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UK leads Europe in net zero venture capital investment

With the UK leading venture capital investment in net zero enterprises, Tech Nation have launched a new, government-backed scaleup programme to further develop the sector

The UK is leading Europe for venture capital (VC) investment into net zero technology companies working to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, according to research.

Conducted by industry body Tech Nation, the research found that net zero companies had received £336m in 2019, a 28% increase on the previous year, while French and German net zero firms secured £216m and £283m respectively.

Tech Nation also found that the UK leads Europe for the total number of net zero companies, with 323 compared to France’s 207 and Germany’s 150.

While most companies (37%) are at an early stage of growth – “showing an impressive pipeline”, according to the accompanying report – a significant proportion (26%) are late stage, highlighting “the immense growth already in progress to meet emission targets”.

To support and accelerate the growth of “pioneering sustainable tech companies”, Tech Nation has also developed a Net Zero scaleup programme with the backing of government, which has taken on a cohort of 30 companies that it believes could help the UK reach its goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This includes companies that are building electric vehicle infrastructure and services (Elmo and Connected Kerb); creating vertical farms and animal-free dairy products (LettUs Grow and Better Dairy); measuring environmental footprints (Earthly and Ecologi); and improving manufacturing and recycling supply chains (Circulor).

“Scaling such businesses can be hard, which is why we are delighted to launch a new programme focused on businesses at this stage of growth from all over the UK, especially given the impact they will have on climate change and their drive towards a net zero economy,” said Tech Nation’s chief executive Gerard Grech.

In addition to the 30 companies, four additional ‘fellows’, which will be made up of later stage net zero firms, will also join the programme to add their learning and experience of scaling in the sector.

The fellows include applied maritime technology firm Artemis Technologies, waste management firm Greyparrot, surplus food distribution service Olio, and intelligent construction firm Project Etopia.

“More than ever, the world needs businesses that are focused on solving the problems of the 99%, not the 1%,” said Tessa Clarke, co-founder and CEO at Olio.

“With regards to the climate crisis in particular, we really don’t have much time left, and so joining net zero will really help accelerate our collective impact through championing the innovator upstarts that are prepared to call out the status quo and build something better.”

In total, the programme received 149 applications, and is being supported through a partnership with banking giant BNP Paribas.

“Supporting net sero in the UK requires collective mobilisation, and clean tech solutions are a vital part of accelerating the energy transition. As a bank supporting the transition to a low carbon economy, we have a responsibility to connect our ecosystem of clients and the innovative startups at the forefront of developing technologies that tackle environmental challenges,” said Anne Marie Verstraeten, UK country head at BNP Paribas.

“This partnership with Tech Nation highlights the power of coalitions that is essential to scaling up climate action and creating a fairer, greener and more resilient world.”

In March 2020, however, a group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) led by Rainforest Action Network, published the Banking on Climate Change 2020 report, which found that 35 private sector banks have provided $2.7tn for fossil fuel projects in the four years since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016.

“BNP Paribas was the biggest European fossil bank in 2019, despite its policy on unconventional oil and gas financing, and along with Santander and CIBC saw the biggest percentage increase in its fossil financing from 2018-2019,” it said, adding that this “shows how far the bank is from aligning with a stable climate”.

In response to the report, BNP Paribas said: “It is important to note that the group’s total financing to the oil and gas sector has remained stable since 2016, while our exposure to renewable energies has doubled over the same period.”

It added that “BNP Paribas is one of only two banks amongst the world’s 10 largest to have announced coal exit deadlines”, and that the report does highlight “the commitments made over the long term by BNP Paribas to reduce the use of fossil fuels”.

Cohort round-up

The rest of the Tech Nation cohort by is made up of:

Airex, London – buildings

Airex has a mission to end fuel poverty. Aiming to reduce home energy consumption, Airex is an internet of things-enabled (IoT-enabled) smart ventilation control that helps reduce heat demand in homes, while managing indoor air quality.

The system’s in-built smart sensors monitor and analyse environmental conditions, while its cloud-based algorithms automatically regulate air flow. Airex is approved by UK energy regulator Ofgem to be adopted under the ECO (Energy Company Obligation) scheme.

Antonym, Leeds, Yorkshire – electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem

The road freight market is worth £2.5tn, but it’s a big culprit when it comes to carbon emissions. Antonym is tackling the issue with smarter, safer, cleaner and greener logistics. Using proprietary in-house EV technology and advanced manufacturing techniques such as metal 3D printing, Antonym offers a bolt-in plug and play solution to electrify existing diesel trucks to make them electric, zero-emission and noiseless.

