A step into the unknown: global growth for a UK cleantech pioneerOccasionally something new comes along that changes the way we do things forever. It's now unimaginable to conceive a world without email, or having to wait a week to see our holiday snaps. Remember not being able to phone a friend on a mobile to say we'll be ten minutes late for a coffee? But only fifteen years ago that was the norm for the vast majority of people.
Email, digital cameras and mobile phones now seem obvious and common sense solutions to us all, but these technological advances didn't just occur over night. In fact many of us still post letters or even send the occasional fax, although fewer and fewer every year. The truth is that new or 'disruptive' technologies take time to be adopted by the mainstream - and the challenge of making something completely new for mass market can be daunting. Why is this? Because human nature has a tendency to stick with what it knows and understands - leftfield thinking can appear risky - what we do works, so why change?
This is the challenge facing Pavegen Systems today, as we pioneer a revolutionary green energy solution from our London base.
In 2010 I hit upon a new concept: what if the billions of footsteps taken every day could be harnessed in some way to generate energy? Combining enormous numbers of small energy contributions could represent a massive and currently untapped resource.
The result was a unique system of energy-harvesting paving slabs. In essence, Pavegen converts the kinetic energy of human footsteps from areas of high footfall into usable electricity. Applications include powering street lighting, displays, and signage. The system is particularly useful where grid connections are not feasible, or where there is a requirement for a low carbon solution.
When people first hear about Pavegen's 'crowdsourcing' approach to energy production, their reaction is usually: "what an amazing idea", but the challenge for us at this stage is to turn this 'amazing idea' into a mass market, game-changing technology - and that's not easy. It gets even harder when we're faced with the challenges of breaking into new international markets. For a small, rapidly growing company it can feel like a 'step' into the unknown. Specifically, how do we identify suitable partners or agents, access decision makers and build relationships on the ground in new markets? How do we deal with tax? Also, for Pavegen, intellectual property is a very sensitive issue, our biggest advantage is the uniqueness of our technology, so we must do everything we can not to put that at risk - and that can be a minefield internationally.
On top of all of that, there is simply never enough time to do all of these things - you simply have to rely on experts to guide and assist you, because there are always a million things to do in a day.
That's where advice and support from UK Trade & Investment has become invaluable. For Pavegen, exporting was an entirely new experience; for UKTI it's something they do every day.
We have particularly benefited from our dedicated UKTI International Trade Advisor, Peter Rivett. Peter was able to consider our unique situation as an exporter - evaluating the markets and sectors we're seeking to target and providing the insight and advice we needed.
Dealing with a designated Trade Advisor made for a more tailored service, as Peter shaped the support around our very specific needs, writing reports, highlighting appropriate overseas trade shows and making contacts through embassies. Peter also provided us with a list of high value infrastructure energy projects globally that might be appropriate to Pavegen.
In February 2012, Pavegen's enormous export potential was formally recognised when we scooped UKTI's London regional Exporting for Growth prize, winning £5,000 worth of support and advice from UKTI, PwC and HSBC. This was an enormous boost to the whole team as it reinforced our belief that Pavegen was destined to explode internationally over the coming years. But with massive projected growth comes inevitable new challenges, and we'll be looking to UKTI and Peter to help us continue our overseas expansion in a sustainable and structured way.
In particular we'll need to understand and capture growth opportunities in untapped markets, evaluate and understand market size and potential, and gain an insight into local regulatory frameworks, as well as other issues related to distribution and agencies.
For me, being at the forefront of Pavegen in 2012 is a very exciting place to be, and the international growth potential of our technology is already beginning to come to fruition, with an installation in conjunction with Siemens going online in Melbourne's Federation Square, Australia, later in the year. I believe that generating energy from mass human movement will one day become something that we all accept as the norm - but it will take the support of organisations such as UKTI to help Pavegen make this a reality.
Laurence Kemball-Cook is the founder and CEO of London based cleantech pioneers Pavegen Systems. For more information on Pavegen Systems visit www.pavegen.com.
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