Archive for ‘Responsible and inclusive entrepreneurship’
‘Being successful is having a good enterprise and being a good entrepreneur’ – The Rotterdam Business Case
Entrepreneurs are ambitious, daring and think outside of the box to help advance and innovate our daily lives. Yet who helps them when they are in difficulty? Who gives them a second chance or the advice they need to be successful? The Category 6 (Responsible and Inclusive entrepreneurship) winner of the European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA), is a project that does just that. Today’s interview with Rob Gringhuis, one of the project partners, gives insight into this cutting edge project that is helping innovative individuals through challenging times.
How did you first hear about the national competition and why did you decide to enter?
We first heard about EEPA when one partner got an email from the university of applied sciences in Rotterdam who had seen the EEPA announcement from our national economic ministry. Once we started looking into it we thought that we had a lot to offer with our project and were enthusiastic about showing people what we are doing. We had already been asked by the ministry of social affairs to present our project to other cities and regions in the Netherlands, so we saw this as a chance to take that to a European level. Our project is on the cutting edge of economic and social problems by providing entrepreneurial support, as entrepreneurs often become dependent on welfare and can cause societal difficulties. We were also curious about where our project stood on a national level and how we compared to other initiatives across the Netherlands.
How did you go about preparing your application?
Our national coordinator was very helpful and shared important advice with us during the application stage. We actually entered in 2015 but were unsuccessful, so 2016 gave us a chance to improve our original application and demonstrate the progress we had made in one year. Our 2016 application included more results which had since been expanded outside of Rotterdam and across the Netherlands.
What was it like to win the award and what kind of response did you receive?
Winning the award was fantastic! When we first saw our competitors in our category there was a familiar project there, the Swedish nominee Entrepreneurial West Hisingen. We already knew about each other because we lost to them in a previous eurocities competition, so we knew that they were an appealing and tough project to beat.
During the awards ceremony, we realised that there were only three projects announced in our category and that the Swedish project was no longer there, which made us feel a little more hopeful about winning. We were confident that we had shown the Jury the effect our project had on entrepreneurs, and also its potential for scaling up on a national level. When we were announced as the winners it was a big acknowledgment of our hard work and made us think about our project on a European level.
Before EEPA we were already developing our international expansion, but winning EEPA has certainly helped accelerate that process. We were congratulated by the EEPA team and also by previous Dutch winners from 2015, who we met not that long ago.
How did winning the award immediately impact your work?
We have had the Rotterdam business case since 2013, and have since started a foundation to help other cities. We are also in conversation with other regions to see if we can help them to do the same. All of this was already under way before the EEPA win but we now have an ‘approval stamp’ on our project which has helped us accelerate our processes, made it easier for others start their own business cases and also helped our partners put proposals forward faster. The win has been a tremendous push forward and as well as boosting enthusiasm also resulted in a lot of congratulations from our peers.
Ultimately this could also attract the interest of other cities and help us with our international vision. We are already in talks with Finland and may be looking at expanding to Bulgaria, so hopefully the EEPA quality stamp will help these developments.
Can you already see a long-term impact or do you have any expectations?
This is now a strategic question for us, how do we go forward from here? We have been asked to go to seminars and tell our story, and the foundation that we started is helping other cities and helping with scaling up of existing cases. In the long term we would like to push the project forward on a European platform, maybe in 1-2 years time we will be able to have European level business cases, but this is ambitious and would require European partners. As our foundation board is entirely made up of volunteers the problem is not enthusiasm or ambition, it is time and money, but hopefully through our research programme which interviews entrepreneurs over the years to analyse the effectiveness of the project methods, we will continue to improve and grow.
Why should others enter EEPA 2017? What advice would you give them?
Entering the national competition forces you to step outside of your project and learn how to: market it, develop a pitch and most of all make it interesting and inspirational for others. Inspiration is a very important part of EEPA work, it is what makes a project stand out. Aside from that, you should enter because it is fun! The whole process requires a lot of work and you need to invest the necessary time, but once that part is done you can really enjoy the experience of being in the competition.