Boxergy, Edinburgh, Scotland – energy and electricity

The best way to drive adoption of clean energy is to lower the cost. Boxergy’s mission is to provide home energy cheaper, greener and smarter by selling it, and the hardware required, as a service.

Its Hero platform brings together existing low carbon technologies to maximise efficiency and integrates them with Boxergy’s smart tariff. This allows customers to buy energy when it’s cheap and green, and use it when they want.

CupClub, London – waste management and circularity

CupClub is a platform for brands and retailers to manage and track consumer reusable packaging for the food and beverage industry. On a mission to reduce single-use plastics from circulation, CupClub enables customers to halve CO2 consumption by switching to reusable packaging. CupClub manages its end-to-end reuse system by charging customers a flat per-order fee to collect, sanitise and redistribute their packaging.

Electron, London – energy and electricity

Current top-down energy management tools are unable to accommodate increasing renewable energy generation or distributed energy assets on the grid, resulting in costlier grid constraints and missed opportunities for consumers to use zero carbon power.

Electron is creating a next-generation market platform for low-carbon electricity systems and networks. It enables multiple market operators to interact with thousands of distributed energy resources and create incentives to use renewable generation and network capacity more efficiently.

Ember Core, Edinburgh, Scotland – EV ecosystem

Ember is the world’s first 100% electric intercity bus operator and is building its own ultra rapid charging network. Ember’s mission is to make a zero-carbon, zero-traffic world a reality.

Its tech-led approach delivers an integrated platform for managing vehicles, chargers, routes and drivers, allowing them to operate EVs at a higher utilisation than anyone else. Ember’s technology improves the passenger experience, supporting a modal shift away from cars and improving social inclusion.

Enso Tyres, London – EV ecosystem

Tyres are the automotive industry’s big dirty secret, contributing enormously to carbon-emissions, air pollution and micro-plastic pollution.

Despite electric vehicles (EVs) accelerating towards a carbon-neutral future, tyres have thus far been neglected. EVs are heavier and have higher torque, wearing tyres faster and creating more harmful tyre pollution than normal cars. Enso addresses this problem by developing more efficient, durable and sustainable tyres for EVs.

Giki Social Enterprise, London – environmental footprinting

The average UK carbon footprint is 9 tonnes per person per year. To help people live more sustainably, Giki’s mobile app enables people to find more sustainable and healthy products in UK supermarkets.

Giki Zero is an interactive, step-by-step guide to a sustainable life, which helps people to understand, track and reduce their environmental footprint, drive change through their own actions and set their own personal path towards net zero.

Hark, Leeds, Yorkshire – energy and electricity

How businesses and big buildings consume energy needs to change if we’re going to hit net zero in 2050. Hark is tackling this issue by helping enterprises increase efficiency, maximise yield and reduce waste.

Hark provides energy analytics and industrial IoT for enterprises, allowing energy managers and asset operators to easily connect to, monitor and control their buildings, energy meters and industrial process assets.

Lixea, London – waste management and circularity

Tackling the issue of unsustainable materials, Lixea’s BioFlex process takes any type of woody biomass that normally would be unrecyclable and separates the components to make them usable by converting them to products, such as high-quality fine and bulk chemicals, bioplastics, renewable fibres and biofuels once again. It does this by using low-cost, environmentally friendly solvents, called liquid salts or ionic liquids.

Naked Energy, London – energy and electricity

Naked Energy is redefining solar energy solutions and tackling the global challenge of decarbonising heating and cooling. Its product Virtu is 44% more efficient than existing solutions and takes up 40% less space. Virtu combines solar heat and power, saves the customer money and saves the planet – all within a single elegant product that is easy to install and maintain.

Petalite, Birmingham, Midlands – EV ecosystem

Petalite wants to reinvent the electric vehicle industry by creating a charging technology that’s cost-efficient and more reliable. Its patented SDC charging technology lowers charger costs, increases reliability and lengthens lifetime – all while keeping similar efficiency to existing competition. Petalite’s goal is to be a key player in the adoption of electric vehicles over the next five years.

Pivot Energy, Poole, South West – buildings

Pivot has created a living building energy model designed to attract more development for eco-friendly houses in the UK’s social housing sector. The platform uses machine learning and AI to generate an energy efficiency projection that is 90% + accurate. Once a project is designed, Pivot’s industry-leading performance insurance guarantees the results, de-risking investment decisions.

