Russell Gibb is an ex-military engineer based in the West of Scotland, working on a way to source heat from rivers and streams. He is one of three Scottish innovators who will be pitching against cleantech entrepreneurs from 45 countries at the ClimateLaunchpad Global Grand Final, hosted in Edinburgh by ECCI on 1 and 2 November.
We caught up with him in advance of the big event.
What is your company and product all about, in a nutshell?
I’ve been an engineer all my life, working on heat pumps and renewable energy for a long time. Now that I’m in my fifties, I’m one of the more senior contestants!
With heat pumps, people usually think of air or ground source pumps. But in Scotland we have water everywhere and the Scottish Government is keen to develop water source heat pump technology.
At the moment, this is rare and tends to be used on a larger scale in commercial markets. I’m at the other end of the spectrum. We’ve been heating our house for about 12 years using a small stream at the bottom of our garden. I’ve been working on honing my design for three years – there are a few remaining niggles but we’re almost at the stage of having a minimum viable product.
It hasn’t been a quick process – but I like to think I’m the tortoise that will win in the end!
What market are you are targeting?
The domestic housing and light commercial market that’s relatively close to a water course, be it a loch, river or stream. There are hundreds of thousands of homes that are close enough to be viable in Scotland, so this is my beachhead market.
What is your own background and the background of any co-founders?
I started off as an electrical engineer in the military, working on military video systems. I then worked as a systems engineer for large companies. It was a bit like the engineering version of being a GP!
I got into renewables around 2005 when I became an energy efficiency and renewables adviser for a quango. I met lots of people who wanted heat pumps but needed plumbers and project managers to do so. So I started running a business with a friend, fitting off-the-shelf heat pumps.
I currently work two days a week as technical manager for a refrigeration company. The rest of the time I work on my business servicing and installing heat pumps, reinvesting the money I earn into my invention. I work out of my garage – it’s cramped to say the least!
Tell us about how the technology/product works?
If you want to extract energy from anything, no matter how cold it is, you just have to put a pipe in it that’s colder than the environment. Energy will always run to the coldest point.
The energy from the environment goes into the pipework and heats it up a few degrees. This is then amplified by the heat pump – it’s a fridge in reverse.
What plans do you have for expansion?
I’m either going to pitch direct to customers or sell to installers who will market it to their customer base.
What’s your ultimate goal?
To have my product covered by a patent – hopefully by next year. It would be nice to sell it on and develop a business that deals with heat recovery more widely. I have no intention of retiring, anyway – working helps you stay sharp!
Have you hit any recent milestones?
The goal I’m currently focussed on is getting the patent and a minimum viable product. ClimateLaunchpad is an important step along the way.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
I’m an engineer so I feel comfortable developing tech. But I’m not as confident about sales and marketing. So for me, the hardest thing is the bridge between having a product and having a market.
ClimateLaunchpad has really opened my eyes to the value of my product and to marketing strategies for getting it out there. It helps you take that first step, and gain momentum.
What is your greatest achievement?
I went to tech college in the 80s. Never having gone to university, a few years ago I decided to do an MSc on sustainable energy technology and gained a distinction. I was pretty proud of that!
Your views on Scotland and Edinburgh’s sustainability scene?
I think Scotland leads the way in Britain when it comes to supporting entrepreneurs. There’s a definite gap where you’ve got a product that’s viable and you need support to find that way in and get recognised. We’re great at providing that help up here.
I’ve also always been hugely impressed with ECCI – it’s a really exciting organisation.
What role did the support offered to you by ECCI/CLP play in your success?
ClimateLaunchpad opened my eyes to the fact that I have got something that could be viable. The initial bootcamp workshop encouraged us think it all through and genuinely probe what our product or service was and what the market was for it.
I’m really looking forward to being able to watch and learn from the other pitches at the Global Grand Final, as well as enjoy their enthusiasm!
What does it mean to you to be taking part in ClimateLaunchpad as one of the Scottish finalists?
I’m very honoured and excited!
What are you looking forward to most about it?
The buzz. It’s going to be a really interesting and exciting couple of days.
What are you looking forward to least about it?
Losing! Only joking. There’s nothing I’m not looking forward to – it’s going to be great!
How do you relax?
I never relax! I’m not good at it. I tend to do DIY – we are restoring our 1860s flat so that keeps me busy.
Find out more about the ClimateLaunchpad Global Grand Final, hosted by ECCI at the University of Edinburgh's McEwan Hall on Thursday 1 and Friday 2 November 2018.