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I have a bit of an obsession with Hydrogen, and I love to encourage the debate between the hardcore ‘batteries are the only answer’ and ‘Hydrogen is the only answer’ schools of thought. Despite personally being of a mind we should electrify everything, I’m still pretty technology agnostic (clean technology I should say). So where do Hydrogen and Fuelcells play a part in the clean energy and mobility transitions? Not many people would first look to the skies. But Val Miftakhov, CEO of Zeroavia, and my podcast guest this week certainly did. But first considering all energy vector possibilities, as you can hear.

So where do you stand on this debate?

Take a listen to the podcast with Val Miftakhov of ZeroAvia, sharing how they are developing the world’s first zero emission, hydrogen-fuelled aviation powertrain.

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Here is my summary of the key insights:

1.     Aircraft entering usage now are generating three times the emissions of previous aircraft and they will be in the air until on average 2050. Meanwhile, other sources of harmful of emissions from, for example, power generation and road transport are on a steep downward path. Aviation will be the bad kid on the block, and when that happens aviation emissions will be very hard to abate.

2.     ZeroAvia looked at batteries, biofuels, synthetic fuels and many other options as the basis for its new aviation proposition. Val believes that without a miracle breakthrough none of these options can deliver the power needed any time soon. Hydrogen powertrains are, he believes, the answer in terms of power output, energy intensity, utilisation and logistics with aircraft in the air by 2023!

3.     With governments around the world bailing out their airlines and at the same time including provisions to enforce reduced emissions, is now the time for the world to embrace this technology and look to a very different future for aviation?

4.     Val found the UK government’s Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK to be the easiest government agencies he has had to deal with in his life as an entrepreneur! Which as you’ll probably hear, astounded me! Something we can be proud of in the UK when we must seem to the world to have lost the plot over most things in recent years.

Hear more from Val on our latest podcast here

As ever, please share your thoughts, and the story.


What is more valuable than wisdom, or the experience of others? Nothing in my mind. Recording the This Week in Cleantech podcast I get to hear so much insight and wisdom, born from successes and failures and everywhere in between. That is why I absolutely love recording it and sharing that wisdom, and those learnings with others. This is cleantech Gold dust! I get to hear so many inspirational stories, novel Ideas, and the abstract and random twists and turns leading Founders and CEOs take to find success. This week for example we explored what makes a cleantech entrepreneur successful, is it qualifications? luck?… or is it resilience? Clearly it’s usually a bit of all three, but never underestimate the importance of timing….or resilience.

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In the latest podcast I spoke with Gideon van Dijk, CEO & Co-Founder of Chargetrip who, in a wide ranging discussion talked about how resilience is crucial in the face of all the challenges an entrepreneur faces but particularly now; about how luck plays its role as an entrepreneur and also why the Emobility market may be facing a tougher challenge after Covid 19.

Here is my summary of the key insights:

1.           Resilience is a fundamental skill in leaders and their people. Right now, when uncertainty and often downright fear are everywhere, leaders in every business need to be resilient. But Gideon points to the character of cleantech entrepreneurs faced with multiple challenges throughout the development of their businesses from errors of timing to the challenges of finding funding. Being able to navigate a route to success through these challenges has always been important but will now take on ever greater significance. “I think every entrepreneur has their fair share of failures..but it’s how you deal with that and how you go on that in the end gets you to where you are now.”

2.           What is luck? We all talk about people who make their own luck, but Gideon nails the real reason entrepreneurs seem lucky. It’s their readiness to take advantage of unexpected developments which can look in hindsight like luck but in actual fact it’s a key component of being successful “you have to be ready, and you need to be there every time, at the right time, with the right solution. And then you’re giving yourself the best shot.”

3.           Looking forward I spoke with Gideon about his predictions for the Emobility market and how in his view there are real challenges ahead. In many countries where take up has been significant the impetus has been government support in some form. Gideon believes that subsidies as a tool of government policy will now be under severe pressure with budgets under the strain of Covid19 rescue packages. “We’ve had good subsidy rules around Europe, but I’m thinking they’re one of the first ones to go if nations need cash again”.

Hear more from Gideon on our latest podcast here

Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss future inspiration. We’re on all the usual platforms, and can subscribe directly here. As ever I welcome your feedback, questions and suggestions for future guests.

