On the 22 May 2017, five teams of MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance students battled it out at a Dragon’s Den-style Innovation Challenge. At the final, the teams pitched their business and innovation ideas to a judging panel made up of MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance Advisory Board members for a £500 prize. The judges looked for an idea that was not only innovative but also scalable and impactful. They sought realism in the business plan and a team that would know “what to do with funding come Monday morning”. As part of the winning team ALVA!, in this blog I share the team’s experience in the lead-up and on the day of the Innovation Challenge.
Here’s introducing ALVA! The team was led by the prima donna genius, Luciano Lilloy Fedele, and made of four other team members: Nicolas Hentgen, Yulia Larionova, Piotr Pajda and myself, Jyotsna Heryani.
Let’s start at the very beginning. We still remember our initial meetings and brainstorming sessions. From integration of blockchain technology into existing energy systems, to an all-inclusive blockchain-based carbon accounting and management service – we explored everything in between and beyond over the span of two months in the run-up to the MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance Dragon’s Den Innovation Challenge. Each time one would explore an inventive idea, we would either disappointingly find it already exists in the market, or perform further analysis that would reveal fundamental flaws that would be difficult (if not impossible) to overcome. It wasn’t until less than a week before the final event that Luciano had a typical light-bulb moment. It was in that instant we knew we found exactly what we had been looking for.
For us, victory was never the aim we set out to achieve – although of course, it was always a welcome thought. Our aim was simple: To build an idea that was innovative and solid enough to at least stimulate thinking and spark the imagination of our judges. Judges that we knew would be well-informed, highly experienced, and would have the capacity to dissect our business idea and plan to shreds.
Our innovative business idea was to combine clean energy technology applications and cryptocurrency mining. We devised a more efficient and, more importantly, profitable way of storing and using the excess energy from domestic solar panels. By adding the option of computational storage as well as Big Data, we were able to show an increase in profitability of domestic solar panels of up to six times compared to the options currently available. Our system was designed to find optimal use of energy, contingent on the spot price of electricity, cryptocurrency coin prices and other input data.
…a complex idea, just as it appears.
Throughout MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance, we have been placed at the intersection of climate change, clean technology, finance and sustainable business models – elements that are fundamental to driving the transition to a low carbon world. First of its kind, this programme has given us unparalleled exposure to world-class education and access to leading professionals in the field. The programme has reinforced our belief that it is possible to not only create opportunities for people, planet and profit to co-exist, but consequently to also drive positive and significantly impactful change. The finance part of the programme, in particular, allowed us to generate our business case, whilst other knowledge and skills gained through the year helped us develop a well-rounded pitch and deliver it persuasively.
The Innovation Challenge was a voluntary exercise, and it is wonderful that Imperial College Business School goes beyond academics and offers us a platform on which we can explore our creative, entrepreneurial sides. We were even offered all kinds of support, such as access to the Enterprise Lab’s Idea Surgeries, Intellectual Property: A Student’s Guide, and Advanced Hackspace for prototyping or 3D Printing. We would like to specially mention Oliver Schmidt, a researcher at the Grantham Institute, whose advice and insight was extremely valuable and crucial to our product development process.
Nicolas questioned the little details, which for us was great as it not only allowed us to identify and fix gaps in our plans, but also unfolded potential questions that judges might ask. In fact, to put into perspective how deeply thought-out our idea was, our presentation had twice as many appendix slides than it did business plan delivery slides. We highly valued Nicolas’ scepticism because it always added a pinch of realism when the rest of the crew was fogged with idealism. From the big picture to the tiniest details, we did our best to ensure a thorough and robust game plan that could withstand scrutiny.
Before we knew it, D-day arrived. It was a warm and sunny afternoon. Luciano’s composed stance and Piotr’s energising enthusiasm provided the team with a good balance of excitement and calm, as we went through last-minute details and presentation techniques over lunch at our beloved H-Bar. The time had come and we marched our way towards the Business School where the event was taking place. The judging panel featured some very prominent personalities from the climate change, sustainability and clean energy arena. There was Michael Liebreich who is Founder and Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance; Jeff Seabright who is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever; and Stephen Hargreaves who is the Corporate Strategy Director at EDF Energy. Last, but not the least, our very own MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance Programme Director Dr. Mirabelle Muuls also sat on the judging panel and it was nice (and almost comforting) to have her familiar and friendly presence.
To quote one of our judges, Michael Liebreich: “We couldn’t decide whether ALVA was something ridiculously crazy, or something absolutely brilliant.” But what motivates us is that most successful startups are almost always first regarded as the former, before they develop into the latter. The outcome has empowered us with the desire to build on ALVA. The team is now developing the idea further, and plans to assemble our first prototype are already underway. We are also currently seeking other internal and external opportunities, grants and contests that may help us take our product to its next developmental stage, before we are ready for potential venture capitalists, incubators or accelerator programmes. The next few weeks and months are expected to be busy but very exciting for us, and we cannot wait to see where this path may lead. Wish us luck!