Topics from this week include: hangover cures, laptop proficiency, harp music and vegetarian sandwiches.
This week started with a two day trip to London. First was an overdue catch up with Forum for the Future with whom we work on a range of projects to help embed sustainability thinking in our strategy and help business realise opportunities from environmental and social drivers. We had a packed agenda but still largely managed to cover: further development of our Horizons (sustainability) tool, in particular helping applicants to our competitions benefit from it; planning for workshops with the Sustainable Cities Network and to shape our planned Energy Systems Catapult; involvement in The Great Recovery; and forward plans and communications.
Next was a wrap up meeting with Long Run Venture on the Clean and Cool Mission which can be very nicely summarised in this video: http://vimeo.com/80260212. The Mission was a real success but tracking the benefits for the companies over time will be a challenge. I squeezed in a meeting with Sophie Thomas on The Great Recovery before a more considered catch up with Jamie Burdett on big sustainability driven innovation ideas (and life in general) along with fellow big thinkers Scott Cain and Guy Pattison. I collapsed into my bed in the funky trial rooms at Premier Inn that have a lot of embedded technology (see picture).
Tuesday started with some phone calls and a meeting at Bloomberg in their swish offices at Finsbury Circus. They have an interest in supporting clean energy SMEs and are of course keen on our Clean and Cool Missions. They were also keen to see more UK entries to their New Energy Pioneers programme. I then met with Liz Goodwin, the CEO of WRAP to plan how we could work closer and more efficiently together before joining a team meeting teleconference and heading back home.
Wednesday brought a day of telephone calls, including a useful chat with Rio Negócios (supporting business investment in Rio de Janerio) on follow on support for our Clean and Cool Mission companies. Other calls covered water innovation, future cities sustainability metrics and forward plans for our Resource Efficiency strategy. I then headed to Swindon to be ready for an early start Thursday using the travel time to catalogue projects and prepare presentations.
Thursday had me attending a New Projects Workshop. This is where key personnel from proposals we have newly supported get to hear how they will be monitored and what they need to do to get started. I went to meet the projects from our recent Design Challenges for a Circular Economy call. It was a real pleasure to meet the organisations all raring to go and answer any questions they had. Thanks to older networks I moved in I knew a fair few of the exciting project teams from our Formulated Products call as well!
I had to cut short this meeting to return to the office and go through the assessed applications from our Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition. We had a lot to do to work through the ranking and being clear where a boundary might lie in the funding threshold and preparing to moderate around that zone at an assessor panel next week. Friday was thus spent reading a lot of those applications and understanding any issues.
I also finished the week with several phone calls, including discussions with potential applicants on scope, an interview with ENDS Report on the Clean and Cool Mission and a teleconference with several industry advisors on how we support innovation in industrial symbiosis.
Well it has been quite a week, and one worth recording to highlight the variety of my job. Topics discussed this week have included music festivals, David Bowie cross-dressing inspiring sustainability, the laboratory of the future, recycled trainers and how art can influence science.
The week started with a meeting with the Chartered Institute of Waste Management on how we can help the waste sector to innovate more quickly. They have big challenges in getting higher value outputs from waste streams and there are two main options – better sorting at source (free labour?) or better use of technology. With various legislation changes on the way it is a good time to be thinking this way.
A gear switch then to talk about sustainability in the Creative Industries with Julie’s Bicycle and the Creative Industries KTN. I was amazed how much data they have collected on impact in the creative industries, thanks largely to the vision of the Arts Council in making use of their eco-tool mandatory. Some exciting things could be done with that data in our Digital programme. We started some very interesting discussions on wider social and environmental challenges and how the circular economy could apply to the music sector.
Tuesday saw me playing with SharpCloud to help visualise the growing Resource Efficiency portfolio and planning what comes next while fielding phone calls on our latest circular economy competition. Wednesday brought updates to our Horizons tool and the fun of inspiring the next generation of scientists. I had agreed to talk to students at the University of Liverpool on my loopy career that started out in chemistry to help inspire them and ease their worries on finding the right job. I often use the great piece of advice I was given when leaving my first job felt a real wrench: jobs are like relationships. I went on the torture the analogy (too many and people worry, interviews are like first dates, more than one at once creates problems, etc...) but the broad point that your first is probably a long way from your ideal and you learn as you go is worth making.
Thursday saw an early start to arrive in time for the Sustainability Leaders Forum. I’ve been the last two years and amongst some less exciting, incremental plans (usually from large companies) you usually see three or four talks from genuinely inspiring business that are using sustainability as a driver for innovation and business change. I was very taken with the long term thinking and social innovation of Sky and the open conversation Rapanui were having with their customers. Syngenta’s new plans to improve agricultural productivity also had a balanced and ambitious approach. A common theme for the conference was that authenticity matters when engaging on sustainability.
