An ASPIRE BeInspired presentation from Laurence Kemball-Cook, Founder and CEO
From Failure to Launch.
One of the world’s leading eco-entrepreneurs Laurence Kemball-Cook is leading the charge on making a difference to the cities we live, work and play in. ASPIRE cohorts were granted an amazing opportunity to have a presentation and Q&A session with Laurence to hear more about the challenges and opportunities he faced when building his startup and insight into his view on entrepreneurship and the green energy movement. Below please find a summary of some of the key takeaways from the 90-minute presentation.
7.4 Billion people, 55% living in cities, many are toxic. Over 2.2 million children in Delhi now have permanent lung damage. But it doesn’t have to be this way; as the CEO and Founder of Pavegen Laurence Kemball-Cook believes, we can make cities beautiful and healthy places. Laurence has a personal mission to change cities for the better through the use of technology. To build our cities for people, not for machines. And the good news is that things are changing; in 2018, only 12% of the world’s energy came from renewables. But in 2019, 33% of the world’s power came from green sources moving to an expected 45% when the numbers come out for 2020. Green energy is starting to have its moment and has the power to change lives as well as cities.
Pavegen was born from Laurence’s passion, and its mission today is to improve the world through the power of a human footstep. Pavegen is now a 40 person company with a strong management team based in Kings Cross and Cambridge with manufacturing in North London, operating in 36 markets.
Laurence’s start into this world of green and footsteps had a rocky start. Working at eON, he failed at delivering a green solution, and after being fired and at his lowest, he couldn’t stop thinking about his university passion on how to turn footsteps into power. Duck taping a prototype together Pavegen was born. What he quickly discovered is that people were drawn to his invention. They loved jumping up and down and seeing energy being created. What he needed now was to build a product, but without revenue, he couldn’t get funding; without funding, he couldn’t build a product to get revenue.
Five years in Brixton stuck in this circle, continuing to graft for every opportunity and for every penny through demos and competitions, he kept the dream alive. Finally, Pavegen was even given a chance to participate in the 2012 Olympics with a minimal check to keep them afloat. Staying focused on the end goal, Laurence looked to moments like these as well as festivals providing mobile dance floors to gain customer insight and continue to self-fund and step by step improve the experience.
Pavegens first pivot came out of these moments where Laurence realised that it wasn’t just green energy but also engagement that was being generated. A demo at Heathrow airport showcased this shift. The experience where footfall generated a lighting experience was so popular a six months installation lasted five years. This lead to an impactful partnership with Shell, where they installed the technology under a football pitch in a low-income area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where at every game, each step on the field would generate power and light the stadium. This transformational moment cemented the connection of the dream of new green energy from footfall to the powerful emotional engagement and experience of light and joy. On the back of this connection, Pavegen has continued to go from strength to strength and plans on being a critical component of the global green energy movement.
Quick wins/fast fails. Be agile, discover new opportunities. Try ideas and leave them quickly behind if they don’t work. Right now, Pavegen is exploring energy as a reward. Energy could be a digital currency with your footsteps creating compensations and linking people and businesses through the energy and the power of a footstep. Pavegen’s team are even thinking about how cars could but used to produce energy. Laurence believes that all companies have to be agile in Covid19 times. Businesses need to think about areas of risk how to de-risk through flexibility. For Pavegen, it’s about having a product roadmap that can change and overcome hurdles when things get disrupted.
Entrepreneurship is not a linear journey; you will take steps forwards and backwards all the time. It can be a battle every day. For Laurence, he likens the journey to climbing MontBlanc at two in the morning during a snowstorm, wondering why he was doing it; “it’s like pushing a rock uphill in the dark with no oxygen crawling over glass.” There can be extreme suffering, but the competitive nature within yourself will drive you.
Get an idea, and it must solve a big problem and validate and validate quickly with an addressable market. Distil the vertical to a small user group to connect and understand the competitive market while making sure you really understand who you will be selling to.
COVID19 is driving a green recovery. For Pavegen, this means focusing on collaborating with governments around the world to believe that the world can eliminate all carbon from coal power stations. There is already a Supergrid working today, which could make ASIA carbon-free. We can make changes. Simple and easy to install solutions like Pavegen should be included in all new initiatives to drive a green future. Laurences’ parting advice is to make sure you develop a business model that suits the times and place and has the flexibility to handle the disruption we now have to live with.
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