Meet Australia’s next clean tech superstars – Part two
As we outlined in part one of our exposé on Australia’s next green superstars yesterday, the concept of clean tech is increasingly stretching across different industries.
Rather than large-scale wind farms or solar panels, start-ups are finding that the concept of sustainability is applying to smaller, leaner and cheaper businesses.
Yesterday, we showed how the humble postie bike is being transformed into essential electrical transport for urbanites, as well as how the idea of sharing products rather than buying them has created a business opportunity.
Today, we profile two other start-ups in the inaugural Ignition Labs accelerator – a new project aimed at identifying and supporting the most promising clean tech ventures in Australia.
Concept: Load and maximise empty space to transport goods and save money.
What gave you the idea for the business?
I was moving back to Australia from the UK in March last year and I needed some stuff moved. The process was so hard and I thought there must be an easier way of doing it online, rather than phoning around countless different businesses.
I come from regional Australia, so I think that moving items shouldn’t be about the location. You should be able to transport things quickly and easily. So I came up with the idea of LoadMax.
So how does it work?
It’s an online marketplace for transport providers and people who want stuff moved. Jobs are logged online and if a transport provider is going to the same location and has space in their truck, they provide a quote for the job.
This provides customers with a lower cost option for moving large items and it makes trips more economical for transport providers.
Customers can choose providers based on the quotes but also their rating – if other people haven’t reviewed them and they don’t show a proper price, then they are less likely to get the job.
Basically, the more that the transport provider earns, the less I earn. My commission is 9.9% for jobs worth up to $150, with quotes over $300 having a commission of 5.5%.
I’ve got this tiered system as I don’t want the providers to undercut themselves. The site is aimed at moving big, heavy things such as cars, furniture and boats. We’re not so good with parcels, so we encourage the providers to take on the bigger items.
Why go with you and not another removal company?
The rates are very competitive and if you don’t have an arrangement with a provider already, you can easily check out their rating on the site.
For the providers, it’s a real win-win. It utilises spare capacity and eliminates wasted journeys. If you’re driving a long distance to deliver something in, say, Sydney, you’ll use up a lot of time and petrol driving back with nothing in your truck. This idea helps you make money from this situation.
If you run 20-plus trucks it may not be for you, but for the SME, it’s perfect. The majority of the transport industry is small businesses and they are very online savvy. You’d be surprised.
This business is a big change to what you were doing before, isn’t it?
Yes, I was a studying as a drama teacher and then had a software company. I was basically an IT person.
I had to scope out the whole industry as it was completely new to me, but I saw that there was a clean gap in the market and I knew how to launch the technology.
I did a lot of research, digging into IBIS World reports, and looked at a similar concept in the UK, which grew 50% year-on-year.
It’s very exciting to work on a very simple idea that people instantly get. It’s basically an eBay for shipping.
We get new customers each day. We’re up to around 5,000 customers and have 200 transport providers on board.
I do an ABN search with the providers to make sure there aren’t any issues with them and I worked with some top eBay sellers who explained how they go about things.
How is Ignition Labs going to help you out?
At this stage, there is no carbon tax for transport, but I wanted to show that this is a great sustainable solution for the industry.
Ignition Labs has great expertise and provide you with some useful leads. They understand online markets and the trip to the US will be really useful too. They help create efficiency without the fluff.
It’s especially helpful being in an incubator as a sole founder.
What does the future hold for LoadMax?
We want to tweak the model a bit to appeal to the B2B market and then it would be fantastic to expand internationally. But first we want to grow domestically, not just providing the green stamp. I want to help businesses be sustainable, as well as the environment.
Concept: Making dumb electricity meters smart via an analytical device for households. Founded by Samuel Fernandes and David Anderson.
What is MicroEnergyLabs all about, Sam?
We are giving people real-time access to their energy consumption. A lot of people are waiting for smart meters but we are building a small device that works better than smart meters, which you put on your old-style meter.
David: The device clips onto your meter so that you don’t have to go cap-in-hand to your utility provider to get information on your consumption. You’ll only get that information once every 12 months unless you have an in-house display.
We are solving a problem for the utility companies as well as consumers.
What’s the opportunity here?
Sam: We are looking at areas where smart meters aren’t deployed yet, which is quite extensive. It costs $700 for new smart meters, whereas ours are $149 and easy to install – you don’t need an electrician to wire it in for you.
The opportunity is huge – there are 8.5 million residential homes in Australia that still have the old-style meters.
How does it work, exactly?
David: It’s a hardware device that reads consumption over 10 minute periods. You can view the information wirelessly in the cloud, with a username and password. You can access the information anywhere and view it over weekly or monthly periods.
The device works for the old spinning disc meters but next up will be one for the flashing light meters and then we may well look at gas and water measurement down the line.
How did the idea come about?
David: We went to ANU together and entered a business planning competition in 2010 and then again in 2011, when we won second prize.
We had a few other ideas but we weren’t able to scale them. Through trying and failing at other ideas, we saw a gap in the market to provide more information for energy consumers.
We’ve seen a lot of other programs that do energy audits on old historical data and we thought we could do something better. Everything just fell into place.
We went back to the drawing board, got a grant from ANU that supports Canberra entrepreneurs, which allowed us to get a prototype up and running.
We’re building a small team as we go, including a couple of industrial designers and a software engineer, so that we can get the information into the cloud. We’ve now got a team of five.
What kind of competition do you face?
Sam: We’ve always looked at who our competitors are and what they are doing. What’s clever about our device is that you don’t have to spend $200 getting an electrician in to install it, nor spend lots of time finding out your rates.
Our product is an easy set-up and saves you money. I’ve tried all the other products and they are pretty terrible.
At a macro level, you’ve got the introduction of the carbon tax and a move towards energy efficiency, not just in Australia but globally too. A lot of companies are innovating in this area.
At a micro level, we’re basically just seeing what kind of problem we can solve.
David: Yes, the key differentiation is the installation and also the fact that our device allows you to match up your use directly with your bill immediately. I hate using the term, but it’s a paradigm shift.
Our competitors are all waiting for the deployment of smart meters, whereas we are showing that you can get smart readings via old meters.
What are your short and long-term goals?
David: We are working with the Ignition Labs mentors and learning a lot about marketing, intellectual property and pushing the product in the right direction.
We want to build a buzz around this and generally make the world a better place. We want 50 devices done by September 29 for a trial, prior to when we go to the US showcase.
There are millions of households overseas with old meters, so it would be great to collaborate with others in the UK and US to see what potential there is there.
Longer term, we could look to see the business to a utility with a large customer base.
To read part one, click here.