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Six things I learned – Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen

Laurence is the award winning founder & CEO of Pavegen Systems, an innovative clean-technology company based in London. An industrial design engineer by training, Laurence spent his early career working for one of Europe’s largest energy companies trying to develop street lights powered by wind and solar. The challenge of finding new energy sources to power urban life captivated Laurence. The answer came to him on a crowded train station pounded by thousands of feet. Laurence developed the idea into Pavegen tiles, a technology that harvests the kinetic impact of footfalls and transforms it into an on-demand electricity supply.

  1. “There isn’t really anyone to help you in the beginning”.

Securing funding for prototype innovation remains a great challenge for budding entrepreneurs.

Laurence found himself in a chicken & egg situation. Demand for Pavegen’s products – thanks to effective early marketing – came before Laurence had developed a finished product. Finding investors to back a new innovation in its pre-revenue stages, investment in 2007-9 was exceedingly difficult. Laurence found banks would not lend, Venture capital wanted to see revenue before investing, Universities demanded a 50% stake and government subsidy schemes were lacking.

  1. Government funding has a high impact when it fosters entrepreneurial networks.

In the UK, “Technology Innovation Centers” (TICs) or catapult centers have the potential to make a real difference. These physical centers aim to bring together scientists, engineers, business people and other creative minds into flexible work spaces. TICs offer entrepreneurs a place to meet other people on the same journey and share their experiences (and struggles) – this is invaluable.

Visionary Business Angels also make a significant contribution to early stage funding of innovative products where venture capital, business and banks would reject the risk profile. Schemes such as the UK Enterprise Investment Scheme (which currently delivers tax breaks as a proportion of the investment), have proved a stimulus to investment in innovation with a higher risk profile.

  1. The Future of energy is decentralized power networks

Whilst much of the focus of renewable energy has focused on it’s potential contribution to the grid, Laurence believes we will see more local decentralised networks producing energy when and where it is needed.

Whilst these networks won’t replace the National Grid, they will help drive localised energy savings by providing supplementary power supplies. Energy harvesting products, such as Pavegen, combat the problem of variable demand and peak load spikes by producing energy precisely when buildings / areas are experiencing the highest numbers of people moving through them.

In this way, decentralised networks will help stabilise peaks and troughs in energy demand and work to both reduce the cost to specific sites and reduce wastage across the system as a whole.

  1. The holy grail of the energy industry is better, more efficient storage

Better power storage capabilities is vital. In the midst of national debates about the future of UK energy supply, wind farm operators are being paid to turn their wind farms off at peak production times because the grid cannot deal with the load. With better storage technologies these hours could be used to maximize energy generation at the largest scales.

At a smaller scale, many technologies now require better, more efficient batteries. The goal is to develop batteries that operate at over 70% efficiency – this could have major implications for technology right across the spectrum of production, distribution and consumption.

  1. The Importance of fun: gamification and marketing

Early Pavegen prototypes incorporated a light which lit when stood upon. This visual representation of the underlying technology gave great momentum to early marketing efforts. Despite outputting a small amount of harvested energy, the lights also attracted even more footfall. By making the technology fun and providing a visual reaction to the users action, Pavegen generated a highly engaging product that people would go out of their way to use.

Pavegen’s products now have features which make their integration into buildings and workspaces seamless and discrete, but Laurence continues to be influenced by the power of fun.

  1. For prototyping and production runs 3D printing isn’t going to replace quality manufacturing any time soon.

Industrial Design Engineers have been using a precursor of modern 3D printing for over 30 years under the name of rapid prototyping. As such the luster of the technology and it’s promise to allow entrepreneurs to quickly give substance to their ideas doesn’t hold much value to Laurence. Citing the continued high cost of a 3D print, Laurence recommends that budding entrepreneurs focus on making good links with manufacturers and factory operators locally. A surprising number of high quality, highly skilled manufacturers still operate in the UK and were able to furnish Pavegen with low cost prototypes during phases of research and development.

Laurence Kemball-Cook features in BBC News report

In a recent BBC news report on entrepreneur Laurence Kemball-Cook and his company Pavegen, the BBC’s Technology reporter notes that “there seems to be no limit to their aspirations.”

Laurence Kemball-Cook speaker technology PavegenThe article discusses the company’s work to date and its dreams for the future. Pavegen Systems produce floor tiles that generate an electrical current when the weight of a person is combined with movement in the tile.

Laurence’s idea has seen public success in one off installations such as at West Ham underground station during the Olympics last year, when the energy produced powered the station’s lights, and at the Paris marathon earlier this year.

He, however, has far bigger aspirations. Pavegen’s aim is to work on an industrial scale; envisioning the the tiles becoming permanent fixtures in buildings city-wide that experience a high volume of people waking through.

Comparing other energy harvesting technologies, the article concludes that everyday things such as walking and jumping “also have a part to play in “greening” the world’s energy supply.”  By lessening the demand for power from the grid, which comes from stations using “highly polluting, global-warming-inducing fossil fuels” Pavegen has the potential to have a significant role in helping cities to become more energy efficient. Read the full BBC report “Energy harvesting: Lighting the office – by walking”

Book Laurence to speak on technology and energy topics at your next event or conference, send us a quick email for his latest fee, expertise and availability.

“Laurence is a firm believer that disruptive technologies are the best way to change attitudes to energy and reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and grid power. A charismatic and energetic speaker, Laurence makes a persuasive case for radically different ways of powering the future.”



Dr. Parag Khanna: Leading voice on the nexus between international affairs, economics and technology

Good to hear from geo-political commentator Parag Khanna, who is as busy as ever! Topics he is currently talking about include:
• The Future of Globalization: Strategic Trends, Economic Competition & Technological Innovation – Parag gives an insightful look at the foundations of the future world order including: the new geopolitical marketplace emerging with the rise of China, India, Brazil and Russia, the competitive geo-economic environment and how the rise of ‘geo-technology’ and ‘smart cities’ will re-shape the global balance of innovation.
• Collective Leadership in a Turbulent Age – Using his multi-disciplinary training and scenario-planning expertise, Parag explains the chain reactions that produce unpredictable ‘black swan’ events and how to cope with vulnerability. He offers a new global agenda in which all organizations collaborate in dynamic public-private combinations to address the challenges of economic uncertainty, political instability, and socioeconomic stress.
• Billions of People, Trillions of Dollars: How Asia Will Shape the Next Decade – Now on an economic zone at a par with North America and the European Union, Asia will, in the coming decade, be the source of over $2 trillion foreign investment into other regions. Parag explains where the Asian capital is flowing and how it will shape the global economy and transform strategic relationships.
• The Global War for Talent – With over 250 million expatriates worldwide there is a new class of global citizen emerging. Attracting the best and brightest to a country, city or company requires understanding the dynamics of global labour mobility and developing a plan to gain an edge in the ‘war for talent’. Parag provides insights and case studies to help companies strategize a move up the value chain.
For more information on Parag Khanna’s speaking topics and availability please contact our London office on +44(0)20 7792 8000.

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