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What’s the background to Eco-Shaper?
The product was initially called Goal-Shaper, and the idea was to align actions that you take in your everyday life with business and personal goals. We started out during the pandemic, so instantly became a virtual company, and what we found was, even though we were very lucky to win our first RAIA grant, we couldn’t secure follow-on investment. Investors couldn’t see the difference between Goal Shaper and similar products like Trello. We knew there was a difference, but we just couldn’t articulate it in a way that would excite them.
During the pandemic, the grant invitations that were coming around required you to really consider sustainability in your application. 87% of small businesses don’t have a carbon strategy implemented in their business model, and that gave us the idea to build a calculator into Goal Shaper. We won a very small grant to build a prototype for it, and that’s when it took off. We’ve now built three calculators, one for the company, and two for employees (work and personal) to track their own carbon footprints. We even go into the detail of, for example, asking people how many hours they work from home and calculating their energy, separating out those hours into a working footprint that belongs to the business, and the hours which you’re not working, belong to your personal footprint. It’s really, highly detailed, and accurate.
And what’s your personal background?
I’ve gone full circle in my understanding of how I got here. We’ve been doing some copy workshops recently and went through what our personal motivations were. I’ve been an entrepreneur all my working life, but this is the first time I have worked in a business focused primarily on sustainability. I have always lived sustainably even when it wasn’t fashionable. For example, I cut meat and dairy in the year 2000. Taking my personal knowledge out to thousands or even millions is my passion. My working background is in leadership, so I understand the difficulties of embedding different behaviours inside organisations, which is what Eco-Shaper is really all about. When we build Eco-Shaper’s questionnaires for example, or when we blog for the site, I know clearly about everything that we’re doing from decades of my own personal experience. This is what makes it feel full circle.
Eco-Shaper has had quite a lot of involvement with SETsquared and the Universities of Surrey and Bath. How did this come about, and what were some of the motivations for engaging with the programmes?
In the beginning, we wanted to incorporate AI into the Goal-Shaper product and developed a really strong relationship with the University of Surrey as a result. We now continue to work with them now not only on AI, but to personalise green suggestions, green education, and green solutions for the people that use Eco-Shaper. The team at Surrey suggested that I contact SETsquared for further support in that aspect, and then somebody joined our board who was also connected to SETsquared in Bath. It was really just a natural progression for us to start thinking bigger and join the Scale-Up programme. We applied for the RAIA grant through SETsquared, and that really got us off the ground, and every funding opportunity we’ve gone for recently has also come through SETsquared. With Scale-Up’s support, we won the EIT funding which means that we’re going to Paris in November for the FinTech launch with our French partners. The Scale-Up programme has just put us in a completely different ballgame!
Your relationship with Surrey has been key to your SETsquared journey. Are there any other SETsquared programmes you’ve engaged with?
With EIT and the University of Surrey, Eco-Shaper sponsors a PhD student, working with them on AI and sustainability, and I’ve been invited to be a guest lecturer on how to use AI for sustainability with their students. In terms of SETsquared, we’ve been supporting students on the IKEEP programme and received fantastic feedback. The students really loved it, and they gave us tremendous output over the three-month placement. Because a start-up is so varied, they get to try everything and often find that they’re very good at things that they didn’t think they would be interested in.
What does the future look like for Eco-Shaper?
We’ve been told by a very experienced sustainability angel investor that we could be creating the industry standard, so that’s our plan! I think that where we’ve done things slightly differently from the norm, we have really strong foundations in terms of our team, our advisory boards, and our execs. We’ve built strength in the company that enables us to grow.
What advice would you give to other Scale-Up members?
Listen and trust yourself! I came into this project as an entrepreneur who didn’t know anything about technology, or anything about raising finances. In the early days, I built a team around me of really experienced legal and finance people who I could rely on and trust. I spent too long doubting myself and deferring to those other people, and it finally dawned on me that the decisions I would have made were not only contrary to their opinions but better for the business. So, I think it’s really important to listen and believe in your own voice. Your gut instinct is always right.
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