Best regards


As you will know, every other week I get to interview some amazing guests on my podcast. Some are industry insiders, most are CEO/Founders of cleantech companies, some are on the Investor/VC side.  Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Jigar Shah, someone that bridges all three of those categories. I’d certainly recommend listening to the whole episode (link below) but I also plan to bring some key insights from the podcast interviews in written form. I know not everyone is a podcast fan, and many are commuting a whole lot less, so maybe your usual podcast time is not happening. Or maybe you’re like me, and like to read and consider, as much as, or more than to listen? Jigar shared thoughts on many topics, including of course the impact of COVID-19, but perhaps these insights are most useful to you as a Start-up leader right now?

What does it take to persuade an investor you are worthy of their money?

In our latest podcast we spoke with Jigar Shah of Generate Capital who, as an entrepreneur and now an investor, has seen both sides of the funding process. He delivered some home truths for early stage cleantech businesses seeking finance either as a start-up at the beginning of your journey or a scale-up looking for further funding.

Here is our summary of the key insights:

  1. The key to success is never running out of money
  2. don’t waste the money you have on unnecessary expenditure – offices, people and external spend that aren’t essential
  3. Do something to prove your business works with the money you receive from investors:
  4. show that you have a viable product that’s up and running – prove your concept, your business model and show that you are moving forward and deserving of further investment
  5. don’t ‘hype’ the product until you can say to investors that it definitely works
  6. The maxim “if we build it they will come” doesn’t work when it comes to developing a sustainable business
  7. make sure you get it right every step of the way
  8. “growth is great but growth just for its own sake…doesn’t make a lot of sense”
  9. Build your company to last forever
  10. the substance of your business is key
  11. don’t get fixated with ideas of exit strategies
  12. build forever, build resilience
  13. Focus on accomplishing each milestone you have agreed, then look for the next set of funding
  14. make sure you’ve earned the right to receive the funding from the next round
  15. show what you’ve done with the last set of money to deserve the confidence of investors aiming to support your next round of investment

Hear more from Jigar Shah on the latest  This week in Cleantech podcast here (also on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and all the usual podcast platforms).

If you are keen to hear more from Investors as to how to get them to part with their money into your company, you’ll also enjoy the episodes with Petr Mikovec or Inven Capital and Robert Trezona of IP Group.

I look forward to sharing the journeys of more cleantech leaders in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe.

David Hunt

As the CEO of an executive search firm, and an ‘old-timer’ in the industry I’ve seen and heard most tips and advice over the years, on how to secure that dream job. Much of that advice centres around how you can tailor your pitch and truly ‘connect’ with your interviewer. Do your research, find out their hobbies, likes and interests and use that information in your interview. At face value that makes some sense, human nature is that we are flattered when someone pays an interest in us, it’s also true that we love hearing (and talking) about ourselves. 

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But as this research referenced in the Harvard Business Review shows, and which is also validated by my 25 years in the industry, a false or faked interest has many issues. Not least of which when you are trying to fake interest, and remember ‘stuff’ to impress, you are not able to perform well. You are off kilter, and even if you have researched well, it still sounds fake and comes over as obsequious. Unless of course you have in front of you a vain and shallow potential boss who lacks self-esteem and strength, but is that the boss you want? (Full article from HBR https://hbr.org/2020/02/research-it-pays-to-be-yourself )

Be yourself, be curious. As the great Dale Carnegie said, ‘To be interesting, be interested.’  If you really want to stand out from the crowd, ask great questions and listen. Really listen, with curiosity, and genuine interest.

Of course the other issue is, do you want to work somewhere, or for someone, where you can’t be yourself, and you’re not recognised for yourself and what you and only you can bring to the job or company?  I appreciate that I, like most if not all of you reading this, are fortunate enough to not have to take any job just to put food on the table. Something we should be grateful for. But also something we should not forget, or fail to take advantage of. Your career is important. You are important. Life is too short to not be inspired by, let alone to like your job. You spend more time at or thinking about work than any other part of your life.

You have a responsibility to yourself and your family and loved ones to align your work and your values, for them to be congruent.

And that means being authentic, being truly yourself, and working hard to find an employer, or an opportunity to be you. To find a place where you, your values, skills, experience, personality and energy are valued and sort. Don’t sell yourself short.

At Hyperion Executive Search we work hard to find clients that inspire us, and that value us, and the people they hire. Sometimes that means walking away from ‘business’, but that’s OK. It’s better than OK, it’s great. It means as a team and as individuals we can all be inspired, and do our best work, because our values, interests and goals are aligned with our clients. We help our clients to find the exceptional talent they need to grow, and quite often who they hire, isn’t who or what they first thought they wanted. Because we can see through the ‘song and dance’ routines, just as those in the research examples could. We find the authentic person inside. Do yourself a favour, just be the best version of you.