What are your plans for the future?
Our vision is a global one, meaning that we want to expand on an international scale. The project is here to assist entrepreneurs that are almost failing and so far around 50% of those who have been helped have recovered and become successful. Being successful is having a good enterprise and being a good entrepreneur, and currently there is a very large group of hard working entrepreneurs in Europe that just need help, which is why we want to expand the project, so that we can provide that necessary support. The goal is to make success a possibility for as many entrepreneurs as possible. The current target in the Netherlands is to assist 1 000 entrepreneurs a year, now we want to turn that into helping 10 000 entrepreneurs across Europe every year.
The SME Assembly 2016 may be over, but the conversation continues! Today is an opportunity for us to present to you the European Enterprise Promotion Awards winners from the 2016 edition. You met them here on the blog when they were shortlisted, but here is an overview of the projects that came out on top…
The Category 1- Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit, the winner was Lyon Ville de l’Entrepreneuriat (Lyon City of Entrepreneurship) from France. This initiative is a network of 46 organisations and 200 experts from across the region, working to promote the entrepreneurial spirit more widely, increase the number of businesses created and improve the robustness of new businesses. Each year, the network provides support to between 10,000 and 12,000 businesses and entrepreneurs, with 17 “access points” providing assistance, information and guidance. Experts provide support on the creation, takeover and handover of businesses and on aspects including how to grow or fund a business, start up and training.
In Category 2 – Investing in Entrepreneurial Skills, the prize went to Enterprise Educators Academe from the United Kingdom. This project has created the world’s first internal, accredited, enterprise educator training programme. The training and support of over 600 staff of all disciplines to embed enterprise skills across the university curriculum has been at the heart of the programme. In the first two years alone 21 000 students were reached and over 2 000 freelance businesses created. Business and public sector projects projects benefited from student support resulting in an economic impact valued at over EUR 4.4 million (GBP £4 million).
In Category 3 – Improving the Business Environment, the category winner was Portuguese project Leader SME programme. This entry annually rewards SMEs with the best financial performance and risk levels, as viewed by IAPMEI and Turismo de Portugal. The award offers public recognition of their successful growth strategies and competitive leadership, and winners benefit from more favourable conditions for accessing finance and other specialised business management support. In just eight years, the number of companies recognised has more than doubled from around 3 000 in 2008 to approximately 7 300 in 2015!
In Category 4 – Supporting the Internationalisation of Business, it was Human Security Finland that came away the winner. This entry is a national international development and crisis management business network. It assists with the building of partnerships between Finnish companies and experts aimed at assisting developing countries and crisis-hit regions with solutions to support sustainable development. The network combines business, education and research for human security. 100 organisations are now involved in the concept known as ‘crisis business’, which is based on commercialising human security expertise.
In Category 5 – Supporting the Development of Green Markets and Resource Efficiency, the Lime Trees & Honey Bees for Sustainable Development of the Danube Microregion project from Serbia took the category prize. It strengthens the competitiveness of beekeeping in the Fruška Gora region and motivates young people to start beekeeping businesses. The project aims to increase the market share of Fruška Gora lime honey by investing in human resources and skills development, improved knowledge through scientific research, education and the introduction of new technologies. In addition, it ran a high-profile promotional campaign to raise public interest and created a marketing plan that changed the ad hoc approach of 8 beekeeper associations to a value-added, branded product, with export potential.
In Category 6 – Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, Dutch project The Rotterdam Business Case (De Rotterdamse Zaak), a work training company where students in higher vocational education and experienced business coaches help support entrepreneurs to improve their business practices and entrepreneurial skills, was the Jury’s winning choice. The project focuses on entrepreneurs who operate below the poverty line and are not financially able to find a solution to their problems. More than 600 entrepreneurs have already been helped through the combined efforts of experienced senior coaches, who act as a sounding board for entrepreneurs, and junior coaches who offer more practical support.
