What happens when you ask a bunch of PhD meteorologists (and a space physicist) to come up with an innovative business idea and pitch it to leading experts in business development?
If we’re honest, a bunch of crazy ideas that happened to land us with something believable and attainable. Some of our brainstorming ideas included:
- Cow Power: Using Pizoelectric sheets to generate electricity from the movement of cows in turnstables.
- Pick Me Cup: A brand new portable cup created from biodegradable products as part of a reusable scheme.
- PVC Insulate: Encouraging PVC recycling (i.e. plastics found in food wrap) and use the products for loft insulation.
- Satellite Design Detection: Using satellite data and weather forecast models to predict the movement of crop diseases.
As scientists we tried to develop ideas that we thought would be plausible, effective and reduce the environmental impact of humans. Therefore the idea we settled on before the start of the workshop was Pick Me Cup. We aimed to use biodegradable materials that are waste products from the agriculture industry such as straw to make a durable and reusable coffee cup. We developed a strategy that would allow consumers to use the cup, deposit it in a recycle type bin, and get a new clean one next time they buy a drink. The scheme’s aim was to reduce waste in an easy manner for customers.
When we arrived at the workshop it quickly became evident that our idea wasn’t interesting enough, and our idea had to be plausible… but importantly not real. So we developed our idea adding in what we called ‘fake science’, which we found difficult as scientists. After talks outlining important things to remember when creating a business plan, we were set loose to work on our idea, with time spent with mentors helping us with the business strategy and intellectual property.
We wrestled with our idea trying to think of something interesting that we could incorporate, then patent and sell the license for. This finally led us to ‘ThermoPaper’. The idea was adding a chemical to the paper, increasing its thermal properties without compromising its recyclability, weight or increasing the costs significantly. This way fewer paper cups would be used as people don’t have to ‘double cup’. It also removes the need for a protective sleeve.
The workshop was an interesting insight into the world of business and entrepreneurship, informing us of patenting, licensing and the most important part of any small business… the exit strategy. By combining all these elements we forged a business plan that we thought was ambitious, asking for £200 000 investment, and an estimated sale price of £14 million in 5 years. So we gave our Dragons Den style pitch and they loved our idea, but apparently we were not ambitious enough! We aimed to start small and build our way up, developing new uses for ThermoPaper, but they said we should have just gone straight for the top. As a result we didn’t win, but it was an interesting few days.
A big thanks to NERC, Syngenta and all the other organisations that made the workshop possible, and also to the speakers and mentors that helped shape our idea and business plan throughout!