Most good things in life are driven by passion. Passion and purpose. These twin Ps are what caused me to create my company Hyperion Executive Search. Hyperion have become a global leader in executive search in the cleantech sector. And it gives the whole team a huge buzz that we are helping some of the most innovative and promising cleantech companies the help they need to scale. Vicariously we make our impact on climate change and air-pollution, as well as helping entrepreneurs succeed, and awesome candidates find their perfect ‘home’. But the P’s kept pushing. What more could I do to both learn more about what makes cleantech companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs succeed, and how could I share that learning to benefit others, and to inspire them to go on a journey of their own?

Because of my day job, I speak with leading figures in the cleantech industry day in and day out. I have to find out everything that makes my clients tick, what makes them a great place to work, what makes them succeed. I also have to keep on top of industry and technology developments, and because of this I have a network of industry insiders with whom I regularly speak and share our mutual insights and learning. So a podcast seemed a logical way to sate those twin P’s. I could feed my passion and expand my purpose.

I thought at first I could do it as a hobby, the occasional episode, a ‘fireside chat’ with some clients, friends and colleagues. If you hear the very first episode with eMobility legend and friend Roger Atkins you’ll get the picture. The problem was I really enjoyed it, and I got plenty of positive feedback. In hindsight I think at first they we’re just being nice! All the same, those twin P’s kept pushing, surely one episode a week wouldn’t be difficult, after all, I know so many people in the sector!?

The truth is I loved every conversation on every episode, just as I love every conversation I have with every client and contact, whether one to one, on the phone, or at trade shows and conferences. I think it is also true that at first I loved having the conversations, and thought a little less about the audience, and my ‘purpose’ to share and to inspire others to succeed in the cleantech sector. But the more downloads, follows and feedback I got the more I realised it wasn’t just me enjoying the conversations. The one piece of negative feedback I got though was over the audio quality at times. So I’ve invested in new microphones, software, production and editing etc. Now, I still don’t expect it to be radio quality, it’s not my day job, or what pays the bills, but I do hope you’ll notice the improvement, and that the better audio makes it easier to listen to and learn from the amazing people I’m fortunate to interview.

I’m now 7 months, and 25 episodes into my podcasting ‘career’. Almost one a week, missing some over Christmas, and a few whilst travelling. But travelling I’ve also been able to record face to face with some awesome client CEO’s, in the US, Germany and Netherlands in particular.

I know that I have had some truly inspirational CEOs share their stories, from bootstrapping to major investment or acquisition. Christoph Ostermann, CEO of Sonnen and Kristof Vereenooghe, CEO of EVBox stand out. Both had local companies when I met them, 30-40 employees, and now are both global entities acquired by Shell and ENGIE respectively. How did that work? Take a listen and hear! There have also been some brilliant CEOs at the start of their journey, like Dr Fabian Lemke of Noventura. We’ve also had some great industry insiders like energy storage expert at BNEF Logan Goldie-Scott and Forbes under 30 alumni Marek Kubik. We’ve also had some awesome investor tips from Petr Mikovec of Inven Capital, and Jan Michael Hess of Ecosummit. I’m going to force myself to stop now as I genuinely feel all 25 guests have been great. I would though love to know which you’ve enjoyed best and why.

I guess the pressure is now on, to continue to improve the production quality and keep the highest standards of guests. I really hope that the podcast does inspire some of the listeners and give them valuable insights to learn and put to good use. If just one person is inspired to make a difference and to start or accelerate their cleantech journey, it’s worthwhile. From some of the feedback I get I’m confident that many more are finding my guests stories and insights useful and inspiring. Please do let me know your feedback, in comments or directly. Please do share with friends and colleagues if you enjoy it. Maybe go crazy and write a review on iTunes or your platform of choice!! If you have any ideas for guests let me know. Yes, Elon Musk is on my list!!

Thank you for all of your support so far.


Website: www.thisweekincleantech.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/weekincleantech

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/thisweekincleantech/

It can be a bit of a Catch-22 I know. Investors want to see a solid and rounded management team in your start-up, to mitigate the risk of their investment, but you need the investment to hire the management team you need. This is something I hear often. My company works with many post-investment start-ups, building teams to execute on plans and investment strategies. We also work with a number of VCs and CVCs to support their portfolio companies. Time and again you hear from investors that they invest in the management team, as much as in the company’s technology or business model.  This is something I discussed recently with Petr Mikovec, CEO and Founder of Inven Capital on the ‘This week in Cleantech’ podcast.  Petr and his team have a great track record of cleantech investments, including being an early investor in sonnen, who were recently acquired by Shell.  So, before you have the money, how can you build a credible management team?