Finally, the Grand Jury Prize, which commends the entry that the Jury considers to be ‘the most creative and inspiring entrepreneurship initiative in Europe’, was awarded to Entrepreneurial West Hisingen from Sweden! Originally a competitor in Category 6 – Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, this project supports the city district’s reputation as a hub of opportunities and entrepreneurship. It covers three projects: Entrepreneurship in education, Start your business, and Develop your business, which provide different styles of support to various groups ranging from schoolchildren, all the way to seasoned business people.
We have arrived at the end of the European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA) shortlist showcase!
Today we present the national winners from Category 6 – Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship. These projects come from all over Europe and represent: Croatia, Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden. They have been nominated for their recognition of national, regional or local initiatives by authorities or public/private partnerships that promote corporate social responsibility among SMEs. This category also covers projects that promote entrepreneurship among disadvantaged groups such as the unemployed, especially long term unemployed, legal migrants, disabled or people from ethnic minorities.
An Enterprising and Responsible City Zagreb in Croatia, seeks to develop a socially responsible ecosystem that promotes inclusive entrepreneurship by empowering: the long-term unemployed, veterans, and other vulnerable groups to take up entrepreneurship, and to facilitate co-financing of their entrepreneurial projects. Since the project was launched in 2005, 508 subsidies have been granted totalling €1,630,295 and 492 businesses launched. The Public Works for Unemployed Croatian Veterans and the Unemployed Citizens of Zagreb programme resulted in 2 in 3 of the 3,445 participants finding jobs. The project was recognised by the EUROCITIES network as among the 12 best examples of European practice in promoting social inclusion through green jobs. Watch their video for more!
The Grossbeerenstrasse Corporate Network (NG) in Germany, consists of 60 companies with 1,500 employees and 120 trainees. Alarmed by an increase in right-wing extremism in Berlin’s Grossbeerenstrasse commercial zone, they identified a need for increased social awareness and action to defend diversity, tolerance and non-violence. As a result, in 2013 member companies launched the initiative: Courageous Network: Against Xenophobia and Discrimination! (Netzwerk mit Courage), to raise public awareness and create active networks. The scheme provides training for managing directors, HR managers, trainers and apprentices on the topic of ‘diversity in practice’ and works with schools. It also supports the integration of displaced people by providing internships and around 500 people are currently involved in NG’s various activities. Find out more from their video!
The Rotterdam Business Case (De Rotterdamse Zaak) from the Netherlands is a work training company where students in higher vocational education and experienced business coaches help support entrepreneurs to improve their business practices and entrepreneurial skills. The project focuses on entrepreneurs who operate below the poverty line and are not financially able to find a solution to their problems. More than 600 entrepreneurs have already been helped through the combined efforts of experienced senior coaches, who act as a sounding board for entrepreneurs, and junior coaches who offer more practical support. Watch their video here!
Entrepreneurial West Hisingen from Sweden is an initiative that supports the city district’s reputation as a hub of opportunities and entrepreneurship. It covers three projects:
1) Entrepreneurship in education, in which 20,000 pupils pitched ideas, wrote, designed, published, marketed and sold their own books, at the largest book fair for children in Sweden. 2) Start your business, a joint venture with the University of Gothenburg and the Red Cross to pilot a start-up course for newly arrived refugees with a business background in their home country. 3) Develop your business, a training programme covering areas including online marketing, sales and trade, business negotiations, branding, etc. Watch this video to learn more!
With only two weeks to go before the assembly be sure to read up on all the national winners competing for the 2016 EEPA titles!
Have a look at the previous categories here:
- Category 1: Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit,
- Category 2: Investing in Entrepreneurial Skills,
- Category 3: Improving the Business Environment,
- Category 4: Supporting the Internationalisation of Business,
- Category 5: Supporting the Development of Green Markets and Resource Efficiency
2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA). In this new feature, we catch up with former EEPA honourees who’ve gone on to do great things since winning the award.
