Sarah Smith is part of a new generation of environmentally-aware entrepreneurs. Her drive to suceed has taken her to Paris where she will pitch her idea to a panel of experts and investors. Along with her team she has developed a business plan for a network of urban cargo bikes.
Alexander Greif is another ambitious young entrepreneur. Inspired by the fact that most of the cars in traffic jams have empty seats, and concerned by pollution, he hopes to set up a new type of car pooling scheme. And he is also presenting his project in Paris. He explained:
“Basically, we are trying to fix the problem of car pooling. Car pooling is very hard. You have to look everything up, you have to find drivers going your direction and the client to pay for for it. We want to change that around.
We want the customer who is paying to be the one who gets all the service. The driver should be competing for the customer. So drivers would actually have to bid on the customers to take them and make money with it.”
Sarah and Alex were among around 200 students who went to the 5-week Climate KIC summer school. The scheme is supported by the European Commission and aims to train entrepreneurs of the future who are capable of building businesses which reduce global warming as well as making a profit.
“You have to have a creative mind. At least one person in your group needs to be creative and then you also need someone who is aware of the finances and the reality of it. Of how can you market that and make it a practical and a viable solution,” says Smith.
During their summer school course, the students travelled round Europe attending lectures and meeting experts. On the last day of the course the teams presented their projects to a panel of experts and investors. Alex used a mix of of pragmatism and idealism to pitch his idea.
“People don’t actually care about climate change too much because it’s a very long process. To motivate people you have to make them save money. And for us it is a business because we want to earn money in the process. We want to change the world that people live in,” says Greif.
Sarah’s team also prepared a strong pitch to convince investors of the marketability of their cyle-scheme. “Having the confidence to go out and speak to people and contact them, to survey people, make connections with governments and companies… that is critical because we rely on their help to get things going,” she says.
And her strategy was a sucess. The “awesome bike” project was one of three winners chosen by the panel. But during the subsequent debriefing, the business coach told them that their business plan was not realistic.
“No business works perfectly. It is never a easy journey and you have to have the strengh to push through all those problems. Believe in your idea and then you will succeed,” says coach Richard Barker.
Barker coached all the green entrepreneurs during the summer, and is on hand to congratulate Alex – the only one to get an offer from an investor.
“Working with people from different backgrounds is interesting. You get so many different opinions on things. You have many ideas that you would not have had yourself. But it takes a long time to get used to it,” says Alex. “The communication is very hard, because it depends on a common language, in this case English. But it is very interesting and it helped me to learn a lot about myself and the whole business.”