The problem Brighton-based startup Circuitree addresses is a simple one: the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours-a-day. As the company explains, it is a clean energy generation, capture and storage specialist.
We chatted with Circuitree’s director James Dean about the vagaries of renewable sources of energy, hiring in a young industry and moving into an intimidating addressable market.
Name: James Dean
Company: Circuitree Energy Independence
Date established: 2015
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1. What is your investment status?
Following extensive research, development, completion of proof of concept and market validation we are now going live with our seed round and are looking to raise £150,000 in SEIS advance assured funding.
2. Describe your business in one paragraph; what’s its vision and what problem does it solve?
Circuitree is a clean energy capture and storage specialist.
Our products overcome the intermittency problems associated with solar, wind or other renewable energy sources, and allow this energy to be used on demand.
Typically, with the addition of storage, a UK home can derive around 80% of its electricity from solar, however, without storage, this is closer to 25% due to a mismatch between time of generation and demand.
Having real data, case studies and paying customers saves a lot of time when looking for investment.
While there are a growing number of players in this sector, the majority of home battery systems are complex to install and use expensive, hazardous battery chemistries that are derived from volatile mined resources.
By combining Internet of Things technology with smart electronics and the world’s safest batteries, we enable an accelerated transition to a low carbon society, both at home in the UK and in developing regions or remote communities globally.
3. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Having worked within the renewables sector for several years it was obvious that storage would be the next big step. With our team’s background in off-grid and remote power applications, we knew the pros and cons of existing battery chemistries, which improvements could deliver the most value and how these could be integrated into mainstream grid-connected markets. The natural next step was the creation of a vehicle to deliver this.
4. What’s your addressable market?
Our addressable market is huge. While our initial product is primarily aimed at more than one million solar homeowners in the UK, we are also developing solutions designed to serve the 1.3 billion people globally without access to electricity.
As well as being cheaper and cleaner than existing fossil fuel generators, our planned integration of microfinance and mobile payments makes our product and services accessible to even the poorest communities, while creating a robust platform for investment that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to gain.
5. What’s great about your team and do you have a mentor?
We are lucky to have a team that is both passionate and highly experienced technically and commercially.
Our planned integration of microfinance and mobile payments makes our product and services accessible to even the poorest communities,
Energy storage is a nascent industry and finding the talent can be difficult and expensive. We have all worked together on previous projects which have helped assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Our recent enrolment on the Entrepreneurial Spark business accelerator programme has been fantastic in helping clarify our business model and has introduced us to a wealth of support and mentorship from the likes of KPMG, Pinsent Masons and Dell EMC.
6. What key challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Like any startup, cashflow has been the main challenge so we operate a lean model, and are inventive with our use of time and resources to ensure we achieve as much as possible on the funds available.
7. How have you funded your startup and why did you choose this route?
To date, we have been entirely self-funded but received a small grant from our local university. We wanted to get proof of concept and market prior to looking for external investment. Having real data, case studies and paying customers saves a lot of time when looking for investment and revenue from these early sales has been reinvested into the business allowing us to continue our journey.
8. How do you market your business and how successful has it been so far?
Our offering is unique in the marketplace and we have been able to gain interest, exposure and traction on individual merit. With a near-zero marketing budget, we ensured our early projects were media friendly and helped clients to tell our story in tandem with their own.
To date, we have received coverage in local and national media, featured in several industry-specific publications and exhibited at The London Design Festival, in collaboration with in a number of £1bn turnover companies in addition to winning a People Environment Achievement technology award.
9. What are your plans for the future?
Our current focus is to further develop and market our residential storage solution in the UK, but we are also laying the foundations for commercial scale projects and wider deployments overseas.
As the cost of energy continues to rise and production costs fall, the future is looking bright for our company, our customers and, of course, the planet.
10. If you started again, is there anything you would do differently?
I think our early mistakes have been key in shaping our strategy and team, so in that sense, they have been of immense value. Perhaps we could have been more focused on our target markets as some enquiries have been beyond the scope that we can deliver, nevertheless, this has been informative and helped us shape the vision of who and what we would like to grow into.
11. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are starting a business?
Think big and start small.
Even if it’s a fraction of what you have in mind, having hard physical evidence of your product or service in operation is a powerful tonic when someone questions your idea or business model.
If you are looking for an investment you can rest assured they will question everything!