This week, Manfred Radermacher from the award-winning Enterability project in Germany reflects on the impact of winning an EEPA one year on…
Manfred Radermacher, Social Impact GmbH IFD- Selbstständigkeit
|Organisation||Social Impact GmbH IFD- Selbstständigkeit|
|Award won||Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship|
What was it like to win the award?
We were very surprised and very happy. Before the award ceremony, we were unsure that we would win as we didn’t think the jury would understand what we do. Often people don’t understand the core of what we do, they only see the surface and think it’s easy as pie. But we were sure that we would have a good chance if the jury understood our work. During the ceremony, we were convinced that the Dutch delegation would win. No one was more surprised than we were to have won the prize.
How did winning the award immediately impact your work?
A direct effect or immediate impact didn’t happen at first. The media response in Germany was nil. Unfortunately, all press statements and official texts were in English only. For some of our contacts, especially those that are important for the project, many of whom are in the regions in offices and agencies, job centres and employment agencies, regional business organisations and disability organisations, etc. they don’t speak English. It’s a prerequisite that you address them in German if you want to achieve anything.
What response did you receive from your colleagues and peers?
Our direct colleagues and our founders were very happy. We celebrated together and were very proud. Some of our other colleagues also rejoiced with us, even if they were a little jealous:)
What has been the long-term impact?
There are two main long-term effects:
1) Our reputation among our supporters has solidified. This has improved our position in negotiations when it comes to survival and the scale of our funding.
2) Our reputation within the sector has increased. This is also important when it comes to resources.
Why did you decide to enter the national competition?
This might sound arrogant, but it’s honest: We entered because we wanted to win! And we wanted to win because:
1) We were convinced that we helped a lot of people with disabilities. What we do is really innovative and could, if imitated, help many disabled people in Europe. We wanted as many people as possible to get to know our work because that would help to change the image of people with disabilities. And we believed we could do that if we win.
2) The award helped us – and still does – in negotiations with funders for support and resources. This has been really helpful, so entering to win was our goal.
What advice would you give to others thinking of entering?
Focus on the essentials. Ask yourself: “What is the core of what we do?” and explain it simply but precisely with detailed justifications. Describe the positive impact of your work.
To find out more about Enterability, visit the website at www.enterability.de.
In this week’s post from our June Entrepreneur in Residence, Kenny Ewan of WeFarm delivers a TEDx Talk about providing the benefits of the Internet to the 500 million small-scale farmers around the world with no Internet access.
Each month on the Promoting Enterprise blog, an Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) will give us an insight into their entrepreneurial journey. This month’s entrepreneur is Nathan Farrugia from Malta. His company, Ultimate Performance, works with CEOs, leaders and business owners who are seeking to take their performance to a higher level in business and in life. Watch his TEDx talk here.
© Samuel Rondot
At the end of 2014, I quit my CEO role at Inspire, Malta’s leading non-profit education and health provider, and set up my coaching business in January 2015. Since then, it’s been an interesting journey of metamorphosis for me personally, building up something from scratch while delivering services to my clients through my coaching services and the Ultimate Performance, UP Executive Academy.
I spend about half of my time working one-to-one with Chief Executives and Managing Directors who want to challenge their personal and business limits and reach new heights. Often, this revolves around growing or scaling their business, developing strong leadership or a positive and empowering culture. Sometimes, it’s helping them find the internal strength to carry out an exit plan. Everyone is different, but we are all the same. We are wired to be cautious, cynical and suspicious of our own ability. This holds us back and keeps us from achieving great things. My job is to help unlock this potential by asking the right questions and helping to uncover the answers from within.