I know a number of VCs and investors that prefer to invest in companies with a founding team, rather than a sole founder. If you are at an early stage, I would strongly consider finding some key people to join you in the founding team, if you aren’t already in that position. Explore your networks for credible experienced people that share your values and buy into your vision and business model. Of course, the downside is that you will have to share some equity from day one, and the more the individual or individuals bring to the table, the more equity you’ll have to share. On the upside, not only is it more attractive to funders and investors to have a strong management team, with ‘skin in the game’, but start-up life is much easier with a team than alone. I’ve done both, I know it’s tough either way, and finding people who share your values and work ethic isn’t easy but finding Co-founders can be the difference between getting investment or not.

Sweat Equity

If you are already on your journey, or don’t want to share founding status, you can still look to bring on experienced management to your executive team offering sweat equity and a lower salary than they are worth. The same applies as above, you need to be sure you find people that share your values and have a genuine passion for the business. Use your network, attend cleantech hubs, events and accelerators, leverage who and what you know. You should already be speaking with VC’s, CVC’s and investors and nurturing those relationships. Perhaps they can introduce you to people in their networks. In business generally, and start-up life specifically, your network is everything. If you are an introverted inventor/entrepreneur, you either need to find a more extrovert Co-founder or be prepared to get WAY out of your comfort zone.  This is something Christoph Ostermann, Co-founder of sonnen did in their early days, finding a commercially minded accountant and finance person to join him and Torsten Stiefenhofer, the technical Co-founder.

Board Member/NED

Having someone part time supporting could be more cost effective. Whilst them not being fully ‘in’ the business, is less attractive to investors, having credible and experienced board members or Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) is one way to acquire the range of skills and experience investors would be comfortable parting with their cash for. Board members would often want some equity, or options at least, and perhaps a monthly retainer fee, based on the hours they might work, or the strength of their network.  At least the fixed costs can be kept low, and the equity stake you share likewise.


Paying consultants to help devise strategies, or structures to realise your business plans, and possibly retaining them, is another option. The more transient nature of the relationship won’t be as strong a pull for investors, but it’s better than trying to be all things to all people, and wearing all the hats in the business yourself, including the ones that don’t fit you well. In any management team you need to have all the key people focused on their area of strength and expertise, you just can’t do everything alone, and attract any serious money.

Bootstrapping is a familiar term and way to start your business. Maybe through friends, Angel investors, and accelerator programme, or even crowdfunding you can bring in enough to start building your team, to get your business fit for investment. At some point though, you’ll need to pitch for the first, or bigger funding rounds, and at that point you’ll need to have an experienced, passionate and credible management team. It’s best to think about this very early in your journey. In my day job, and as the host of ‘This week in Cleantech’ I speak with many founders and entrepreneurs of high-growth start-ups. Without exception they talk about the difficulty finding the right people, with the right cultural fit, at every level, and the amount of time they have to dedicate to fundraising.  When you have the money spend it wisely, until then perhaps one of these solutions can get you to the next stage?

With LinkedIn currently running its #ParentsAtWork campaign to highlight the challenges many parents at work, I thought this the perfect opportunity to share why I think providing flexible working, and being flexible, are a huge benefit to both employer and employee.

I speak as a father, as an employer and owner of a business, and as someone that has worked for over 20 years in talent acquisition. Yes, for a living I help companies to recruit and retain key talent, and I do so in very niche markets with small talent pools.

The working world, fortunately, is very different now than it was when I had my first two children, now 19 and 15 years old. At that time, as an ambitious and career focused young man I was forced to make sacrifices that I wouldn’t now make. I had a long commute, rigid and long office hours, and much time working away. It was tough. I justified the sacrifices by the money I earned and the house and comforts I was able to provide my family. I’m now the father of a 5-year-old, and this time, despite having greater responsibility, and starting my company as my daughter was born, I’ve not had to make anywhere near as many sacrifices. You may say, ‘that’s fine if you run your own business, you can do what you want’. Anyone that is the founder of a start-up will tell you the demands are as great, if not greater than any ‘job’ or career role. I’d say the difference is in technology, mentality and enlightenment, also (let’s be honest, we all operate as people and as businesses) in enlightened self-interest.

