Monday 24 October 2016

My Big Idea: Funding LED lights for businesses was a seriously bright idea

Published 09/06/2016 | 02:30

‘Our customers are our partners,’ says Declan Barrett, the chief commercial officer of lighting company UrbanVolt
‘Our customers are our partners,’ says Declan Barrett, the chief commercial officer of lighting company UrbanVolt

Dad of two Declan Barrett (45), from Ashbourne in Meath, is chief commercial officer and co-founder of UrbanVolt, an energy efficient lighting provider.

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"Before starting UrbanVolt I had a facilities management business and installed LED (light-emitting diode) light solutions into properties for business clients.

LED lights are much more energy efficient than traditional light bulbs. They can reduce energy bills by as much as 80pc. Unfortunately, the technology and installation process is prohibitively expensive for many businesses.

I found that many companies were reluctant to spend the money to modernise their lighting systems, even though they understood they would make their money back - and more - in savings on their energy bills over time. Cash flow is king to most businesses so anything that interferes with that is not a priority!

I knew (chief executive) Kevin Maughan socially and had worked with (chief operations officer) Graham Deane before. There must be a way to independently fund the installation cost of LED lighting for businesses, we thought. The three of us started playing around with ideas and came up with a business plan. We decided to go into business together in November 2014.

We brought UrbanVolt to market the follow year. The idea is that we manufacture, install and maintain LED lighting solutions for businesses at no cost to them. In return we take an agreed percentage of the savings the client makes in energy costs over a five year period, after which time the lights belong to the client and they continue to enjoy savings for the lifetime of the fixtures. We don't see ourselves as "selling" anything per say - rather, our customers are our partners.

The energy savings to be made are dependent on a number of factors including the type of fitting and operating hours, but cash savings of up to 47pc are possible, and that's after the client also gets new lights and has the entire process project managed.

We manufacture the lights ourselves to make sure they are of the highest quality and commit to maintaining the lights for the duration of the five year agreement. If a light fails we replace it and if we don't do it within 30 days the client can stop paying. The lights also have a five year warranty from Munich Re.

We are financed by a large European renewable energy fund - I can't say too much yet but they are a fantastic backer. We have about 50 agreements in place with customers already. The first ten who signed up will collectively save almost €850,000 on energy costs across the five year agreement, as well as 18m kWh in energy.

This is the equivalent of the average energy usage of 3,400 Irish households. The savings for the businesses are huge - they might employ an extra sales person as a result, which allows them to grow revenue.

Our ideal customer is a heavy energy user - a hospital, a hotel, a 24 hour car park, for example. The car park should get a 50pc saving on their energy bill even after we take our cut. We can't take everybody on; an office which is only lit up five or six hours a day isn't right.

We plan to sign 200 agreements this year and hopefully 350 to 380 next year. Then the intention is to move into the UK, Europe and ultimately the US.

The biggest challenge has been getting people to understand our idea. Often they think there is a catch. But anyone who is at the forefront of change is going to experience that.

We won Service Startup of the year at the Bank of Ireland Startup Awards recently which was a fantastic endorsement for the company.

Rugby player Jamie Heaslip, who was an early investor, is also helping to put us on the map."

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