I popped out during lunch to meet with Sigma-Aldrich and talk to them about plans they have to provide more services to their customers, largely science research centres. I suggested data driven approaches will dominate in the future and talking to data scientists and developers would be productive. A current trend is to turn the ‘art’ and know-how parts of scientific development and make them more of a predictive science. Advances in ICT, data and sensing are making this more and more feasible. Sigma-Aldrich will also be very interested in our proposed Catapult on Diagnostics for Stratified Medicine.
The conference moved in to the evening Sustainability Leaders Awards event at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London and I dusted down my DJ to be a guest on the table from International Synergies, the world leaders on industrial symbiosis and the company behind the National Industrial Symbiosis Project (NISP). Champagne broke out when Peter Laybourn (the CEO) won the coveted Sustainable Leader of the Year prize. The event was great for networking and along with discussions on how we support industrial symbiosis I also had the chance to talk about a Green Futures special edition with the editor Anna Simpson and explore reuse of building components with Skansa (who also won an award).
The week finished with an energising meeting at the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Nike on circular economy approaches to shoes and apparel and how design in central to it all. Nike is experiencing increasing volatility in their raw material base echoing issues we hear from all manufacturers through our Resource Efficiency programme. They have exciting visions on how to tackle that and want to take their customers with them on the journey.
The 2013 Clean and Cool Mission to Brazil is over. We’re back in the UK to very different weather reflecting on what we have learnt. On our last morning we had the pleasure of visiting the largest private energy company in Brazil in the city of Camphinas: CPFL Energia. There we also heard from Silver Spring Networks, a Californian start-up specialising in smart grids who have forged a successful partnership with CPFL. This meeting reinforced many of the aspects of doing business in Brazil that we’d heard with one very clear message coming through – the hurdles to doing business in Brazil are vastly outweighed by the opportunity.
The hurdles largely result from Brazil’s protectionist approach to the economy; understandable when you consider their desire to create more value from their considerable natural resources. To address this we’ve heard about the need to build relationships and use a local team who are empowered. The potential comes from a country that is growing fast, is energy and food secure and is investing to raise the quality of life (and thus spending power) of its people (24 million new middles class and 27 million new upper class created over the last six years). Despite this Brazil is very modest about its prospects.
We have been delighted by the openness to doing business and all the Mission companies have progressed during the last eight days. We’ll be hearing more and more over the coming months as these first connections blossom but we already feel the Mission has been a great success.
I’ll leave you with a few links that help summarise the week...
Business Reporter - David Baxter’s blog: http://business-reporter.co.uk/tag/baxterinbrazil/
Several companies posted blogs in our Mission Outpost: http://cleanandcoolmission.com/brazil/links/blog/
Day 6 (5th November)
We began with another early start to ensure we didn’t miss a moment of the FIMAI conference (www.fimai.com.br), the largest environmental technology conference in Latin America. The opening talk was from Professor Haroldo Mattos de Lemos (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04YBqxYd6nQ) and he told me beforehand that companies had overtaken governments in their ambition and vision on sustainability strategy. He is President of the Institute of Brazil PNUMA (www.brasilpnuma.org.br - who work on environmental standards with UNEP) among many other important positions. He said we are reacting to three global megachallenges:
1. Maintaining the future of natural resources
2. Limiting pollution to levels the environment can process
3. Eliminating poverty
This was difficult because human development was directly linked to environmental over-exploitation with Brazil now one of the few countries that still had a net positive balance in ecosystem services – i.e. it uses less ecologically than it produces. Haroldo went on to discuss the WBCSD report called Vision 2050 (http://www.wbcsd.org/vision2050.aspx) which was produced by business and included a recommendation to shift the $1 trillion in subsidies the world economies provide that accelerate environmental damage onto industries that will provide a sustainable future. He was highly entertaining and provided an excellent quote: “if you have a problem in your company you don’t want solving create a committee and give it to them”.
The conference had a vast exhibition area and the companies swarmed across it aided by our wonderful Mission VIPs Stef Kreiger (CleanTech Group) and Gillian Harrison (Whitefox) who are both fluent in both Portuguese and English. Many more meetings went on today with several companies getting into closing deals already. It really has been very exciting to spend the week with them and many fantastic announcements will follow – keep checking http://cleanandcoolmission.com/brazil/links/blog/ for more!
My day finished with three hours of interviews with the Brazilian media who have been fascinated by the companies and the concept of the Mission and what Brazil can learn. Tomorrow the Mission ends with a visit to Campinhas, the 3rd largest city in Sao Paulo state, and the 10th richest city in Brazil. It generates 30% of the industrial productivity in Sao Paulo. The highlight will be a session with Silver Spring Networks (an smart grid SME) on the ‘warts and all’ challenges of a joint venture with the largest non-state owned energy utility: CPFL.
It will be sad to leave this vibrant and welcoming country and the companies clearly feel the same – they are already thinking about when they might come back...
