Tag Archives: entrepreneurs

Solar energy entrepreneur gets her start in university science

Residential rooftop photovoltaics (PV) remains one of Australia’s hottest energy options, with the Clean Energy Council reporting, in December 2018, that two million Australian households had installed solar panels on their homes. 

The energy market is a complex sector, which needs to be dynamic to meet fast-changing consumer requirements and global pressures. In Australia, energy is also a politically delicate area, ripe for disruption.

Solar entrepreneur Emma Jenkin, co-founder of DC Power Co, is uniquely qualified to be part of a revolutionary change in Australia’s energy sector thanks to her strong insight into data analytics and her merged commerce/science background.      

Jenkin completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne then worked in industry before co-founding DC Power Co, an Australian solar energy retail start-up that has completed the world’s most popular equity crowdfunding campaign to date — raising $2.5 million from more than 17,500 investors.

Jenkin is a self-confessed ‘maths geek’ who completed first-year university maths while still in high school, then started an engineering degree before moving to a combined Bachelor of Science and Commerce degree, where she majored in maths and statistics.

“Our research revealed an appetite across Australia to have more energy independence in the face of distrust around the electricity sector,” she says.

“PV solar is driven by people’s desire to take on renewables for cost savings, for self-sufficiency and for the environment.”

Jenkin’s co-founders — Nic Frances Gilley, Monique Conheady and Nick Brass — have all worked in environmental, energy or carbon trading markets, she says. Their aim is to drive mass efficiency and buying power for member households. Research shows that nearly

20 per cent of rooftop solar systems don’t function properly, and DC Power Co uses analytics to identify non-performance and is the only company that alerts customers when their systems don’t work. 

“We spotted a need for an energy company that focused on solar households,” she explains.

Brendan Fitzpatrick

PATH

>Bachelor of Science/Commerce, University of Melbourne

>Executive Director, UBS commodity index training

> Project Manager, Carbon Bridge Ltd

> Executive, Cool nrg International

>Director, FIIG Securities

> Co-Founder and CFO, DC Power Co

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.


Finding space industry’s next Elon Musk

 

Crew Dragon pad abort test, part of the December 2015 mission. Credit SpaceX

Speakers at the 2016 Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program Space and Entrepreneurism public event in Adelaide on January 28 have highlighted the challenges and opportunities on offer in the space industry.

Alex Grant, whose South Australian company Myriota is developing tiny devices to transmit data to and from remote locations, said finding commercially competitive ways to solve people’s problems was vital.

“If you can solve people’s problems at a price point they are willing to pay then that’s when you start getting investment, that’s when you start getting customers,” he said.

Flavia Tata Nardini, a former European Space Agency propulsion engineer, moved to Adelaide before founding Launchbox in 2014 to change the way people understood space science.

She has since also founded Fleet, which aims to use a constellation of low orbit satellites to bring cheap internet connections to the developing world.

Building a space industry

“Entrepreneurship is adventure and it’s a really hard adventure,” she told the audience at the University of South Australia’s Mawson Centre.

“You have to have an idea and then you have to make it happen … the only way you can do this is to understand where are the troubles … what is it that people need.

“For me it was a personal thing. When I arrived in Australia I thought I wanted to see that in 20 years everybody loved space, everybody was studying space.

“Launchbox is now a two-year-old company and it’s going great … I’ve seen so many students coming to me saying I want to study aerospace and be a space engineer because of you guys and that’s a very big achievement.”

Tata Nardini said the goal with Fleet was to provide internet for people all over the world who could not afford to pay more than $2 a month.

“To find investors we have learned to pitch what problem we are solving,” she said. “The problem we are solving is giving internet at very low cost to 3 billion people who are currently not connected.”

She said besides the strength to never give up, entrepreneurs need “a good analysis of what is out there, a good understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and a bit of luck.”

Brett Burford is the founder of AU Launch Services, an Adelaide-based consulting group that works with CubeSat manufacturers, owners and operators and serves as a single point of contact for clients.

Burford said finding the right niche required by the market was his key to establishing in the space industry.

“This is a million miles away from the first pre-conceived idea that I had but sometimes you just have to let go and say what does the market really need,” he said.

“You also need to understand the whole picture. There are regulatory issues, there are politics, there are a whole number of other factors that impact what you do.

“We really need to understand there is a market and we need to find out what the market needs are and realize we are not a space company, we provide services that require elements from space and that is the underpinning of what a space industry is.”

The next Elon Musk

Burford said global entrepreneurs in recent years like SpaceX founder Elon Musk had “brought space down closer to us than it has ever been”.

“And the closer that we feel to space the more we feel like maybe we can have some impact in that,” he said.

“When I first started looking into the space industry I came across a shortcut … what is the quickest way to become a space millionaire  … to be a billionaire and start investing in space.

“But luckily things are changing.”

First published on The Lead South Australia.

The spirit within

WE OFTEN HEAR CALLS for a more entrepreneurial culture. But what does that mean in practical terms? Yes, it is affected by our national psyche, outlook and attitude to risk. We hear that Australians don’t ‘embrace failure’, and that our finance sector is too conservative in its attitude to science and innovation. These opinions might be true, but regardless we also have to get the building blocks right.

The ‘next big thing’ might come from a series of small steps in developing the environment for more innovators and entrepreneurs to thrive. The government has just released an Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, which features a few of the steps that will improve the situation for entrepreneurs in Australia.

Issuing share options to employees is an important way of attracting talent. New companies have an idea, a prayer and not much cash. But brilliant young people are often willing to take shares or options in lieu of salaries for a year or two to join the startup entrepreneurial adventure. They might take a very low salary, or spend a year couch surfing or forgoing the benefits of deodorant.

The incredible stories of the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the rest mean that by taking shares in lieu of salary they may strike it rich. In Australia, rules introduced in 2009 killed off this pathway by demanding that tax be paid on those shares immediately. The government has now fixed that issue.

Removing barriers is another important avenue to increase business competitiveness in Australia. Simple things like vaccine companies undergoing identical audits from different regulatory agencies draws cash – and focus – out of the business. The government has decided to have a serious go at lowering those barriers.

For the Treasurer’s coming tax review, the Minister for Industry has flagged two more innovations: crowd sourcing of equity finance, and patent boxes. Australia is slow on the equity issue, with the USA, the UK, Canada and New Zealand all ahead of us. But the government has received a very comprehensive report detailing the necessary changes, and action is expected soon. The patent box concept, which started in the UK, allows companies to isolate earnings from patents and have them favourably taxed.

Apart from government, financing of innovation is slowly improving. Westpac has provided $50 million to Reinventure, a venture capital company. CSIRO’s new CEO, Larry Marshall, is an Aussie with 25 years of venture capital experience. If the equity-financing model allows self-managed super funds to invest, then who knows the limits?

Firing up the entrepreneurial spirit in Australia is the next big thing. The foundations are quickly being laid – next we need the builders to come in. The gap year has become common after senior secondary school. Wouldn’t it be something to see a ‘growth year’, when graduates or postgraduates gave themselves a year to pursue an idea?

TonyPeacockKnowHow founder Tony Peacock is the CEO of the CRC Association and 2014 Monash University Churchill Fellow at The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.