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A Year in the Life of an Entrepreneur

Mon, 14 November 2016

2015 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Tom Robinson, Founder of Adaptavate, shares his experiences in starting-up a business.
This blog is part of Shell LiveWIRE’s Global Entrepreneurship Week activities aimed at celebrating innovation and young entrepreneurs. Follow us on Twitter for information on all of our Global Entrepreneurship week content and activities.

A mere three years ago, I was working in the construction industry. I worked with a building company specialising in sustainable construction and the heritage sector. I witnessed vast amounts of plaster board waste being accumulated on sites – 15 million tonnes to landfill per year, as it turns out – and felt sure there must be a more sustainable material we could all be using. It was a bit of a light bulb moment! And following a hiatus to carry out a M.Sc. in Sustainable Architecture, Adaptavate was born.

Having looked around at alternative materials, I landed on the idea of utilising agricultural waste sourced from UK farmers to create a bio-based plasterboard. I developed Breathaboard (a bio-composite building material that combats moisture and mould build-up in buildings), which, as the name suggests, is a far healthier material to use in buildings/homes but also far more energy efficient.

I was excited about my environmentally sustainable innovation. But entering into a well-established industry with an alternative, low-carbon offering can be challenging. I found going against conventional wisdom and thinking differently can be seriously daunting, particularly in an industry that has inherently conservative and deep rooted practices.

That’s when I started to look for external advice and came across the Shell LiveWIRE programme. Winning the award gave me access to the support I needed to steer the business in the right direction. It validated our product concept and business model, and gave me the confidence to keep on keeping on! Being an entrepreneur can be a tough job at times, so it’s nice to receive a pat on the back from time to time. But more importantly, it made me seriously think about business essentials and what was needed to succeed. There are other award programmes and support systems out there, but you need to do your research to find ones that are a right fit for your stage of business.

Since winning, the funding has been used to lab test Breathaboard and develop prototypes, leading to tangible performance-based data that has enabled us to move from concept to market-ready product. In fact, already, Breathaboard has been used in great milestone projects like the UK Green Building Council Offices, which has the lowest carbon retrofit in the UK. We have also been able to grow our team and gain relevant commercial industry knowledge.

If I could give one piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs it’s to be sure about where you want your business to go. Have a clear vision of what you want your business to look like. Once you have established that you can go forward. Some days you will take huge strides forward and other days you’ll go backwards. It is hugely important to have a good group of people around you; they will take the big steps with you and also help you see the way forward when you appear to be going backwards.

Everyone makes mistakes and as entrepreneurs it’s almost our job to do so. If you’re a true innovator, you learn what works and what doesn’t as you go. The best thing I did was seek the help of a mentor. People with experience can point you in the right direction while also providing much needed support when times are tough.

Looking to the future, we’re aiming to scale up. We are in the process of seeking further investment and partnerships, as well as new opportunities to demonstrate the value of Breathaboard in live building developments.

Adaptavate is in a very exciting place at the moment. We have great test data and testimonial accounts of our products. Our goal now is to pursue the commercial opportunities that lie ahead.

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