Perth blockchain-for-energy startup Power Ledger has taken home the top prize in Richard Branson’s Extreme Tech Challenge 2018, but co-founder Jemma Green says this is just the start in a new growth phase for the Aussie startup.
Power Ledger took home the winner’s trophy after a pitching competition on Richard Branson’s private Necker Island, fighting off competition from fellow finalists Owlet Baby Care — a US baby monitor startup measuring heart rates and oxygen levels — and San Francisco stabilised camera startup Revl.
Past winners include drone startup Vantage Robotics, software development startup Bloom Technologies and bus and train travel fare platform Wanderu.
“We’re very honoured and excited to win it, and excited for what it might bring,” Green tells StartupSmart.
Just to get an endorsement from Sir Richard Branson is “a pretty valuable thing for an early-stage company”, she says.
“For any company to get that kind of validation to what they’re doing … it adds credibility to a startup that wants to get its brand out there are develop more, and implement more projects,” she adds.
Founded in 2016, Power Ledger raised $34 million in October last year, in one of Australia’s first initial coin offerings, in a bid to democratise power distribution through its peer-to-peer excess energy trading platform.
Now, the startup has about 20 projects underway, Green says. In May this year, the startup announced its first commercial deployment in the US, working with Chicago University to trade excess solar energy between sites.
In June, it partnered with the Silicon Valley Power Grid to help work towards incentivising drivers of electric vehicles to charge their cars during the day, and in July it applied its technology to a whole apartment block for the first time, on a development in Fremantle.
Some of the existing projects are running as a proof-of-concept, and some are commercial trials, Green says.
“The next phase for us is around scale and commercialisation.”
The blockchain field is a relatively new one, she says — bitcoin is approaching its 10th birthday — and so having recognition from serious tech players could help the startup scale more rapidly, Green says.
“To be able to get validation from senior business people really helps in terms of people appreciating this is a technology that could have a profound impact on humanity and society,” she says.
During Green’s stay at Necker Island, Branson gave her a copy of his book, she explains.
“He wrote in it: ‘Dear Jemma, may you power the world’.”
The Extreme Tech Challenge competition on Necker Island involved a seven-minute pitch, followed by questions from Branson and the other judges, Sompo chief digital officer Koichi Narasaki and Bitfury chief executive Valery Vivilov.
As the ‘lead’ judge, Branson also asked the 100-strong audience to cheer for their favourite startup (they cheered loudest for Power Ledger, although Green isn’t sure it counted for much).
She may have a good few pitches under her belt, but Green says she still put a lot of effort into this one.
“I must have practised it 100 times,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I had memorised the whole thing.”
Green’s husband, two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and three-month-old baby travelled with her to the island, and “for everyone else it was a lot of fun”, she says.
“I didn’t even go for a swim,” she adds.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I just wanted to make the most of it,” she says.
And that she did. But, while it’s an endorsement, she says, it’s also the start of another chapter for Power Ledger.
“We’ve set ourselves this huge and quite audacious task,” she says. “Winning the award isn’t the end of the project,” she says.
With another Australian startup — digital currency rewards platform Liven — recently announced as a top-25 finalist for the Extreme Tech Challenge 2019, Green says the profile of Australian startups on the global stage is indicative of the “can do attitude” of the population.
Having lived in the UK for 11 years, Green had thought moving back to Perth meant “moving home to a sleepy backwater”.
In fact, particularly in Western Australia, there’s “a very strong entrepreneurial spirit”, she says.
When it comes to startup recognition and success, there’s no rule book, Green says, and even now “the real success of Power Ledger’s future is yet to be seen”.
However, if she has any advice for startup founders, it’s to start something they feel passionate about, and that addresses a problem they see in the world.
Through Power Ledger, she says, “I think we can play a decisive factor in helping meet the Paris Agreement climate change goals”.
“It’s absolutely within anyone’s remit to get up and create a successful business or enterprise,” she says.
Having a goal that’s empowering will “help you in the downtime”, and that’s a big part of success, she adds.
“The world is changed by the people that turn up.”