I’ve been through this growth process myself, as it took a lot of courage to quit a well-paying job with great work-life balance to venture out solo. I grew that courage with learnt techniques, which I now share with my clients. Learning how to build confidence, take risks and prepare for adversity has made me very resilient. I’ve taken on a number of extreme physical and mental challenges for charitable causes, running, swimming and cycling some of the world’s toughest races to help raise funds for charity. These challenges have also helped me develop my character and ability to feel comfortable in extreme discomfort.
For me, the journey is more important than the goal. My journey is one of self discovery and personal growth, as much as it’s about growing a business from a financial perspective.
My mind is currently focussed on developing a scalable model for my coaching business and taking it international. The challenge is always staying true to what you believe in, and being persistent to stay on the right path. Often, opportunities can take you in the wrong direction if all you are chasing is a goal. For me, the journey is more important than the goal. My journey is one of self discovery and personal growth, as much as it’s about growing a business from a financial perspective.
Chairing and running the Academy for Chief Executives franchise in Malta is helping our country’s leaders to develop themselves through peer-to-peer learning and sharing best practice. This is a great space for leadership inspiration and we want to increase our membership.
I also want to spend time in the various foundations I run, including Empower Coop and the Lino Spiteri Foundation, which are creating jobs for disabled persons. Our model is making a difference and we want to spread the word to encourage other countries to follow suit. The recent TEDx talk in The Hague generated some interest, alongside our I AM ABLE media campaign.
In addition to all this, I’m also chairman of the the Paralympic Movement in Malta and we’re gearing up for the Rio 2016 Olympics this summer. We’re a small team but it’s a great feeling to carry our national flag. I chair the Malta Voluntary Sector, which supports the 1000+ NGOs in Malta, and we’re very busy providing training programmes, funding and mentoring to the extremely active sector. Malta has a rich volunteering scene and we’re responsible for its upkeep.
Finally, we’ve just organised Xterra Malta, an annual international triathlon race, which I co-founded, that sees 200 people from 20 countries race in our beautiful Majjistral Nature Reserve. It’s a mecca for mountain bikers and sports enthusiasts and I’m very proud of our national heritage.
So I’m pretty busy at the moment, but I manage to balance this well with my wife and two young daughters, and I also make time for my own personal learning, my sport and my social life.
To keep up with Nathan, and find out what’s next for him on his entrepreneurial journey, don’t miss the second instalment of his blog here next Wednesday.
Nathan Farrugia is an entrepreneur. He attributes much of his success to a mindset that challenges the impossible and takes every obstacle as an opportunity to find new solutions to old problems. He has used this mindset to break world record endurance challenges, as well as to grow successful enterprises. He now spends most of his time coaching CEOs and business leaders on how to unlock their own performance potential as part of the UP Academy. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter.
Please, introduce Watly (and yourself) and the vision with which it was founded.
My name is Marco A. Attisani, and I am the founder and CEO of Watly. We intend to provide solutions to some of the most fundamental and global human needs: access to clean water and sanitation, as well as free-energy and connectivity. Our mission is to improve global living standards for the most in-need people in the world.
For that reason, we are building the first thermodynamic computer in the world, Watly. Watly is also a water purification system and an electric power-station. It generates electricity off-grid to power its own internal electronics as well as thousands of external devices. It purifies water from any source of contamination, without the use of filters. Watly is exclusively powered by solar energy.
In what ways has Watly benefited from participating in professional organisations, incubators, and the like?
During the 3 years of our company’s history, we have been selected as the top start-up in different international competitions and European accelerators. We have been awarded multiple times with valuable nominations as well as with monetary prizes. I wish to name the most relevant programmes we have been a part of that actually added value to our start-up: European Pioneers and Premio Marzotto.
How would you characterise the environment for pursuing R&D in the EU?
The problem I see with EU R&D sponsors is that they are far from being as visionary and bold as their US counterparts. R&D in Europe lacks not only serious money but also an attitude towards innovation. In Europe, we lack the vision and courage to build something really unexpected and revolutionary. The Horizon 2020 program is an exception to this, but that is not good news for R&D because Horizon 2020 cannot possibly cover all R&D investment needs.
