News | AEROPOWDER is March's Featured Business of the Month
10 March 2017
Elena Dieckmann and Ryan Robinson, won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in 2016 for their business AEROPOWDER which they co-founded whilst at university.
AEROPOWDER take waste chicken feathers from the poultry industry and processes them into materials, such as insulation, which are then sold to architects and homeowners who wish to use more sustainable products in buildings.
The business has gone from strength to strength since starting up just last year, having bagged a number of awards, including the Mayor’s Entrepreneur award and NACUE’s Varsity Pitch competition. Now the business is looking to the future and are currently in the process of developing their product with industrial partners.
Shell LiveWIRE sat down with AEROPOWDER’s co-founders to catch up with them and to see what's next for their award-winning business.
What was the inspiration behind AEROPOWDER?
This started as Elena’s Master’s project, where she had to find new uses for waste materials in society. The idea to focus on feathers came from a visit to a friend's house on a cold day, where it was observed that the chickens seem unconcerned about the temperature. From this point, Elena wanted to explore what feathers could be useful for. We think it’s a massive shame that such a useful material is normally just turned into a low grade animal feed!
How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to go into business for yourself?
This started from a student project, and we applied for the Mayor’s Entrepreneur Award. We won this award, and this gave us the confidence to start a business (as well as being a requirement for the award!). We have always been interested in problem-solving and innovation, therefore starting a business was something we were looking forward to.
What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
Every day as a business founder presents a challenge, either familiar or unfamiliar. A key challenge I faced in the early days of the business was filling my skill-gaps. Being a non-technical founder required active networking with experts and potential partners. With perseverance and open-mindedness this challenge became one of my greatest assets as I built a large network of technical experts in the private sector and in education thus creating access to a greater skill pool.
What is your proudest achievement with the business?
Our proudest achievement so far is making the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe
list for Social Entrepreneurs. We are in the company of some extremely inspirational people so it is a real privilege.
You won a Shell LiveWIRE Award back in 2016, how have things changed for you since then?
Since winning the award, the interest surrounding AEROPOWDER and what we do has grown and grown. Life has changed quite considerably for the both of us – this is now our full-time work and every week is completely new. It might not be fun all the time, but it definitely isn’t boring! We couldn’t have imagined how things would have turned out this time last year!
What’s next for AEROPOWDER?
Right now, we are focusing on R&D and finding customers. It will be important to tie together our product development with our commercial development. We hope to release our first product for trialling and testing with customers in the latter half of the year.
Entrepreneurs drive innovation. How do you think this can be used to help create a smarter future?
By its definition, innovation is about creating new solutions to existing problems. If an innovation truly is useful, it will improve some aspect of a person’s life and value can be put upon this. Therefore, commercialising these solutions is the key for any technology or other forms of advancements to spread and make the future a better place.
How is your business helping create a smarter future?
More intelligent reuse of waste materials is at the core of AEROPOWDER. Several challenges that face society in the future will be due to scarcity of resources and the environmental impact that our lives have. Therefore, it is important to innovate and develop new ways to create, use and dispose of products. We aim to create sustainable insulation from a waste by-product that can contribute to improvements in the built environment. Feather-based insulation will replace synthetic petroleum-based products and also have improved end of life options, as well as having the added benefit of being derived from existing waste by-products.
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
There are some things that you can only learn by experience. You need to fail sometimes to appreciate what to do next time. However, there are many other things that are not worth going through if someone can just give you advice. So, get yourself out there, network, network, network!
Got a Smart Idea for a Business?
Do you have a smart business idea that will provide a solution to the world’s future transport, food, energy, or natural resource challenges, or make our urban environments cleaner and more sustainable places to work and live in? If so you can apply online now for funding!