Did you know you can power a light using gravity? Or that it’s possible to create an advanced biofuel using the by-products of whiskey distillation?

These ideas are not only forward-thinking, they’re low-carbon, innovative and winners of Shell Springboard, an initiative that awards funding to low-carbon business ideas.

This year marks the programme’s tenth anniversary – 10 years in which Shell has awarded approximately £3 million to 80 dynamic enterprises. Today, the Shell Springboard alumni make up some of the most innovative companies in the country.

Companies like Celtic Renewables, winner in 2012, who is using the by-products of industrial biological processes such as whiskey distilling to create next generation biofuels.

Or, more recently, 2015 winners Deciwatt, whose innovative GravityLight uses the descent of a 12kg weight threaded through a bespoke electricity generator to generate 20 minutes of light. Not only is the source of energy renewable, but it can also be used to eliminate the significant carbon emissions created by the kerosene lamps it intends to replace in poverty-stricken areas.

It’s an idea that holds vast possibility for use in underdeveloped areas of the world, but the benefit of Shell Springboard and supporting low-carbon businesses isn’t just international – there’s a potential impact on the UK economy, too.

“The cutting-edge ideas coming out of these businesses are not only essential stepping stones in helping to create a lower carbon energy future – they potentially create future jobs and economic growth in the UK,” says Shell UK Chairman Erik Bonino.

Powering the UK economy

According to research from the Carbon Trust and Shell Springboard, the UK’s low-carbon export market could rise to £30 billion by 2020. This year, the global market is expected to be worth £4 trillion.

To support and capitalise on this, it’s imperative that small companies with big ideas are properly supported. The same Carbon Trust report found that 91.5% of the companies in the UK’s £128 billion domestic low-carbon market were SMEs and start-ups.

For the companies who walk away with top honours, Shell Springboard provides the support they need to help facilitate growth – for them and for the UK economy.

Alex Schey, CEO of 2013 winners Vantage Power is in agreement: “The funding and national recognition associated with Shell Springboard propelled us into the next phase of Vantage Power’s development, and is helping commercialise the hybrid retrofit system.”

Started by Schey and co-founder Toby Schulz soon after leaving university together, Vantage Power designs and manufactures hybrid powertrain systems that can be retrofitted to buses. Since winning, they’ve gone from strength to strength, signing a distribution deal with one of the UK’s largest used-bus distributors and attracting over £1 million in further funding.

Future planning

The past decade shows that there are innovative low-carbon businesses emerging in the UK achieving great things. The challenge for the future comes in maintaining that momentum, and that relies on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills being something the younger generations are developing.

“At present the UK faces a yearly shortfall of an estimated 55,000 or more people with the STEM skills that our economy needs – and this deficit is also potentially hampering low-carbon innovation,” says Erik.

Without this talent pipeline, the innovative ideas and companies looking to help solve tomorrow’s energy challenges might not be there. So programmes like Shell Springboard are important in helping develop the UK’s low-carbon economy and encourage entrepreneurship. As the past 10 years have shown, it’s making good progress in doing exactly that.

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Shell Springboard

Shell Springboard provides funding to UK entrepreneurs at the cutting-edge of the low-carbon economy