Has Watly been able to leverage EU funding?
The Horizon 2020 program is said to help the EU’s most innovative SMEs to turn their concepts and prototypes into commercially successful products. Well, I would say that this was absolutely the case for us!
Watly is one of the companies to have benefited from this great financial instrument. In September 2016, we will officially present our ultimate version of Watly, the first thermodynamic computer in the world. This will be possible only because of the SME Instrument and nothing else. We have an ambitious plan, and we really think we will go IPO in less than 8 years from now. On that day, when big investors will finally be on board and satisfied customers spread all over the planet, we will certainly remember that our first and most prestigious investor was indeed the EU. We owe Horizon 2020 a great company success, and in due course, we will deliver beyond expectations.
What results, products, or successes would you like to point out?
It is quite clear that we are addressing one of the greatest challenges of humanity but also one of the biggest business opportunities of the 21st century. There is an enormous market for those entrepreneurs and investors willing to take a step forward.
Our feasibility study leads us to a straightforward conclusion: we are among the pioneers and very few first movers of the 4th industrial revolution. For this very reason, we may also soon become the leaders of this market. Thanks to Horizon 2020 we will prove the viability of our product by September 2016.
Very soon 1 in 3 people in the world will have a disease. The health costs for governments to sustain this will quickly become impossible.
It is thus becoming blindingly apparent that the current system is not sustainable and a new approach to disease is needed to help billions of people live longer and happier lives with the prevention of illness.
This is what ultimately inspires me. I created Nuritas™ to make a difference in the lives of billions of people and to shift the outlook of current global health systems.
Nuritas™ is the first company in the world to use new technologies like artificial intelligence and DNA analysis to find and develop natural, sustainable, and affordable disease-beating molecules that have no damaging side-effects. These ingredients are able to be included in many different products, from personal care to food, to help people prevent illness.
My journey to the creation of Nuritas™ began in Mathematics and evolved into a PhD in Molecular Evolution and Bioinformatics, followed by post-doctoral work in the food area.
The most significant information that I took from my research career was that the food and health systems have to be rethought. Within all of my research and collaborations with industry, I began to understand that the key to reducing and preventing disease begins and ends with food and the best way to uncover what was really in food was looking at the data within to see what food is fully capable of. And that’s exactly what we do at Nuritas™. We are able to unlock disease-beating molecules, called peptides, within food that have life-changing effects such as reducing inflammation, reducing muscle loss and regulating blood glucose. These health issues are what billions of people are dealing with and a simple revaluation of the health system, such as what Nuritas™ is envisioning, will help these people live healthier lives.
I am extremely excited to present at TEDx Binnenhof on March 31st alongside the most innovative companies in Europe. I think we are all helping billions of people in so many ways and these incredible ideas presented on the TEDx stage are truly inspiring.
I hope that what we are doing here at Nuritas™ inspires others to join us in the journey with collaborative work and partnerships. We look forward to meeting you all there and changing the world together!
We are living in an age where we have gained incredible opportunities from technology, and especially the decentralization of knowledge that the internet has brought us, yet sadly not everyone shares this privilege.
We came up with the idea for WeFarm after spending years working with smallholder farmers and indigenous communities in Latin America and Africa. Every day, I would see farmers come up with low-cost, innovative solutions to their problems, but these ideas wouldn’t travel very far.
As the majority of smallholder farmers live in remote areas without internet access it is challenging for people to share and access vital information easily. Simple pieces of advice or information can make a big difference, such as saving animals from disease or improving harvest yields. When you keep only a few animals and earn less than $2 a day this can make a major impact in people’s lives.
We wanted to design an easy way for smallholder farmers to share information, and in the process, challenge the idea that people living in poverty need only top down advice, and aren’t capable of participating in the crowdsourcing models we have come to rely on in the West.
