Stu Innes may not look like your traditional Marvel superhero. But the way he describes his company could almost come from the pages of a comic book.
“We’re a software company working to enable a better power society,” he enthuses.
As CEO of emhTrade, Innes is not only disrupting the traditional energy infrastructure, he’s also helping to save the planet, and it’s taking the company forward at a rapid pace.
When it launched just over six years ago, emhTrade initally saw an opportunity to help behind the scenes in the technical aspects of trading electricity. But the deeper they delved, the more it became apparent that what was needed was something that made those transactions more user-friendly.
What they’ve developed is a platform that creates a sharing economy for energy resources. It not only reduces waste in the system, it should also accelerate the adoption of new technology such as batteries, electric vehicles, internet-connected appliances and solar power.
A front-facing app, Power Pal, quizzes consumers on their energy priorities. The app then alerts users when that sort of energy is available and allows them to access it. It also alerts them when costs are high, or less environmentally sound methods are being used.
Since the start of 2018, the platform has allowed ‘solar share’ houses to share more than 100,000 kWh of clean local energy. And it’s changing consumer behaviour — on one occasion, 35% of users cut their power consumption by more than half when told the system was burning diesel.
It’s clearly an idea whose time has come. So much so, that just two years after launching its platform, emhTrade is planning to expand into Australia.
Coping with the buzz
While the company is no longer a traditional start-up, the change to a consumer business has been quite the ride. “It’s a bit of a transition going from energy trader to entrepreneur. You suddenly have these customers,” notes Innes.
To ease the transition, he and his team have made the most of support offered by NZ’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation.
This has included a four-month accelerator programme specifically for ventures in the electricity industry. Innes says it was just the spark emhTrade needed at the time.
“It really did accelerate us and we’re still involved with a lot of people we met there.”
emhTrade's Jamie Silk pitches the company's solution as part of the 2017 Lightning Lab Electric accelerator programme.
The company also received a Callaghan Innovation Growth Grant, and was an early participant in Callaghan Innovation’s Capital Education Workshops, aimed at early-stage projects needing investment.
“When you’re going through that capital-raise process, it was really great to be able to chat to other people, and have a network of others — not necessarily in your industry — you can call on for their thoughts and experience.”
One of the most useful sources of help and advice, he says, has been James Muir, a business innovation adviser with Callaghan Innovation.
“Having someone like James come along for the ride, who you don’t have to bring up to speed every time you talk to them; who you can just bounce ideas off and have a bit of a chat with; someone’s who both an advisor and a connector … that’s been really invaluable.”
This article was first published in EMA Business Plus magazine.
Updated: 9 January 2019