power for next generation.
Financial and business support for low carbon entrepreneurs from the Carbon Trust
Progress is being made in the race to combat global warming: Old-style domestic light bulbs are being phased out by 2010, every new building must meet stringent energy efficiency guidelines, and businesses and industry are committed to cutting power consumption and switching to renewable energy.
None of these vital steps to curb carbon emissions can happen without an influx of ground-breaking low carbon technologies and products - the enablers of change.
"There are many brilliant inventors out there, but they are often struggling to transform their big ideas into commercial reality," says Rachael Nutter, Business Incubator Manager at The Carbon Trust. "We are here to help ideas develop into profitable, sustainable businesses."
The Carbon Trust is perhaps better known for its carbon-cutting advice and services to the corporate world, than for its financial and commercialisation support in the field of early stage technological innovation.
"Within the organisation there is a vast amount of work being done to bring technologies to market that will generate clean electricity, introduce more energy-efficient industrial processes and make practical use of renewables," says Nutter.
As well as applying for generous research grants, through the Applied Research scheme, fledgling companies and research institutions with innovative solutions can gain valuable consultancy help if they're accepted onto the Carbon Trust's Low Carbon Incubator programme.
Set up in 2004 with four incubator consultancy partners - Angle Technology, Imperial Innovations, Isis Innovation, and TTP - the Incubator offers business development support, market research and practical preparation for fundraising. The Carbon Trust and partners are currently working with 18 companies, and a further 34 companies have already been supported, many securing private sector funding as they move to market. To be accepted onto the programme companies have to demonstrate the emissions reduction their product would make possible and its commercial attractiveness.
"A small company may want to develop a low-cost Solar Photovoltaic solution [using daylight to power electrical equipment] for use in buildings," explains Nutter. "But typically the team will be scientists, not company directors. There will be no business plan and minimal understanding of market demand or how to exploit it."
She says that in the business arena, simply offering a 'green' alternative to the existing technology isn't enough. "Investors and end-users will want to know the commercial benefits. Will it introduce real efficiencies, and crucially, save money?"
Nutter adds: "Often in a specific market there is a problem that needs solving, but you must understand exactly what is required. There's no point starting to manufacture a 2kw product when the requirement is for 1kw. Also markets are changing so rapidly in line with incoming regulations that you can capitalise on new needs, but market knowledge is essential, and this is where our consulting partners really help."
Lontra is a London-based start-up that has benefited from both a Carbon Trust Applied Research grant and Incubator support. Its Blade Compressor can save up to 35 per cent of the energy normally required by industrial compressors.
"Working with the Carbon Trust and Imperial Innovations was invaluable," says Simon Hombersley, business development director at Lontra. "Imperial Innovations has an excellent reputation for clean energy commercialisation, and were able to introduce us to highly skilled technical people. For me the mentoring support was vital too. Being a scientific entrepreneur can be a relatively lonely role, but the contact and networking opportunities that open up really help you and your product develop. We've gone from research project to viable company, and now have the necessary funding to take the Blade Compressor to market."
Revenue modelling, honing a clear view of how to exploit their technology and building credibility in the market all came about through The Carbon Trust's support says Hombersley.
Nutter says that many of the first wave of incubated innovations have profitability in their sights. "And because The Carbon Trust is constantly engaging with the market our network of contacts is growing significantly," she says. "Leading companies - Philips for example - have a genuine appetite for the next generation of low carbon technologies and want access to the cutting edge products that will save energy into the future. Leveraging these links will speed the passage of ground-breaking technology towards everyday use."