Sydney solar energy startup BlueVolt has raised $240,000 in seed funding, from Artesian Ventures and a number of private investors, despite having no revenue, no customers, and no product in the market.
Founded in late-2016 by Matt Edwards and Sam Wagner, who were soon joined by Alison Wenham and Catherine Chan, BlueVolt is working on creating easy-to-install solar energy systems, with battery storage as standard.
Currently, it plans to launch a product into the market before the end of the year.
Having worked on technology transfer at the University of New South Wales for some 10 years, Edwards noticed a gap in the market for a “basically plug-and-play solar systems product”, he tells StartupSmart.
However, the startup is also designed to help build a community of Aussie solar power users, and to make solar power systems accessible to a broader segment of the population.
“It doesn’t have to be a beige hot water system hanging off the back of your house,” Edwards says.
“We’re trying to create something that’s beautiful and inspiring and elegant, and makes you want to generate solar power and be part of a community that’s generating solar.”
Pitching a vision
The seed funding is largely pegged for product development. It will also be put into exploring new markets, protecting the company’s commercial IP, and running marketing and pilot campaigns.
However, getting investors on board without a product or any revenue to show them was no easy feat.
“Hardware is always very challenging,” Edwards says.
“It’s not like we have a website or an app that is all software, and can be easily and cheaply put together and scaled,” he explains.
“We’re building something that is quite revolutionary.”
When the founders went out to pitch BlueVolt, they were asking investors to fund a concept, and help bring that concept to fruition. Without being in a revenue position, or looking like they would be anytime soon, they were relying on others understanding the drive behind the business.
With Artesian and the private investors they got on board, that’s exactly what happened.
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“They’ve actually seen the vision and they’ve become as excited as us,” Edwards says.
“They bring so much more than capital to the table … they have expertise in areas that we need, and they have their own ideas,” he adds.
“Having that kind of help from the people that have invested in us has been really invaluable.”
Tangled in politics
Having studied energy and power storage systems, Edwards believes, despite the political rhetoric on energy and the climate crisis, the future for Australia is in renewables.
“Solar has unfortunately got tangled up in politics in Australia, and it’s become a bit of a casualty of the left-right divide,” he explains.
But, generating energy from the sun doesn’t have to be a left-wing, or right-wing thing, he says. The economics, and the environmental benefits, speak for themselves.
“You don’t have to be left-ist to want to save money on your power bills. You don’t have to be left-ist to want to protect the environment, and to want to leave the world a good place for your children,” Edwards argues.
“It’s a shame that good energy policy, and particularly fantastic technologies like solar, have gotten tangled up in those political ideologies.”
Equally, battery storage for renewables is ever improving, and becoming cheaper. The cost of solar power generation systems has already dropped dramatically, and battery technology is on the same trajectory.
“In the next few years, things are going to get really, really interesting in the battery space,” Edwards says.
Even now, however, solar-generated energy has the advantage of being decentralised.
“You can generate power at the point where you need it … you can’t do that with any other power source,” Edwards notes.
It’s also the cheapest way to generate power, he says.
“It satisfies all conservative principles of the free market, and we can do that today without subsidies,” he explains.
“We just need a consistent energy policy that all stakeholders can work to.”
Renewables could mean being able to produce energy without having to subsidise any power plants or mines, and without “propping up any of these technologies from the taxpayers’ pocket”, Edwards says.
“I would think that’s something conservatives would love.”
A numbers game
When launching a hardware startup, and pitching for investment before that product is even out in the world, Edwards advises other startups to “just be brave and fearless”.
It’s important to get your product out in front of as many people as possible, he says, and to talk about it at any opportunity.
“It becomes a bit of a numbers game,” he says.
“Just get it out there and start fires all over the place. Eventually, some of them will take hold.”
Founders should not be afraid of people talking down their idea, he adds. Some people just won’t get it. But, it can be worth taking those rejections and learning from them.
“If you really think it’s a great idea, then don’t be discouraged when people don’t initially see it that way,” Edwards says.
“Sometimes you just need to tweak your message a little bit … until the people you’re selling to can see the vision as well.”
It took BlueVolt between 10 and 15 pitches to figure how to effectively communicate their message, the founder admits.
“It just takes practice.”
Finally, Edwards reminds other founders that they could meet potential investors anywhere, and at any time.
“Always have your pitch ready, and be ready to take people to lunch and deliver it.”