalumnus Arthur Kay – whose company bio-bean transforms old coffee grounds into biofuel – explained that waste is a mentality: whether something is labelled a waste or a resource all depends on the eyes with which one looks at it.
During the event, Shell UK Country Chair Sinead Lynch underlined how Shell LiveWIRE has been key in fostering ideas to meet the needs of a fast-growing population. Over the past 35 years, Shell LiveWIRE has helped more than 880,000 young people grow businesses, providing £5m of funding.
The LiveWIRE programme, which is one of Shell’s many initiatives supporting science, education and innovation – alongside Shell Springboard, Shell Bright Ideas Challenge and other Social Investment activities – has been an invaluable way to build an online community of more than 230,000 members, who give advice and access opportunities to their peers. It doesn’t stop there. Through Shell #makethefuture, the company has supported many other inspiring projects such as the Pavegen installations in Rio and the GravityLight 50- night tour in Kenya– which brought a light powered by gravity to areas where kerosene lamps are ubiquitous. Shell’s #makethefuture Accelerator event reaffirmed Shell’s core beliefs. The company has shown its faith in how collaboration and network support can bring about progress and transform lives by bringing more and cleaner energy to those communities in need. Such leadership is decisive at a time when our planet faces a monumental energy challenge.
1.How to Solve Global Problems with Local actions
The need for cleaner energy might look like too huge a problem for a startup to tackle, but Arthur Kay says we should look at this differently. The founder of bio-bean, a company transforming waste coffee grounds into sustainable biofuel, explains that the best way to tackle overwhelming challenges is to put them in perspective. “I look at the energy challenge through the lens of urbanisation:70 per cent of global emissions come from cities; actually, the vast majority of them comes from just ten global megacities,” he says. “That means that if you focus on solving the problem of emissions in those cities, you can make a difference.” Kay realised that there’s another thing megalopolises produce, apart from emissions: tonnes of organic waste. “I thought: ‘If you can use that waste as a resource, you might offset the impact of those cities’ emissions.’ That is how bio-bean was born.”
2.How to test your product for free
You have a product but no budget to test it? Laurence Kemball-Cook has some advice. He is the founder of Pavegen, a company producing tiles transforming people’s footsteps into energy. Kemball-Cook won a Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award in 2011; with Shell’s support he then installed 200 tiles on a football pitch in a Rio favela to inspire the community through sport and clean-energy tech. “To test the tiles, we installed them in a building site in London. It worked well, and gave us a leg-up when we presented our idea to investors and the public,” he says.
3.How to use personas to engage your customers
Purpose-driven businesses need to appeal to customers and inspire them. But how to do it? Aceleron’s Carlton Cummins and Desolenator’s Louise Bleach suggest thinking about customers not only as persons, but as personas. Companies should create a mental image of the people they want to cater to: what are their motivations? At what stage of their lives are they? What is the best way to strike a chord with them? “We make a customer blueprint by simplifying our customers to the essentials,”Cummins says. “It helps because it brings customers to life.”
For more on Shell’s #makethefuture campaign, click here.