An interview with Andrew Wordsworth

Innovation leaders face to face

By Rob Anderson

An interview with Andrew Wordsworth

Founder and Managing Director of Sustainable Venture Development Partners, which works with investors, entrepreneurial managers, and corporates to originate, build and grow low carbon companies. 

Career highlights

Managing Director of Carbon Trust Enterprises Limited 

Over 15 years’ experience in the energy and climate change sector including roles within Esso, Bain & Co and Arthur D. Little

Education

First-class MEng in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cambridge

 

Q: What is your role at Sustainable Venture Development Partners? 

A: I am the founder and Managing Director.

Q: What is your vision for your company?

A: Our Vision is to be the leading creator of low carbon ventures in the UK. We work with investors, corporate partners, entrepreneurial managers and government stakeholders to identify new revenue opportunities in the low carbon space, then create and scale new businesses to capture these. 

Q: How do you plan to achieve this vision?  

A: Growing constraints on natural resources combined with increased regulation on emissions and rapidly maturing low carbon technologies will disrupt a range of traditional markets.  We understand and examine those drivers and identify a consumer or business need before designing an innovative, sustainable and scalable business model to meet it. We then create a new venture and bring in investors, corporate partners and management teams to grow the business with a view to exiting within 3-5 years. 

Q: When looking at the low-carbon market you find many specialised, niche products and services. Where do you put your focus?

A: Unlike many other companies in our field we start with markets rather than technologies such as micro generation or solar power. We tend to focus on sectors where a lower carbon, energy or resource solution is a genuine and material differentiator against incumbent approaches. 

Q: Where do your responsibilities lie?

A: I mainly deal with partnership development – raising investment funds, engaging entrepreneurial managers and government relations. However, I try and spend as much time as possible working with the management teams of our portfolio companies.

Q: How about your team and other stakeholders?  

A: Although we have a small core team in Sustainable Ventures, we partner with an extensive network of people and organisations with the capabilities required to deliver our new ventures in the low-carbon space. Given the impact that regulation has on the sector, we also engage with government and NGOs. With my experience working at the Carbon Trust I am used to dealing with these type of organisations and understand their needs very well.

Q: Besides your experience working with at the Carbon Trust what other skills have helped you succeed? 

A: Sustainable Ventures takes the lead in fundraising for its portfolio companies, allowing the management teams to concentrate on their business. My experience at Bainlab provided a foundation for the skills that venture capitalists have; I’ve secured over £200m in equity commitments to the 10 ventures I’ve launched to date. Additionally, it is crucial for our business that we understand mainstream markets – the approach I learnt at Bain working for large corporates brings discipline to the screening of new propositions. 

Q: I presume that you have to face certain skill gaps and need to overcome obstacles when setting up your business. What would you say was your biggest challenge? 

A: Currently, access to capital. It is what I focus on more than anything else. Getting access to funding is proving particularly challenging in today’s financial climate. 

Q: So how do you respond to this?

A: We are gaining traction within angel networks, but are also looking into alternative funding sources. For example, we’ve been successful in applying to the few government grant schemes that are left. We’re also looking at social funding models, crowdsourcing and peer-to-peer structures. 

Q: Obviously, there are always ups and downs. What would you say was a highlight for you so far? 

A: It’s been the ability to be very flexible. We are a small company and so don’t have large corporate investment committees or things like that, meaning we can react to opportunities and changes in the market and funding environment. I think having the agility to adapt to changing circumstances enables us to quickly evolve the business model and achieve our vision and ambitions. 

Q: How do you think the landscape of innovation and entrepreneurship will change in the coming years? 

A: Sustainability and its challenges are going to play an increasing role with regard to the type of new products we will see in the future. I believe sustainability and finding an answer to material scarcity and increasing resource efficiency will drive a lot of opportunities for disruptive innovation. 

The extremes of either being an entrepreneur or in a corporate job will become more and more blurred over time and different models between the two will appear. I think we’ll start to see more ‘entrepreneurial managers’ – there are many people in corporate jobs who really understand a sector but have commitments that mean they can’t spend two years in a shed inventing a widget and another five commercialising it. At Sustainable Venture Development Partners, we have a growing network of talented managers who are keen to move into our new portfolio businesses as we provide funding and a structure to work in without the confines of the corporate environment. It means they can take more entrepreneurial risk without risking everything. 

Q: Besides new entrepreneurial models what else do you think might help companies foster innovation? 

A: Within the sustainability sector I would say to go for markets and not technologies. The low-carbon world is full of proven technologies and therefore innovators should focus on business model innovation rather than technology invention. 

Q: And on a more general level?

A: I think innovators need to remember that they don’t have to do everything themselves. I strongly believe you can create more value by assembling components rather than inventing one part. For corporates this means not having to exclusively develop everything in-house. I think it is important to understand that as a successful innovator you don’t need to be the best at absolutely everything.

Rob Anderson

Rob was a founding director of Edengene in 2000, having previously been head of the business growth practice at PA Consulting Group. A chartered accountant with strong finance skills, he has 20+ years’ consulting experience working with blue chip companies, designing and directing multi-year growth and innovation programmes. Rob is the author of Edengene's customer-led innovation methodology, which provides a structured approach to innovation to deliver revenue growth.