Opinion: DECC funding - industry open-mindedness needed for innovation to flourish
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Environment
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The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has launched a £10 million fund to help British entrepreneurs bring innovative energy products to market, but for it to work, housing associations and developers need to be more open to new ideas, says Ken Pritchard, director of Matilda’s Planet.
The other day my teenage daughter was flicking through TV channels and I told her how when I was her age I had to get off the sofa and push a button if I wanted to see what else was on. You can all imagine the look I got in response. Later while on the train watching my football team get beaten live on my iPad, I took a moment to appreciate technology is an amazing, spectacular, wonderful thing.
In that sector and many others, innovation is everything. And as Brits, we’re pretty damn good at it. If you believe Jeremy Clarkson, the reason is simple: We have sheds.
And out of those British sheds have come some of the most brilliant, astonishing and frankly world changing ideas – and they’re still appearing today. I know because today we’re selling an idea that started life in a shed.
So we’re good at the innovation bit. But there are two other critical requirements that are essential to turn innovation into the accepted everyday norm.
Firstly, there’s the bit we never used to see but are all now expert on, thanks to the likes of Theo Paphitis, Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones. The Dragon’s Den bit - where individuals and organisations have the balls and resources to take a punt on an idea, like David Evans MBE did when he founded Matilda’s Planet.
But, if we’re good at inventing things, and we have an entrepreneurial spirit in Britain that means good ideas often do get backed, it’s the final piece of the jigsaw is the bit we really struggle with. All too familiar in the construction, regeneration and retrofit markets, it’s when you show someone in the industry something new and hear the dreaded words “Nah mate. I’ve always done it this way”.
New ideas need brave customers. And that can be the really hard bit to crack. We’ve all heard the saying “No one got sacked for buying IBM”. In my past I worked for Orange and when they launched everyone said there was no room in the market place for (what was then) a 4th operator.
But some brave people out there did say no to IBM. Some did move to Orange and many gained significant ‘first mover’ advantage. Apple Macs allowed you to do so much more than an IBM. Orange billed you by the second not the minute. As a result, both those organisations have enjoyed success.
In the industry of improving energy efficiency, and specifically in insulating old solid walled domestic homes - which is where we operate, we’ve brought something very new to market with Matilda’s Blanket. It’s an internal solution but done in a very different way and brings a host of benefits to the tenant, the contractor and in the social sector, the housing association or local authority. Our system is very thin; it creates a sealed air gap; it goes in in a day; it needs no plastering. It’s designed off-site and manufactured to fit – taking away a huge element of risk on-site.
And, I’m pleased to say, there are now a whole host of clients – housing association and contractors - who have taken that ‘first mover’ advantage and have become advocates of our product. We’ve even reached the point where some are switching from the traditional external route to using the Blanket, as in their view - and ours naturally - it’s the better solution. But it’s not been easy to get to this point.
The recently announced DECC funding, offering a £10m pot to inspire new ideas in the energy efficiency market, is to be applauded. As an industry, as a nation and even on a global scale as a planet – we desperately need innovation that will either reduce the energy we use, harvest it cheaply or for free and conserve the energy we use, and DECC’s fund will hopefully stimulate ideas in this sector.
To support it we need Dragon’s like those on the telly and our own David Evans to back those ideas and give them a chance to get into the market.
But for it to really work, we have to dump some of the conservative attitudes in our industry and open our eyes to new ideas, embrace them, believe in them and those who are behind them. There’s no better time for housing associations and developers to evolve with the times, those that do will help to future-proof their assets and will make a real difference to people’s lives in the process.