As career highlights go, July 1st ranks fairly highly for Andrew Wordsworth, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Sustainable Ventures. Not only was Andrew the recipient of BusinessGreen’s coveted ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award, but that same day he completed the exit of Sustainable Venture’s first start-up, E-Car, to Europcar – in what is now recognized as the UK’s first successful crowdfunding exit.
Four years since inception in 2011, the sale of E-Car represents a significant milestone for Sustainable Ventures. From the confines of an underground office near Kings Cross with just Wordsworth and his co-founder, Chris Morris, Sustainable Ventures has transformed into a growing portfolio of six low carbon ventures. And now, the expanding team (more than 40 at the last count) has set up a distinctive new workspace, ‘Sustainable Bridges’, to further facilitate entrepreneurial endeavour.
Led by insight into customer demand rather than the traditional technology-push approach, Sustainable Ventures identifies new revenue opportunities in the sustainable space and exploits them by bringing together the required investment, management teams, strategic partners and proven technologies to form new subsidiary companies. These companies then aim to rapidly scale to become the leading independent players in their emerging market segments. “We don’t have anything involved in renewable development”, comments Wordsworth, “just too many players and too much political risk – most of the rest of the landscape is fair game.”
And E-Car is not the only portfolio company making headline news. Powervault, a leader in energy storage, is disrupting the domestic market with its ‘plug and play’ capabilities, thereby earning itself a reputation as the UK’s answer to Tesla. Enabling households’ increased use of their microgeneration sourced electricity, Powervault is redefining the UK’s electricity market by facilitating greater levels of gird independence.
Yet, common across Sustainable Ventures’ portfolio, Powervault is not only a game changer in its own technological domain, but challenges the very way businesses are being created. In early 2015 Powervault raised £750,000 in less than four days on equity investment platform Crowdcube. Crowd-sourced investment has repeatedly proven instrumental for financing ‘green’ innovation at a time when traditional venture capital is scarce.
And herein lies Sustainable Ventures’ real strength; an approach based on problem solving. Each venture is created in response to a defined social and/or environmental problem. The portfolio has collectively received investment from social investment sources, such as Ignite Social Enterprise, and grant support from Innovate UK, Climate KIC and NESTA. Venture development remains open-minded to alternative means of financing, exploiting new opportunities as they arise. Ultimately, Sustainable Ventures challenges the conventional approach to venture development, frequently creating solutions that are leaders in their field, appropriating business models from other sectors (particularly ‘technology’ and “Internet of Things”), and demonstrating that social and environmental benefits can be delivered without compromising investment returns.
Sustainable Ventures’ most recent creation, Sustainable Bridges CIC, now aims to extend the lessons of Sustainable Ventures’ experience to support other, like-minded pioneers. Sustainable Bridges champions sustainability entrepreneurs, who it believes are crucial to unlocking the innovations radical enough to address the unprecedented challenges of climate change. Having renovated four railway arches near London Bridge into vibrant co-working space, Sustainable Bridges is an exemplar of bottom-up entrepreneurial collaboration. With 40+ members working from the site, ranging from Green Running‘s tech-heavy energy management systems to Clotho, a sustainable fashion exchange, Sustainable Bridges, encapsulates under one roof, ‘sustainable innovation’ in its broadest sense. Defined by the ventures it houses, Sustainable Bridges remains true to the Sustainable Ventures’ philosophy; entrepreneurs getting their hands dirty and making positive change happen.
With a sister fund in the pipeline and several other concepts in early stage development, Sustainable Ventures’ looks set to continue re-drawing the boundaries. “DECC have just delivered a once in a decade change in policy so there’s going to be an explosion of opportunities in the sector”, notes Wordsworth. To mimic Wayne Gretzky, it appears that Sustainable Ventures are already ‘skating to where the puck is going to be.’
As published in BuisnessGreen 30.07.2015