17 November 2016
This blog is part of Shell LiveWIRE’s Global Entrepreneurship Week activities aimed at celebrating innovation and young entrepreneurs. Follow us on Twitter for information on all of our Global Entrepreneurship week content and activities.
Why do some companies succeed where others fail? Michael Murray, from NVP Energy, the Shell Springboard 2016 regional winner, talks about his entrepreneurial journey and gives his top-tips for new businesses.
Starting your own business involves a huge degree of risk. If it was easy, everyone would do it. In the UK, more than half of new businesses fail to survive past the five year mark and many cite access to finance as the top challenge hampering their business development aspirations. Finding the right financial formula for your business is essential for success.
NVP Energy, Shell Springboard 2016 finalist, came across such issues when trying to develop its carbon neutral technology for treating wastewater. Utilising the principles of anaerobic digestion, NVP Energy found a unique way to harness the pollutants during the wastewater treatment process to produce reusable energy at the same time. The innovation, called Lt-AD technology, can help companies with big operational plants to generate their own heat and electricity on-site, in turn saving them money and cutting down carbon emissions. But it was access to finance that posed a problem for NVP Energy, as the team tried to secure first orders with customers.
Michael Murray, Managing Director at NVP Energy, spoke to us about the importance of grant-based funding and the opportunities and challenges associated with scaling-up:
Why did you enter the Shell Springboard programme?
We came across Shell Springboard while searching for funding routes. With no-strings-attached funding on offer, the programme immediately jumped out at us as a real opportunity to help develop our sales pipeline, business model and an international roll-out strategy. Aside from the award money, feedback and advice from academics, investors and policymakers made the programme particularly appealing.
Have you secured any other types of funding?
To date, we’ve successfully secured funding through the Department of Energy & Climate Change, European Commission and Horizon 2020 Phase 2 funding. This along with support from Shell Springboard and a programme run by The Carbon Trust has been the key to our success. The funding we received from winning various programmes has allowed the company to invest in business development and marketing, developing a list of new prospects and potential leads in our target market. There are so many different routes new businesses can take to secure funding and it’s essential that as a new business you exhaust every avenue available.
What challenges have you faced in bringing your innovation to market?
The scaling-up process has taught us a lot about the Lt-AD technology and the strengths/limitations of our initial design. Despite our successes, like any start-up company, we have encountered challenges. One of our biggest challenges has been a lack of resources to scale the business in both personnel and finance. Financing a new business isn’t easy as a successfully tried and tested product is often necessary to generate interest from both customers and investors.
What top tips would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I would offer four pieces of advice. Firstly, there is a lot of help out there in starting a business in the form of grants and funding, and I would recommend exploring as many of these as possible. The funding we received from the Shell Springboard programme contributed significantly towards the employment of a business development manager to further develop our sales pipeline into the Food & Drink industry.
Secondly, it’s imperative to fully understand your target market. Take the time to identify your product’s unique selling points by assessing your competitor’s weaknesses and how your product overcomes these weaknesses.
Thirdly, put together a detailed and comprehensive business plan that sets out realistic budgets, goals and forecasts. Any investor or funding programme will want to see this. We’ve all seen people fail on Dragon’s Den – you need to have the critical numbers at your fingertips.
Finally, when you have your business strategy nailed down, start attending networking events; they are a great way of making business contacts and generating business opportunities.
What is next for NVP?
All of the different sources of funding we secured eventually meant we were able to secure our first full scale order – with ABP Foods nonetheless, one of Europe’s largest meat processors. This was a tipping point for taking our business forward.
Looking to the future, our focus is on securing partners who will directly sell the company’s technology to end users. Focus will also be placed on developing a route to market based on a country by country roll-out strategy, particularly in Germany, France, Netherlands, and Italy. This strategy is designed to establish NVP Energy as a global market leader in low strength wastewater treatment.