In my own business I’m not the only father with young children. Two of our Liverpool based team have children under 3 years of age. Both men. They are important to the team and to the success of the business. So, for both moral reasons, and for the good of the business, they are allowed to be flexible with their working hours. Not only can they never miss a school assembly, sports day or parents evening, they can also flex their hours to support their partners and childcare providers. Of course, children are often unwell. Giving them the flexibility to alter their hours, take time off, and work from home means they can be there for their children and partners when needed. It’s not just some hippy idealism though, it means they are happier, less stressed and more productive as employees (not less as old school thinking might have you think). So as a business owner I win. I have more loyal, productive, committed and happy employees. I benefit, our customers benefit, they benefit, their family benefit.  By providing laptops rather than desktop PC’s there is no reason for this flexibility not to work. It does work.

Trust is important in the employer/employee relationship, as it is in any relationship. If you don’t trust your employees to do what is needed to be done, and to not take advantage of this flexibility, you either have the wrong attitude, or the wrong employee. Whichever it is you need to deal with it for the benefit of your business or team.

Staff attraction and staff retention

As I specialise in talent acquisition, I see and hear daily what attracts an employee to a company, but also what leads to them to leave a company. There are of course many factors, but flexibility is very important, regardless of parenting requirements. Great people want to be trusted and given the tools to get the job done, they don’t want to be tied to a desk 8 or more hours a day, they don’t want to spend 2 hours commuting every day, and they don’t want to sacrifice their family life for their job. They DO want to make a big impact for their employer, they DO want to demonstrate their skills and abilities, and they DO want to be successful.

Companies that recognise that this is not binary, that being ever present and working long hours doesn’t by itself make someone a good employee, and needing flexibility and time out doesn’t make someone a bad or unproductive employee. I would argue that very often the exact opposite is true.

The huge untapped talent pool of mothers returning to work

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of early months and years parenting is carried out by mothers. It’s women that more often than not put their jobs and careers on hold for the benefit of their child and their partner, if they have one.  Not only is it grossly unfair then that as a society and as businesses we make it difficult for mothers to return to work at the level of their competence, it’s also a huge wasted opportunity. If someone is a bright, talented, career minded person prior to having a child, what makes us think they won’t be those things after having a child? Childcare arrangements can be difficult, and expensive, but it seems that childcare is an easier problem to solve than our perception, as a society, that a mother returning to work is only an option for less interesting, less challenging, or even menial tasks. What a waste of talent, and what a pathetic, unjustified and undeserved way of rewarding the mothers of our children for the efforts and commitments they have made to care for our children.

We live in a time of unprecedented connectivity. Technology gives us the ability to connect, communicate, work and perform without the constraints of location and fixed office hours.

Companies would benefit enormously by being flexible in how they treat their employees, not just parents, through better recruitment, retention and productivity. They also open up a new talent pool, by finding ways to utilise, support and welcome returning mothers (and fathers), or those that need childcare flexibility, or have other caring responsibilities, to their company.

I’d love to hear your views on this topic. Have you implemented flexible working practices at your business? Do you consider this as a staff retention or talent attraction tool?

Those who take their business or leadership role seriously know that life is much easier and business is much more successful with real talent in your team. The CEO’s of two of the most successful businesses in corporate history, Steve Jobs at Apple and Jack Welch at GE, were both very vocal about having A players on your team. Often, I’m asked to write or speak about acquiring top talent. That stands to reason, it’s what my company, Hyperion Executive Search does, help companies find the very best talent. But we also help clients to retain that top talent.

Finding and acquiring talent can be costly (although it should always be seen and treated as an investment not a cost), so it’s bizarre that some companies devote so much time to acquiring talent, then don’t know what to do with ‘it’, or how to manage ‘it’ and subsequently lose ‘it’. A bit like constantly filling a bucket with a hole in. Now that is an expensive business.

To maximise your investment in talented individuals your company needs to put in place a range of measures and processes, starting with on-boarding and induction. These are critical, but I wanted to speak more about retention of existing talent. At Hyperion we provide a range of services and consultancy aimed at helping businesses to retain and maximise the impact of talented employees, but here are some of the key considerations.  Like many of the most important practices in business they are not rocket science, but they are often overlooked.

I base my comments on nearly two decades of interviewing and consulting with talented candidates.  I’ve approached or been approached by many hundreds of candidates, maybe thousands. There are many factors why some people stay put, even when approached with a strong opportunity, and why some want to jump ship. I’ve found though that if one or more of these key three elements is missing, then you have a potential leaver.

