Making money from low carbon
Steadily escalating bills, and a government commitment to carbon reduction, have made householders more keen to address the cost of ignoring energy wastage. TreeGreen's Energy EGG is perfect for the job. The passive little device sits stylishly in the home, monitoring activity, and switching off appliances when no-one is around to use them.
The Energy EGG was born out of necessity, says Brian O'Reilly. "Growing up, I was always aware of waste, and became quite obsessed, if you like, with my own version of 'reduce, reuse, recycle'. Now, with three children of my own, I can see just how difficult it is to do that round of turning off all those power-hungry games and gadgets.
Anyone who's sat quite still in a room - smallest or otherwise - will be familiar with the drawbacks of motion sensing energy control. The Energy EGG however is cleverer than that. With some ingenuity, and business development support from the outset from Scottish Enterprise, customers are not left in the dark.
"Taking advice on offer from SE at the outset was clearly of benefit to us, says Brian. "We could have taken even more early on, and perhaps have avoided some unnecessary expenditure, but it's helped steer us in the right direction, and get the business moving positively.
TreeGreen secured development funding from the Enterprise Fellowship with the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and has had research and development support from the University of Strathclyde, a partner in the product. Scottish Enterprise and Glasgow City Council have provided grants, advisory support, and premises.
By exploring further introductions, Brian O'Reilly was able to take his concept to practical application with the help of the Electronic Design and Technology Centre in Livingston (EDTC), and commission a Napier University feasibility study into developing the Energy EGG technology.
While attitudes to low-carbon are becoming more mainstream, Brian still sees some consumer reluctance to fully engage with the new technologies. "I think low carbon is going to be the biggest growth factor in our economy for the next 15-20 years, he says, "but raising consumer confidence in products like ours is still an issue.
TreeGreen welcomed assistance from the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE), the academic support body, which gave initial mentoring, and even paid for a crucial European patent, says Brian. "Later down the line, my mentor attended some sales meetings with me. As a start-up dealing with the likes of utility companies, having that wealth of experience alongside was a huge benefit. They still help with marketing initiatives too. Keeping the relationship live is important.
Low carbon is embedded in TreeGreen, from office practice to manufacturing. "We don't print unnecessarily, and when we do, we use soya based inks. We used recycled packaging, seek suppliers with equally green credentials. In future, with economies of scale and bigger buying power, we can make significant changes on our manufacturing side, which will reap even better carbon dividends. Our development is aimed at automating processes sufficiently to make fabrication in Scotland viable for us - notably reducing our environmental overheads. We're not 100% green in every aspect of our business yet, but we're constantly working towards it.
Having exhausted early orders online, TreeGreen is aiming to improve its retail presence. Brian says the next steps are to get into stores and to get energy suppliers to pick up the product. "We already have a trial with a utility company, he says. The company is also developing the Energy EGG range, including integration with other household systems.
"Right from the outset, talk to as many people as possible,?? says Brian in conclusion. "Training at the Enterprise Fellowship brought this home. Just because you think you have a good idea doesn't mean it is a good idea.
"Get the customer on your side as soon as possible, and use them to get the product right. After a few months, if you're still seeing green lights, it's time to start putting that expert advice into practice, and ask just how far you can afford to go.