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2013-07-13
Growth Capital: The renewable energy inventor whose tiles were made for walking
How London’s entrepreneurs are bucking the economic gloom Anyone who walks into Pavegen’s headquarters near King’s Cross railway station will find their footsteps triggering the tinkling of piano keys. It’s not exactly what you’d expect when entering the offices of a renewable energy business. The company’s founder, Laurence Kemball-Cook, explains: “It’s your movement that’s playing that piano.”

It is this concept of movement on which the Pavegen technology is founded. Kemball-Cook, 26, has invented a tile which, every time someone steps on it, converts kinetic energy into electricity which can be used to power such things as street lights and advertising hoardings. Since he founded the Pavegen business two years ago, his invention has grown to the extent that this summer it will feature at Westfield Stratford City, to be stepped on by Olympians on their way to the Games, and this is set to double this year’s revenues to £1 million.

It was while working as an intern at a leading energy company that Kemball-Cook began to think up ways to get around the problems associated with conventional methods of producing renewable energy.

“Problems such as a lack of sun or wind, and not enough roof space for solar panels, especially in urban areas,” says Kemball-Cook. “I thought, what if there were a reliable technology that would give you power when and where you wanted it?”

He was particularly interested in the fact that, in an average lifetime, a person takes 150 billion footsteps — enough energy to power a house for three weeks — and decided to quit the big corporate to spend a year developing his technology at Loughborough University, where he was studying industrial design and technology. “The Royal Society of Arts gave me a £5000 grant so I was able to develop the technology, go to a factory and build the prototypes,” he explains.

 

In June 2009, he launched his idea at his graduation show — but it was no ordinary graduation show: “I presented my idea at New Designers 2009 at The Business Design Centre in Islington. There was a press launch on the first evening so loads of newspapers turned up. Everyone was writing the most insane stuff about me.”

On the back of this positive response, Kemball-Cook founded Pavegen in early 2010 with £150,000 raised with the help of friends and family. By the end of 2010, the company had its first installation in a school corridor. “Now 1100 pupils devote their life to destroying my technology, but they haven’t managed it yet,” smiles Kemball-Cook. “The school was great because it acted as a case study to show potential clients. The thing with renewable energy is that it usually costs £30 million to mature the technology but I managed to prove, without much funding, that our long-term installations work.”

Next on the agenda was obtaining more funds. “I managed to achieve the quickest funding round London Business Angels had seen. We raised just under £500,000, which allowed us to scale the technology up and build a team with the aim of getting the technology into mass production and rolling it out to our key clients.” All the tiles are made in Brighton.

Events make up 20% of Pavegen’s revenues and are an important cog in the company’s marketing strategy. At the WWF’s recent Earth Hour, a 16-tile dancefloor was used to power tweets about the cause worldwide. “It was a fun way of building the brand. Obviously permanent installations are vital but this is a key part of getting the word out there,” Kemball-Cook explains.

Westfield Stratford City is one such permanent installation. The shopping centre will witness an installation of Pavegen tiles which will power the outdoor lighting. “It’s really exciting because the whole world is going to be looking at this area during the summer,” he says.

Pavegen doesn’t intend to restrict itself to the domestic market. “We installed in Bulgaria last year after winning the Shell Livewire Awards,” the entrepreneur adds. “The exposure allowed us to make the contacts and now our tiles are used to power street lights in the centre of Sofia. We’ve even had the Bulgarian energy minister doing hopscotch over them.”

He might have struck success but Kemball-Cook says more should be done to help new businesses: “The Government doesn’t do anything to help start-ups. They say they do but they don’t,” he explains.

So what’s next? “We’re aiming at transportation sites where we can install as an off-grid energy solution which has under a 10-year payback,” Kemball-Cook says.

“The potential of Pavegen technology is endless. As long as you’ve got people walking, you’ve got power.”

 

Source: www.standard.co.uk/business/markets/growth-capital-the-renewable-energy-inventor-whose-tiles-were-made-for-walking-7903586.html




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