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NEWS & INSIGHTS | article

Start-ups fast-tracking clean energy

06 October 2022 6 minute read

We all know that Scotland aims to achieve net zero by 2045, but did you also know that up to 50% of the technology we need in order to meet that goal has yet to be invented? New solutions that enable clean and affordable energy will be pivotal in future decades to come.

While the challenge of tackling climate change and becoming carbon neutral is daunting, it also presents a massive opportunity. As the market for clean energy tech expands it offers innovators who can come up with the solutions a real chance to create jobs, boost prosperity and help forge a stronger, more sustainable economy.

Developing new ideas into successful businesses takes time, money and resilience. The energy and tech sectors must do all they can to discover and encourage them, which involves offering support to the entrepreneurs behind them.

These women and men are passionate, driven to succeed, and with one goal in mind: taking their start-up’s technology to market. More often, they are ready to take more risks than that of larger, well-established companies. It is this ambition and personal investment that ultimately makes start-up founders crucial in fast-tracking the energy transition.

Many will have a particular expertise in an area where they see an opportunity but need help to direct their energy in the right ways. That is where the Net Zero Technology Centre’s (NZTC) TechX Clean Energy Accelerator comes in.

This intensive 15-week programme is essentially a boot camp for clean energy start-ups. Each year we provide 12 companies with the tools, support and resources they need to grow in a bid to close the gap in net zero technologies – and applications are open now.

Funding is vital for any pioneering company looking to grow. Each of the start-ups that gain a place in the programme are offered a grant of up to £100,000, as well as comprehensive tuition and mentoring. This is supported by TechX’s global strategic partners bp, Equinor and ADNOC, who provide access to a range of technology experts, investment opportunities and the potential for field trials. Accenture, the programme’s Professional Services Partner, also provides an investor readiness programme specifically designed for TechX start-ups.

This package of support makes a real difference and doesn’t end with the accelerator. Post-graduation, start-ups are offered two years of specialised growth support and free co-working space, to help them move towards commercialisation and beyond. The programme’s contribution is not only meaningful, but its legacy is lasting, having a positive impact on business survival rates.

The Scottish Government’s own figures show that only 42% of Scottish start-ups made it past five years. The general rule is that up to 90% will fail, but we have seen the reverse of that.

Since TechX launched in 2018, NZTC has invested £4.5million in tech start-ups and 45 companies have successfully graduated from the programme. More than 95% of our alumni are still active in developing their technology, securing funding and taking steady steps towards market entry, and we continue to work with and support them.

It takes time, but our alumni continue to hit promising milestones. For example, Mission Zero, who are developing a machine to extract carbon dioxide from the air, went on to win a $1million XPRIZE award from a foundation backed by Elon Musk, as well as funding from Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Much of these companies’ success is down to securing the right team.

It is proven that having an equal gender balance in any company helps maximise results. Teams that demonstrate diversity typically possess a richer talent pool, with a wider range of viewpoints, skillsets and experiences. Despite this, there is a distinct gender gap in Scottish entrepreneurship.

Only 21% of small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland are led by women, while women-led businesses contribute more than £8.8billion to our economy. The lack of female start-up founders and co-founders in this space is a restraint on innovation and progress.

TechX is working hard to tackle this, which started with setting a clear intention. When recruiting for our latest cohort, we published an aim for 30% of the start-ups shortlisted for the programme to be female led or co-led, and asked questions of applicant on their plans to increase diversity in their teams in the application process.

This commitment resulted in more than 40% of the cohort being represented by companies with female founders or leaders with an equity stake in the company. This was a relatively small initiative that had such an extraordinary impact. As we continue to champion entrepreneurial diversity, the programme is now offering sessions on the benefits gender diversity can bring, as well as training on unconscious bias.

With the right people, technologies and a solid support ecosystem, our nation has the opportunity to become a clean energy powerhouse. Start-ups have a front and centre role to play in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating clean energy. Their ingenuity and passion will help us get there faster.

A Turbo-boost for clean energy start-ups

Two start-ups who are flourishing as a result of their engagement with the TechX Clean Energy Accelerator programme are Mocean Energy and Napkin Innovation. Here, they share their experiences.

Mocean Energy

Cameron McNatt, Founder and Managing Director of Mocean Energy, with his team and technology prototype

Edinburgh-based Mocean Energy graduated from the Accelerator programme in 2019 and has now developed its technology from a model weighing just a few kilograms to a 20-metre long structure weighing 38 tonnes, which generates renewable electricity from wave power.

Last year it launched a £1.6million project, along with the Net Zero Technology Centre, Verlume, Harbour Energy, Modus and Baker Hughes, to test the potential of its prototype to power a subsea battery and a remote underwater vehicle. This technology could eventually help to decarbonise North Sea oil and gas infrastructure.

The firm has grown from just six employees, based in an office in the capital, to a team of 18I, with a second base in Aberdeen.

“TechX pushes you out of the nest, helping you to meet potential customers and potential partners,” says Cameron McNatt, Founder and Managing Director of Mocean.

“It has taken me out of my comfort zone, out the door, meeting and talking to people, which has been key to our progress.”

Napkin Innovation

Jacqueline Morrison, Founder and Director of Napkin Innovation, at the 2022 TechX Start-up Demo Day

Napkin Innovation took part in this year’s accelerator programme. The company, based in Glasgow, has found a new way of fixing offshore wind turbines to the seabed, which offers a cheaper, lower carbon alternative to traditional methods. The technology Napkin has developed shows the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 40% when installing 100 offshore wind turbines, compared to the current method of using grout. It could also reduce the time and costs associated with installing the turbine foundations.

Jacqueline Morrison, the firm’s founder and Director, is a previous winner of the Innovate UK Women in Innovation Award.

“By removing grout from the foundation installation process and removing the associated emissions, we’re helping to make clean technology even cleaner” she explains.

“Our company is at an early stage but the promise it offers is exciting. The help and support we received from TechX has been invaluable and we are on track to further develop the technology.”

This article was originally published in The Times.

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