Day 5 (4th November)
Our first full day in Sao Paulo started early with a breakfast meeting at the British Consulate and a welcome from John Doddrell, the Consul General. The session had the aim of helping companies understand how to do business in Brazil and the attraction of Sao Paolo in particular. On the latter Investe Sao Paolo (http://www.investe.sp.gov.br/) made a great case explaining 30% of the country’s GDP comes from the state and is the home of many major industries. It is indeed an economic powerhouse for Brazil in an area the size of the UK. We also heard from a local law firm who help companies set up joint ventures and Brazilian subsidiaries all the time and could answer the very specific question the Mission companies were now asking as their plans developed.
The Mission group then split up as a number of meetings had been arranged by UKTI tailored to different needs.
The afternoon saw us move to FIESP, basically the state industry trade association, and start with a panel discussion organised by UKTI on the role of SMEs in tackling innovation in clean technology. I represented the Technology Strategy Board and Scott Cain was also on the panel from the Future Cities Catapult. We discussed the barriers to scaling innovation for SMEs and the challenges in working with large companies. There were good questions from the large audience of both UK and Brazilian companies and even a chance for all the Mission companies to again deliver their one line pitches. I’m proud to say Michael Groves from Codbod Technologies tried his in Portuguese and received a hearty round of applause! The companies then had the chance to mix and follow up further leads as we did more interviews to the increasingly interested press.
Another excellent day and not even ruined by the typical Sao Paolo downpour that brought the constant sunshine to an end or the huge traffic jams the city endures every rush hour.
Day 3 & 4 (2nd and 3rd November)
The Mission really kicked into gear at the end of day 2. Mission friend and VIP Damian Popolo from BG Group and formerly the UK Science and Innovation Network gave us the warts and all account of Brazilian business culture. His current role is government relations and the companies were captivated in a straight talking Q&A with him compered by our very own redcoat: Oli Barrett. It was great to hear so many saying the whole trip was already worth it for the clear explanations of what it takes to do business in Brazil.
One of Damian’s themes which had been very clear in our meetings with the Brazilian Development Bank and FINEP is the top down culture in innovation and the recognition it needs to change. This should mean more opportunities for entrepreneurs as the government seeks ways to encourage organic growth. Serious funding to scale solutions to large societal challenges will surely continue and for more mature companies this offers serious growth opportunities.
We have certainly noticed that despite the size of their economy, population and sheer concentration of key resources Brazilian's are still modest about their place in the world. They do recognise the need to capture more value in their economy through innovation. As one put it we can’t keep paying 10 times the price we receive to produce coffee in importing coffee products such as Nespresso.
Friday finished with the companies bonding over a typical Rio pastime – partying! Saturday saw the companies getting some tourist time but also for some the chance to follow up leads that had been built. A small group went to explore and understand the need for better waste infrastructure in the favellas and a business deal is very close for a demonstrator that could be scaled quickly as the World Cup approaches. The evening was spent eating huge quantities of meat and catching up on these kinds of stories as the companies see what is needed to get into the Brazilian market. We also set the companies a task for the weekend: working on their fine tuning their pitch to a single line. In Portuguese! And I must say they responded brilliantly.
Sunday saw us say goodbye to Rio and transfer to Sao Paolo. We started by immersing the companies in the local culture at a huge indoor market (Mercado Municipal Paulista) and them allowing to relax before what promises to be three packed days in the city to finish the Mission.
I’ll leave you with those ‘company in a tweet’ summaries I mentioned in an earlier blog in case you missed them on Twitter:
@papawaterpump zero energy pumping to move water from where we don't want it to where we do
@HydroIndustries use solar photovoltaics and electrochemistry to generate clean water @REHydrogen have a multi-functional compressor that cleans, dries and compresses (bio- shale- landfill- etc) gas in one go
Kite Power generate electricity from wind using kites that are deployable where vertical turbines aren't
@BuffaloGrid bring power as service to the off-grid world - e.g. there are 650m off-grid mobile phones
Cyan deploy last mile wireless technology to reduce the $6bn per annum loss from electricity theft in Brazil
@naturalplasters use natural clays to create wall coverings that improve internal environments (major customer is Nandos)
Floresta plants commercial wood plantations on degraded land to reduce deforestation in the Amazon as carbon offsets
@Rezatec offer higher accuracy of Earth observation from space in accounting for data such as carbon in land assets
Embedded Technologies (@SilentHerdsman) enable maximising yield of dairy and beef herds via remote monitoring using a data capture collar
@ElementalDigest turns tricky organic waste to fertiliser and is seeking Brazilian abattoir partners
Antaco turn biowaste into biocoal - a cleaner solid fuel
@SeabEnergy turn organic waste to energy in shipping containers using anaerobic digestion
@codbodtech have software to map and report on emissions in waste for manufacturers
@trakeonews will prove the sustainability credentials of the 70 bn gallons of biofuel required annually by 2020
@cvtraffic do road safety and traffic management solutions for future smart cities
Cool Curve create beautiful ultra-efficient lightbulbs