You may or may not be surprised to hear that money is very seldom the key driver for talented people to want to leave. A factor yes, but rarely the most important one.

So, what are the three key factors that talented people want and need to be happy, and therefore be driven to stay in your business?


Good people do not want to be micro-managed or inhibited from being creative in their job. You will often see comments that most people leave a job directly because of their immediate boss. Of course, that can be true, but it can also be true that the ‘boss’ is just acting within or carrying out the company culture. It’s easy to blame one individual, but it’s the company culture that allows that manager to operate in that way. People expect to be managed, to be accountable, to have parameters and guidelines, but they also want the ability to get on with the job. They want to use the talent you employed them for, to be creative, to find solutions, in short, they want autonomy in their role to grow, achieve and prove their worth, to you and to themselves.


In the same vein good people want to be challenged. Not only do they want the autonomy to do their job, they want new challenges and situations to deal with and to learn from. Greater levels of responsibility or special projects in addition to their day to day activities. A greater challenge doesn’t just mean upping their targets or workload, it means new things to stretch their abilities and creativity and to demonstrate their value. It is accepted that this is usually whilst also maintaining performance in their current role, but ultimately leads to promotion or new opportunities in the business. In short they want an opportunity to grow and to shine.


Recognition and reward can and does come in many ways; salary and financial reward are an important part of the mix. Don’t though expect to retain your superstars forever if you just throw money at them. If that’s all that’s on offer, they can find that elsewhere easily enough, or they’ll choose to sacrifice some income for the autonomy and challenges we’ve discussed. We have helped many, many good candidates to move over the years where a decrease in salary has been happily accepted for a more rewarding and challenging environment. Rewards and recognition are a huge topic in themselves, but a whole raft of options are available and many if not most are free, or low cost to the business. How much does a thank you or pat on the back cost?

In short talented people stay where their talents are recognised, rewarded, nurtured, developed and encouraged. Not rocket science at all is it? But so very few companies have a culture or processes to make sure this happens, and that is why so many have a hole in their talent bucket.

The moment your very success is the very thing that threatens to kill your business comes as quite a surprise. For me the moment, in my last business, hit me like a slap in the face with a wet fish. Not something you forget!

I co-founded a renewable technology installation/EPC company back in 2007, pre-FIT and when most people laughed at you when you mentioned solar panels. The first two years were a struggle of course, but the team was small, we all grafted hard, we all knew everything that was going on in the business, and we all knew every customer.  We lived and breathed the business and saw more of each other than our wives and families. If you’ve founded or worked in a start-up that will no doubt be familiar. This went on a couple of years, and then, boom! The UK solar industry took off, and we were one of a very small number of companies established and accredited.

For us the growth catalyst was the introduction of ‘Feed in Tariff’s for solar and small wind. Whatever the catalyst for you, whether policy, technology or business model innovation, when you go from sweating every penny or cent in to and out of your business, to fast growth, it’s quite a journey.

All that shines isn’t always Gold!

We went from five employees to fifty in a very short space of time, and from a few hundred grand turnover to over £6million. We had to scale everything, from sales, to finance, from operations and project management to project delivery.  You don’t have time to think, everyone is working so hard in the business you don’t have time to work on the business, you try to, you set time aside to, but boy is it hard. Customers are knocking at your door with money to spend. You’ve got to juggle the money to fund the growth. After 2 years of hand to mouth living, personally and as a company, you think you’ve reached the promised land, and the future is golden.

Houston we have a problem! 

That wet fish moment is embedded into my memory. We’d just moved office, for the third time in 18 months, I was walking into the kitchen for a coffee, and there were four individuals in the kitchen, and I had no idea who they were or what they did. You might say no big deal, they didn’t report directly, or indirectly to me. As a company owner I should know their names and be able to great them personally, but so much was going on, no big deal right? Wrong.  That was the moment I knew the very culture, values and ethos of the business I had co-created, the ones that had made us so successful, the ones that made us stand out from the ever-increasing competition were hugely under threat. What made us great had been lost in a sea of frantic effort, we’d been so busy delivering projects, winning awards and feeling good about ourselves, we lost site of what was important. Hubris and busyness had hijacked our culture.  We worked hard to fix it, and to an extent we did. But this is what I learned…..

