UK entrepreneurs cross the pond to woo wealthy West Coast investors.
Entrepreneur Richard Woods reports from San Francisco, where he is part of the Clean & Cool Mission that aims to put UK companies in touch with West Coast investors.
I’m one of the co-founders and directors of DIY Kyoto, the company that created home energy monitor wattson. We applied to take part in Clean & Cool as we’re looking to launch wattson in the US later this year and are looking for partners who can help us with this – distributors to get us into retail, companies with complementary offerings and investors who can help us finance our expansion.
Clean & Cool seemed a great opportunity to meet some of these people, plus make some good contacts with future key players in the UK and learn from them. There are serial entrepreneurs on the trip who’ve already set up and sold billion-dollar companies so anything we can learn from them is a big benefit. The Clean & Cool group includes everyone from consumer-focused companies like us to high-tech ventures doing everything from diamond-based electronics that will enable the smart grid to wavepower generators.
So far on the trip we’ve been on some very interesting visits seeing some of the big players – HP Labs talking about where they are going in the future and Better Place, who are developing and building the infrastructure for the shift to electric vehicles. The $350m of funding they’ve just brought in seems like a drop in the ocean of what’s required when they explain how they are doing it, but they have an incredible vision. Systems thinking is definitely where the big opportunities are, and people are prepared to make big bets on companies who look like they’ve figured out how to build key elements of the low carbon economy.
We’ve had some great networking opportunities – including a truly memorable night at the Birches’ home (the British couple who set up and sold Bebo). Their place is just stunning, interior design like nowhere I’ve ever seen before, roof-top views across the whole Bay and their own pub, Birch Castle, bang in the middle and complete with London Pride on tap. I left one of our US samples with them to say thanks, and also as a great shop window for us as they get such interesting people passing through. We’re also looking to develop our online community and they’re about as good at that as anyone, so we’re hoping that living with wattson might inspire them to get involved…
We’ve also been seeing how potential partner companies operate. Listening to the radio in San Francisco, I heard how SolarCity, a big local player in home generation, offers finance options so you get solar panels for free plus a monthly saving. They will even pay $500 to the first 100 people to sign up. It’s a great offer, but one we think could be even better if it was cash plus a wattson so people can optimise the energy they generate and get even more benefit.
So far we’ve shown wattson to a lot of people, got very positive feedback and probably enough sales to people who said they’ll buy one when we launch to cover the cost this trip alone. An unexpected benefit that, coupled with the longer-term outcomes it could lead to, has definitely made the trip worthwhile.
The Clean & Cool Mission is a joint initiative of the Technology Strategy Board, UK Trade and Investment, and a number of private sector organisations.