Reath, Edinburgh, Scotland – waste management and circularity

The true extent of the environmental and climatic impact of our throwaway culture is becoming worryingly clear. Reath enables businesses to break the pattern and transition away from single-use material by applying track-and-trace technology to solve the data problems inherent in reuse models. It is currently developing the world’s first global open data standard for reusable packaging.

Route Konnect, Cardiff, Wales – smart cities

Route Konnect makes traffic more predictable and more eco-friendly by making smarter junctions and predicting the amount of vehicles and people. By using real-time automated insights from its combined camera and LiDAR traffic sensors, it’s able to produce a dashboard giving the ability to see the road network at any time during the day, enabling people to make smarter choices that avoids traffic jams and causes unnecessary pollution and burning of fossil fuels.

Sero, Cardiff, Wales – buildings

Changing the focus of the housing industry to decarbonisation, Sero supports housing providers and their residents to reach net zero by sitting at the intersection of home comfort, construction and energy.

Sero develops homes that complement changing energy systems using their energy platform, expertise, optimised design, construction and the new commissioning process of new and existing homes. This saves residents money, effort and it’s more planet-friendly.

Small Robot Company, Salisbury, South West – agriculture and food systems

Small Robot Company is reimagining farming to make food production sustainable. By using robotics and artificial intelligence to maximise the yield from crops, it offers a brand new model for sustainable, efficient and profitable farming called Per Plant Farming. It involves farmbots individually caring and farming each plant. This increases yields, soil quality, biodiversity, and reduces carbon emissions and chemicals by up to 90%.

Spark EV Technology, Cambridge, East of England – EV ecosystem

Spark EV Technology develops and supplies personalised journey prediction and map display software for electric vehicles of all sizes. By combining data (such as vehicle size, driver experience, weather predictions) with machine learning algorithms, it significantly improves journey prediction accuracy compared to existing vehicle systems. Its goals is to accelerate EV adoption by providing its automotive customers a trusted on board system to remove range and time anxiety for drivers.

Surple, Newport, Wales – energy and electricity

Surple helps businesses make smarter energy decisions through their energy management software. It pulls data from buildings into its cloud-based software, which runs analytics to provide actionable insights to its users, helping them to reduce energy use, carbon emissions and ultimately their costs. Businesses in the UK have an opportunity to collectively save £6bn through energy efficiency and Surple is making this process easier to manage.

Tepeo, Maidenhead, South East – energy and electricity

Tepeo tackles the UK’s biggest challenge to achieving it’s net zero target: rapid and low cost decarbonisation of domestic heating. Their product combines electric resistive heating with ultra-high density dry core thermal storage (40kWh) to deliver the performance of a fossil fuel boiler without the associated emissions. In parallel, the enormous amount of flexibility it provides supports self-consumption of renewables and supports balancing of the electricity grid.

Topolytics, Edinburgh, Scotland – waste management and circularity

Topolytics analyses waste at scale and generates invaluable insights for the recycling industry and waste management sector, preventing more materials from ending up in landfills or seeping out into nature. By using data science, it makes the world’s waste visible, verifiable and valuable. Analysing data on commercial, industrial and post-consumer waste from multiple sources and systems, it uses machine learning and mapping to make sense of this complex combination of materials.

Wondrwall, Manchester, North West – buildings

Creating intelligent homes for a sustainable future, Wondrwall is a technology company dedicated to changing the way we live and how we use energy. Combining intelligent AI-powered home automation with clean energy production and super efficient heating systems, Wondrwall helps the world’s homes save money, time and the environment.

Zeigo, London – energy and electricity

Zeigo uses machine learning to reduce the complexity surrounding renewable energy procurement, making it easier for corporations, renewable energy developers and suppliers to switch to, or offer, renewable energy solutions.

It’s a one-stop-shop for stakeholders to transition to clean energy through power purchase agreements (PPAs) and short-term contracts. Zeigo uses data insights to increase market transparency.

Read more about tech initiatives

  • Entrepreneurial network Tech Nation has announced its Upscale 5.0 cohort as the UK scaleup ecosystem continues to grow.
  • Lorca innovation programme has launched an open call for its next cohort of cyber security scaleups, with a timely focus on coronavirus challenges
  • The government-backed London Office for Rapid Cybersecurity Advancement (Lorca) has announced its fifth cohort of cyber security scaleups, with 18% led by women, and another 18% led by people from a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) background.

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