Digital Innovators: Q&A with Pavegen founder and CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook

Laurence Kemball-Cook
Founded in 2009, Pavegen harvests energy and data from footfall. (Source: Google)

Pavegen is a clean-tech company creating patented technology that converts footsteps into off-grid power, data and rewards.

Last year Pavegen was identified as one of 50 of the freshest and most inspiring digital companies using technology and innovation to shake up their sectors in our Digital Innovators Power List. Following a public vote and after careful consideration by supporting partners and judges, it was named as one of the top 10 Digital Innovators. Later this year two of these companies will be identified as a "life changer" or a "market transformer".

Founder and CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook tells us his long-term vision for the company and gives us insight into why it's one of the UK's leading digital innovators.

Talk me through the business. What sparked the idea? How do you compete with other players/what sets you apart?

I developed the technology as a response to climate change. I spent time working on renewable energy solutions which could work in built-up urban environments and then had the idea of using some of the ambient energy from people and footfall. After graduating university in 2009, I began testing prototypes and formed the company, Pavegen.

Our technology is very new and we welcome competition because it helps to inspire innovation and establish credibility. Our competitors have largely focused on energy harvesting in entertainment and experiential spaces. We’re deploying Pavegen in a wide variety of environments, including schools, shopping centres, corporate HQs, and on the streets of cities including London, Seoul and Washington DC. We also have a unique and sophisticated digital ecosystem to produce data and analytics.

How has your company grown in the past few years? What are the most crucial things you have done to grow it?

We have grown through careful investment, by hiring a great team to enable us to innovate, and by successfully securing partners and projects. Our team has now delivered 200 projects in 30 countries, working with iconic brands including adidas, Coca-Cola, Heathrow Airport, Nike, Nissan and Shell.

Our latest projects include working with Transport for London and New West End Company to create the world’s first smart street. We also recently partnered with Google to create the world’s largest energy and data harvesting array in Berlin.

We now have 30 employees, headquarters in central London and a research and development (R&D) facility in one of the UK’s tech hubs, Cambridge, and a network of distributors across four continents. Pavegen’s board also includes Jeff Martin, as a lead investor, who was the digital marketing brains behind iTunes and founder of digital marketing pioneers Tribal Planet.

The UK Government and Mayor of London’s office have been great advocates and we recently supported the UK Government’s Department for International Trade at the recent COP23 climate change conference in Bonn.

Where do you hope to be in a year/two years? What is your long-term vision for the business?

Our long-term vision is to make our technology available to all communities. Our short to medium-term plan is to reduce the manufacturing cost of our current technology by 80 per cent whilst increasing the product’s efficiency and range of data collection. We will continue to innovate and have a clear product development roadmap. Over the next 18 months, we will significantly increase headcount, with hires in R&D, software, sales and marketing.

As cities decarbonize, adopting electrification, battery storage and autonomous delivery systems, we are seeing a shift away from spaces for cars towards an infrastructure that supports health and wellbeing. By taking a Pavegen-enabled path through the city or development, we can reward people and generate some useful off-grid energy along the way. We see high growth in high footfall locations such as transport hubs and in February we will launch our second airport install and first permanent project in the Middle East.

How do you see the state of the market in which your business operates? What are the biggest challenges you will face in the coming years and how do you hope to overcome them?

Our society faces huge challenges – both environmental and social. It’s quite chaotic out there, with communities and companies scrabbling to identify and develop solutions. But it’s an incredibly exciting time for tech companies that are helping to drive the sustainability agenda and which can engage people. New York’s recent announcement on divestment of fossil fuels is a great example of the shift happening.

Our clients embrace the idea that we need to transform our cities into places that prioritise people over machines. We are witnessing particular growth in retail, brand experiences, education, transport, and venues.

A challenge is always going to be finding and hiring the best people. And I’m also determined that we meet the increasing demands of the market without losing pace and effectiveness on R&D.

How important is innovation to your business? How do you engender a culture of forward thinking and creativity with your staff?

We are an innovation-driven business, pioneering a new technology where we have literally had to create a market. We’re constantly seeking to improve our existing products and develop new ones. We do that by encouraging everyone in the business to develop ideas – from our R&D team in Cambridge, right through to the project managers and even the sales teams. My door is always open to new ideas and we have regular formal sessions where the teams can present and critique ideas.

What is it about your company that makes it one of the UK’s leading digital innovators?

People have responded to our ideas with nearly £4m of investment and many projects. That has given us a certain level of confidence to try new things. We have also worked hard to find a team who embrace challenges, and we strive to be adaptable and open to new opportunities. Hard work hasn't hurt us, either!

Look out for the next Q&A with Metail, another top 10 Digital Innovator, on 30 January 2018.

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