Your people, your values and your culture are your crown jewells

Now, I’d spent over 15 years in international headhunting before setting up that business, so I thought I knew about people. Indeed, I understood people very well, what motivated them to move company, what motivated them to stay, how to reward them, how to manage them, how to communicate with all personality types. All very useful, in fact invaluable. But I’d been working for international and corporate clients. Companies with big HR teams, induction programmes, management structures, organigrams and job descriptions.  None of that is bad of course, all very good, oh to have ‘Chief People Officer’ and team! But it certainly wasn’t start-up.

When you go into scale-up from start-up, the game changes, and you have to change, but one thing is constant, your people are everything. Who you recruit is only one vital ingredient of success, but how you recruit them, how you on-board them, and how you manage them is critical to the success of your business.

What the best start-ups I work with do to maintain culture

Challenging as it is, putting people AND culture first is critical to success. It can be a distraction, it can be frustrating when you’re juggling dozens of balls, it’s easy to pass the buck to another person in the founding team, or as is often the case, an office or admin manager. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve worked with great people in those roles, but it is unfair and a huge mistake to leave mission critical issues to them. If you are a founder or early stage employee you are ALL responsible for getting recruitment right.

It’s tempting of course, when you are tired, stressed and stretched to just get a ‘bum on a seat’. Can they walk, talk and do X activity, get them in, one less problem, right? No, a whole world of pain is waiting for those with that mentality. Whether you’ve just recruited the wrong person for your culture, a poor performer or a great candidate that you have on-boarded badly doesn’t much matter, if they leave, or you need to fire them half way into a project or process they are involved in. The buck you passed just came back with interest.

Top Tips

Each of course is worthy of it’s own post, but here is what the best companies do, from my experience.

  • The founders have a very clear set of values, and a very clear purpose for their business. These values, and this purpose drive everything they do especially recruitment.
  • They have a clear picture of the culture they want to build, how they want their staff, customers and suppliers to act and to be treated. And have this ALWAYS on their minds as a priority.
  • Put processes in place, before you need them. It’s very hard to change things once they are set, particularly in a scale-up situation when everything is chaotic.
  • Don’t recruit a role without a clear job description, and a clear idea of ‘what success looks like’ for each role. If you don’t know it, the employee can’t know it, and no one can judge if things are going well. You certainly can’t blame an employee for not being good, if you haven’t explained what ‘good’ looks like.
  • Don’t compromise on recruitment. A bad hire is a world of pain. A great candidate with a poor culture fit is a short term relief but very short-term, a bad apple spoils the barrel! Don’t just hire on cultural fit, as is often said, they have to be capable and have the skills too. Set up a process to ensure your recruiting is both logical and emotional. Head and heart.
  • Prepare for their start, have everything ready, small stuff, desk, phones, laptop/PC, business cards, whatever is needed for them to do their job, have ready, not ‘we’ll get it sorted soon.’
  • Induct them, have them meet and have coffee with the founders/key team members, have everyone ready to welcome the new employee, and to tell them what they do, why the company is great, and what the values, culture and purpose of the business is (a reiteration from the recruitment process). Have a set out timetable of tasks, training, learning, and of course ‘doing’, with follow-up at each stage. They need to have embedded at this early stage, what good looks like, what you expect of them and why, and how the company works, internally and externally.
  • Whether you think of it that way or not, and whether you like it or not, regardless if there was a recruitment fee or not, each employee is an investment. Treat them like you would treat any investment, because remember, investments can go up or down, some will make you money, some will cost you money. Employees are same, at any and all levels.

So yes you are busy, and yes you have a million things to do, all of them important, and yes, it would be great if someone takes the pain away (we can take the recruitment process pain away), but it is your responsibility and your time.  To me it makes much more sense to take a little more time and effort to do things right, than to cut corners and do it twice, or three times, or more.

Poor company culture kills companies. Poorly motivated staff kill companies. Poorly equipped or skilled staff can kill companies. High staff attrition can kill companies.

When you are scaling up, I would argue, your hiring of people is the most important thing, more important than even fundraising, because you’re going to burn and waste an awful lot of that money if your people aren’t the right people, doing the right things, at the right time, in the right way, and being treated right.

If you want to talk recruitment, talent acquisition and retention or scaling cleantech businesses, I’m very happy to do so.

David Hunt

As the clean energy transition grows, there is increasingly a skills and talent gap. This is an article I had published in Smart Cities World (link to the original below).

Throughout my time in the clean energy sector there has always been talk of scarcity of supply; first it was silicon, then in the boom times of solar development it was solar PV modules themselves. More recently we read of the potential scarcity of Lithium, a core ingredient for Lithium-ion and related batteries, driven by the significant growth in energy storage and EV Vehicles. Now we have scare stories about the scarcity of electricity at certain times of the day, if we all plug in our EV’s to charge. But what about the scarcity of talent?

