02 Oct 2015 2015 Shell Springboard winner Deciwatt discuss their journey so far
In 2015, London-based start-up Deciwatt was named the Shell Springboard National Winner for their low-carbon innovation, GravityLight, and awarded £150,000 to help scale-up their business and bring their product onto the market. Their invention uses the force of gravity to generate electricity that can be used off-grid, reducing carbon emissions and providing a safe alternative to kerosene lamps. Six months on, we catch up with Caroline Angus, Deciwatt’s Commercial Director, to see what impact Shell Springboard had in helping the team to achieve their ambitions.
“There are two moments which stand out most in recent memory,” Caroline Angus, Commercial Director of Deciwatt says. “The first was when Bill Gates praised GravityLight on Twitter calling it a “cool innovation”. The second was when we won the Shell Springboard national final.”
Having started the company less than 3 years ago, Deciwatt founders had a proof of concept that they knew would work in the real world, but lacked the finance to take it to the next stage. Attracting funding for an innovation that has not yet been brought to market was proving to be a real hurdle.
“We looked at a breadth of options. The challenge was that we were at an awkward stage of the business. We could show prospective investors a prototype, but we needed the funding to test GravityLight in the market.”
Deciwatt started to research alternative funding options and came across the Shell Springboard programme. Designed specifically to support breakthrough low-carbon enterprises, it seemed like the ideal opportunity for Deciwatt.
“The key requirement for us was finding funding that didn’t have strings attached, since that’s not something we wanted at such an early stage of our business,” Caroline explains. “It’s rare to find opportunities like that. But once we painted a clear picture of our technology’s potential, Shell Springboard was willing to fund GravityLight at the proven concept stage, even though we hadn’t launched in market.”
Deciwatt’s cutting-edge low-carbon technology impressed Shell Springboard judges with its innovative use of natural resources and ability to generate reliable and affordable power. Crucially, GravityLight has the potential to be a safe alternative to kerosene lamps used by the 1.3 billion people around the globe living without access to electricity.
The £150,000 Shell Springboard grant is the first major funding milestone for Deciwatt and has allowed the team to start bringing their game-changing technology onto the market.
“Shell Springboard has enabled us to scale our business at a much faster rate. By overcoming those first access to funding challenges, we have found raising further funds was a much easier process. We were able to hire a Business Development manager to build a strong customer base and attract more funding.
“The publicity we received through the Springboard programme, not least appearing in the business section of the Times, has also been great for us. You can’t buy that sort of recognition.”
“What the funding has helped us do is not just scale up our operation, but it has given us the recognition we need to generate more funding to develop new products. It gave us the confidence to start a crowd-funding campaign and the response we got couldn’t have been better.”
Deciwatt’s Shell Springboard funding has gone towards establishing a business manager to launch GravityLIght in the emergency relief market. It is also being used to help the company develop GravityLight radio and extend the number of accessories that can be used with the original innovation. Since their win, Deciwatt have also since raised $250,000 through a crowd-funding campaign, smashing their initial target of $199,000. This crowdsourced investment is being used to establish an assembly line in Kenya to bring jobs as well as light to off-grid households in Kenya and beyond.
Looking ahead, Caroline recognises that while the company’s business pitch is strong, in order to access substantial long-term funding, Deciwatt needs to connect to the investor community.
“Once we’ve launched the product, the plan is to scale-up production and reach new customers. For that we’ll need to raise millions of pounds in funding.”
To raise funds of this scale, Deciwatt will be looking to explore investment routes, which will require building relationships with venture capital firms and angel investors.
“One of the great things about being a Shell Springboard national winner is that it gives a sort of seal of approval for future funding opportunities. It’s a great signalling mechanism. It gives us credibility as a business – being awarded a substantial sum through the programme gives investors the confidence to fund us at an even greater scale going forward.”
Would Caroline recommend the Shell Springboard programme to other low-carbon entrepreneurs?
“I think that’s a no-brainer. The support we’ve received from being a regional finalist and then winning has been unparalleled. My advice? Go for it!”