Gold Coast-based startup NevHouse has been named among three winners at the [email protected] Australia competition finals, and will now be heading to London to pitch its recycled disaster-relief housing solutions on a global stage.
NevHouse was born from a plastics recycling plant that founder Nev Hyman invested in in 2004, but it wasn’t until a fateful conversation with a friend in Indonesia that NevHouse’s sustainable, recycled disaster-relief offerings were born.
“I was in Indonesia sitting with a friend and he showed me a floor plan of a house the Balinese government was giving 2000 families. I just looked at it and thought, ‘I can make that out of recycled plastic, and it would be far more appealing’,” Hyman tells StartupSmart.
Hyman founded NevHouse in 2012, and since then the startup has raised $7 million in funding from Hyman, its directors and 120 shareholders, and delivered 15 disaster-relief shelters in Vanuatu last year.
“We firmly believe we have a solution for post-disaster relief, homelessness, and housing in developing countries that’s modular, permanent and made out of recycled materials. We know we can deliver this at volume but we need big picture thinkers and people with capital to make this happen,” Hyman says.
To meet some of these big-picture thinkers, NevHouse applied for the [email protected] program, and last week joined Gold Coast luxury sportswear startup Faebella and Sydney-based support worker marketplace HireUp as the winners of the Australian-leg of the competition, after pitching to a judging panel including Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
Hyman says pitching to His Royal Highness Prince Andrew was “interesting” and “rather daunting”, but it wasn’t long until he was put at ease by the royal.
“He was just brilliant — he has such a good sense of humour and he’s so relaxed,” says Hyman.
“He seemed like one of the boys and was having as much fun as everyone else.”
The winners of the pitch competition now progress to the global finals, to be held in London in December, and while Hyman received free flights to the final after winning this round, he says he’s in the competition for the networking opportunities.
“The prize is the introduction to the people you meet and the opportunities [for your business],” he explains.
Hyman says being involved in [email protected] has introduced him to royalty, dignitaries, advisors and corporate executives “that you wouldn’t get a chance to meet in 10 lifetimes” and says when he gets to London, “it’s going to be on another scale altogether”.
“I got to meet the advisor to the Gates Foundation and heads of corporations that I would never get an opportunity to meet,” he says.
“The Prince suggested that he put us in contact with his daughter, [Princess] Beatrice, who is heavily involved in the Caribbean — that conversation never would have happened … if I wasn’t a part of that [[email protected] competition],” he says.
The startup will now be leveraging these contacts as it prepares for future growth, and is looking to raise €100 million ($150 million) through a Reserves Alternate Investment Fund (RAIF) based out of Luxembourg, which is set to open for investment this week. Hyman says he decided to set up the RAIF to attract high net-worth investors and establish the legitimacy of NevHouse as a global player.
“Luxembourg is incredibly highly regulated: ninety-eight percent of funds raised [are required to] go towards projects rather than administration costs, and are audited every three months,” Hyman says of the country’s strict RAIF regulations.
Hyman says these funds through the RAIF process would be used to establish manufacturing facilities on the Gold Coast, before later setting up manufacturing plants in Mexico and the US.
“You’ve got to wake people up from their slumber”
Hyman will now be honing his pitch even further as he prepares to step onto the stage in London on December 6, and stresses the importance of telling a focused, engaging startup story.
“When you’ve only got three minutes you’ve really got to be on point,” Hyman advises.
To communicate a startup’s passion and goals within such a limited time frame, Hyman says founders need “some fairly powerful one liners” to tell their story effectively.
“You’ve got to wake the people up from their slumber; when you’re watching 15-20 pitches in a short period of time, it can be daunting for the audience to maintain their focus,” he says.
Drawing inspiration from TED Talks also helped Hyman perfect his pitch, he says, and taught him the importance of “combining humour with fairly bold statements”.
Founders should also keep their pitch high-level, rather than diving into the technical specifics of their product when they are under tight time constraints, he advises.
“You need to captivate the audience and get them believing in what you’re saying you can achieve. Drop some of the technical stuff and move onto the macro picture,” he says.
“Say as much as you can and expect people to ask the detailed questions later.”