Clearly as the clean energy transition grows, there is increasingly a skills and talent gap, one which is seldom talked about. Demand is very much outstripping supply. That might be a good thing, in the short term, for headhunters like us, but for the growth of the sector as a whole it is something that will significantly hinder the growth of companies and the smart energy and cities sector as a whole.

At utility scale, we have an ageing electricity generation and distribution network, managed by a hugely talented and experienced number of engineers. Significant numbers of which are at, or fast approaching retirement age. In a recent report, ‘Engineering 2017’*, it is suggested in the UK there is, conservatively, a 20,000-annual shortfall in graduates in engineering disciplines. That’s an annual shortfall. Not only are we not seeing enough graduates though, decades of hands-on practical experience is disappearing rapidly.

On top of this many parts of the smart energy sector are very nascent. Yes, batteries have been around for a very long time, but the energy storage sector, as we see and understand it today, is just a few years old. The same can be said of the e-mobility sector.

As for the digitisation of the energy supply, or the ‘internet of energy’, we’re making it up as we go along. There is no experienced talent pool. To exacerbate this problem, the demand for the new breed of coders, software architects and fully IT literate electrical engineers, doesn’t just come from the energy sector, or MaaS (Mobility as a service). These same individuals are in demand from Fintech, medical devices, and finance and banking, among others. It takes more than a dress down policy and bean bags to attract them.

The challenge must be met head on and quickly. The industry, in my opinion, must focus in three key areas.

Firstly, we need to encourage more children and those at school age into STEM subjects, then into engineering and computational subjects through higher education and into university. The industry needs to engage fully with the whole education system to make sure we get the raw talent we need.

Having a government that doesn’t politically interfere with education and curriculum would be a great start. In many of the most successful countries, such as Singapore and Finland, education is separated from the political sphere. We could do with the same for energy, but that’s another story. At least we need consistency and strong engagement between industry and educational establishments, and not just by the large corporations, but also SMEs and start-ups which are the backbone of the energy transformation.

Secondly, companies need to be far more prepared to look at transferable skills, and to be prepared to invest in training. This can be difficult, particularly for SME’s and start-ups. Time and resource are very tight, and the industry moves at break-neck speed. But if everyone is chasing the same very small talent pool, we’re creating a big problem, not least Premier League salaries and a transient workforce as an example.

My company, Hyperion Executive Search, have helped many companies, in the UK, US and Germany to find exceptional talent in allied industries, as well as directly from competitors. For example, it’s not a great leap for candidates from a solar background to adapt to the energy storage or e-mobility sectors.

People who have been involved in traditional lighting, HVAC, BMS or UPS companies, have the raw experience and capability to adapt to new digital and interconnected versions of the same. We always recruit as much for cultural fit, and the ‘soundness’ of the individual, as much as the skills and experiences they have. Companies need to show some patience at times, and recruit for the long term, not the potential instant fix.

Thirdly, as an industry, we really need to address diversity. In an already limited pool of talent, whether by accident or design, we limit our options by not recruiting or encouraging candidates from all genders, ethnicities and sections of society.

It’s shocking when we look at the lack of diversity in the people we place into new roles. Certainly not by our design, and not by design of our clients, but because of lack of alternatives.

I don’t believe in positive discrimination, the best person for the job should always be recruited, regardless of their age, gender, religion or sexual orientation. But I do believe we have a lot to do to encourage more diversity in the workforce. This starts with engaging with children at school, but we have to find a way to engage with all sections of society at all stages of their careers. Otherwise we not only limit the pool of talent, but we limit our potential as businesses and as an industry. Diversity is good for innovation, for learning and for growth.

These are exciting times in the smart energy world, there is so much potential, innovation and opportunity happening all around us. We can’t afford to be stifled as businesses or a sector by the lack of talent, or a lack of willingness to actively broaden our horizons in regard to our people.

David Hunt is managing partner of clean energy executive search specialists Hyperion Executive Search. He has been in the clean energy sector since 2007 and held posts on the Policy Board of the UK Renewable Energy Association (REA), chaired the Pan-European Energy Storage Alliance and sits on the Low Carbon Economy Board for the Liverpool City LEP. He also spent seven years as director of an award winning multi-technology renewable energy company, before setting up Hyperion in 2014.

*Engineering 2017 report www.engineeringuk.com/media/1355/enguk-report-2017.pdf