Using WeFarm, the world’s’ 500 million small-scale farmers can access this type of information, even without access to the internet. With WeFarm, small-scale farmers can ask questions about agriculture and receive answers back from fellow farmers around the world, in a matter of minutes. I’ve seen farmers learn about growing new crops, find solutions to their problems and even research how to start a microbusiness.
The guiding principle behind my business is very simple: if farmers can gain access to information that will improve their farming practice, they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
2015 was an incredible year for us. WeFarm launched successfully in Kenya, Uganda and Peru and we quickly scaled to reaching more than 50,000 farmers. Even more exciting than that, farmers love using WeFarm! Every month we process more than 100,000 SMS, and in total there have been more than 7 million interactions on our system.
WeFarm utilises the incredible aggregated data that we gather through these conversations to provide unique insight to the corporates that source from these farmers, as well as the governments and NGOs that work with them.
With WeFarm our dream is to revolutionise the way that half of the world’s population accesses information, and by the end of 2016 we aim to connect 1 million farmers to WeFarm. And that is just the beginning..!
I’m very excited to be participating in this year’s TEDxBinnehof and to be recognised as one of the winning Ideas from Europe was a real honour. I’m looking to learn about some of the latest European innovators, as I love to hear about grassroots innovations and big thinking world-changing innovations in equal measures. We are also very excited to be presenting WeFarm on such a global stage.
WeFarm is currently in the process of raising investment in order to scale significantly, with the goal of reaching a million farmers by the end of 2016. We are also developing partnerships with corporate businesses, companies that source from smallholders, and NGOs. If we could find contacts within the investment scene, or people looking to partner with us, that would really help WeFarm in our journey to becoming the world’s largest social network for farmers.
By Diana Kool in Meet our speakers
For more information about TEDxBinnenhof | Ideas from Europe and the speakers, please contact Diana Kool or Michiel Stol.
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My journey, and more specifically PolyCare’s journey started on a bright January day six years ago. But for nearly 150,000 people it would be their last day. Over a million people would lose wives, husbands, children and friends. 200,000 homes would be destroyed. Countless businesses lost their premises, their staff and countless people even lost the will to carry on. Nature had played it’s wicked hand and Haiti lay in ruins.
I was struck with a desire to do something rather than watching those terrible images on the TV. But what?
Over the weeks that followed I sided with the locals and became increasingly frustrated with the slow reconstruction process. Unfortunately this problem is all too common after disasters. For both my colleagues and myself this was all the motivation we needed. So the challenge was set. How could we produce a system that built faster and stronger? That provided homes that improved health, wellbeing and longevity, as well as being much better at withstanding the worst that nature could deliver?
A chance meeting with a former East German engineer provided the catalyst. He designed a system that overcame many of the current issues by using ordinary desert sand to make polymer concrete elements in a LEGO style construction. A system so simple, unskilled survivors themselves could do most of the building. This issue was crucial to us. We wanted a system that not only built homes, but also one that empowers people to help themselves and to once again provide the motivation to live, to hope and to dream of the future.
Disaster relief is not the only application for this technology. It is estimated that over 1.3bn people are without a proper home. Indeed the majority of countries have a housing deficit. In many slums and favelas, ‘a home’ means just a few sticks and some plastic sheet. Believe me, visiting such places is a chilling experience that leaves me with memories that do not fade. Nor should they. In a civilized world we must do better, and we can do better!
Like many other inventors this journey of ours has not been easy. We knew that very many had failed before us. Of course we have had setbacks, but we are testing the bounds of what is possible and challenging the status quo. Two years on from our first demonstration, the rate of development has been exceptional. Governments and the public, rather than agencies and companies are now promoting our system and we are in the planning stages of projects across three continents. Everywhere we go there is much excitement about what we do and TED TALK has been a great stimulus for all of us to build faster and better.
So we continue with renewed energy and conviction to drive this technology forward. Our goal would make a difference to millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. We can provide the method that allows them to help themselves.