The Investibles: Open Utility aims to disrupt energy supply to SMEs

Open Utility
Open Utility
Christopher Goodfellow
Sift Media
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The team behind Open Utility hopes to create a dynamic online marketplace, which will help small businesses source renewable energy when Piclo goes live in October 2015. We spoke to the founder about the progress they’ve made, so far and the opportunity for the business.

Name:  James Johnston
Company: Open Utility
Date established: January 2013
Twitter: @OpenUtility

1) Describe your business in one sentence

Open Utility is launching Piclo, the UK’s first online marketplace for buying and selling renewable energy, in October.

2) What is your investment status?

Open Utility is currently pre-revenue. A six-month trial of Piclo has been made possible with £310,000 from the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Energy Entrepreneurs Fund scheme and match funding of £150,000 from Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading Tech for Good funder. 

Earlier this year, Open Utility raised £150,000 from four angel investors, including Ian Marchant the former CEO of SSE.

3) How did you come up with the idea for your business?

I was researching how the internet worked, when I was struck by how beautiful a decentralised system was. The individual parts have little value by themselves, yet bring them all together and you have something immensely powerful and democratising. I then thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we learn from this and build something similar for energy’ and so the idea for a peer-to-peer energy marketplace was born.

4) What have been your key challenges and how have you overcome them?

One of our key challenges was securing a partnership with a licensed energy company. It took us over a year and meetings with 16 energy companies before we met with any success – eventually partnering with Good Energy in February this year.

The key to overcoming this challenge was gaining £310,000 of grant funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) last year– which gave us the credibility we required by the industry.

5) How do you market your business? 

The key target for Open Utility is small businesses that have a community or sustainability focus. For example, our solution would be perfect for a Cornish brewery that wanted to buy its electricity from low carbon Cornish generators. As such, we’ve found that local marketing is quite effective. Featuring on the 2014 NT100, a celebration of global tech for good, has opened doors for Open Utility in terms of publicity and connections forged through that have helped spread the word about the platform.

6) What are your plans for the future?

We are 100% focused on the launch of Piclo in October. For the first six months, a limited number of businesses and generators can join the marketplace, allowing us to iron out any issues. From March 2016, we will be focused on marketing and the growth of our service.

7) If you started again, is there anything you’d do differently?

I honestly don’t know. I think we are a great team and are making good, solid progress. Any challenges we faced along the way have only made us stronger, so I’m glad we encountered them! Like most entrepreneurs there is a lot of learning as you go, and adapting to solve the problem at hand.

8) What advice would you give to entrepreneurs based on your business experience so far?

Keep an open mind, and always learn from your mistakes.

The Pitch provides a year-long programme of advice and mentoring to startups, with the winner going on to receive a huge package of business support. Register your interest for the 2016 event here.


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