Toby Darbyshire on starting energy company Engensa

Toby Darbyshire started solar power company Engensa in 2009 and now employs around 100 staff.

How did you get the idea for the company?

I have a background working with utilities and energy companies, and my partner, a friend from Cambridge, has a PhD in photovoltaics, so we had the right grounding for a project like this.

In early 2010, we realised that the biggest challenge of our generation was not climate change in itself but getting normal people to change their energy consumption habits. We decided to come together and form a business that would do small things that helped people save energy.

How did you finance and market it?

We raised £600,000 from the Goldsmith family, who are some of the biggest angel and seed investors in renewables in the UK; Ben Goldsmith also runs a prominent cleantech venture capital firm.

Our first marketing was through word of mouth. However, with a goal to change how people consume energy, we realised that it wasn’t going to be done two homes at a time, it obviously needed to be on a much bigger scale. Now, we have a marketing team of three people doing above-the-line and below-the-line and we have PR onboard too.

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was building an extraordinary team. It’s easy when you already have a good team; I’m sure Facebook doesn’t struggle to attract talent. But when you just start in business and you only have a vision, to persuade someone to leave the job they’ve been doing for so long and join a shell of a company is extremely difficult.

I would hope that as you become a serial entrepreneur that becomes much easier; you take people you’ve worked with before, you build a network, a reputation. But for two young guys new to entrepreneurialism, it’s tough.

It took us about six months before we had our first big break and had built a strong enough concept that we could get our first really senior hires to say “I know where this is going and I can use my experience to take it there”.

What’s next?

As well as installing solar panels, we’re moving into boilers. Some 70 per cent of home energy consumption comes from your boiler, so it’s important to look at boiler efficiency. Also, we are launching a scheme next month that will allow homeowners and small businesses to install solar panels without the upfront cost under a ‘pay-as-you-save’ scheme.

This solar financing scheme is the first of its kind to require zero upfront payment at the same time as giving the property owner full ownership of the solar system. We think it’s the next big step in UK solar.

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