Stuart Read and Saras Sarasvathy look at an eco-entrepreneur who moves with the times.
Blowing in the Breeze
‘New-age traveller’ is a euphemism for a hippie, a housetrucker, or even a vagrant. It’s not the community typically associated with the next generation of business leaders. But then again, solutions to climate change and US$100/barrel oil are not likely to come from typical business leaders. Which may explain part of why Dale Vince, an x-traveller himself, is among the most influential ‘green’ entrepreneurs on the planet today.
Measuring the Zephyr
Committed to a low-impact lifestyle, Vince’s journey into business began with building small scale windmills to serve his personal energy needs and limit his dependency on commercial power. One of the most complex pieces of the puzzle was reliably measuring the environment in order to identify a location which provides consistent wind to drive turbines. Not finding adequate solutions on the market, Vince also started crafting wind-monitoring towers in 1991 and, in 1992, founded Western Windpower. Though Vince has continued his own expedition, Western attracted large orders from clients like Scottish Power, and is now Nexgen Wind, the UK’s market leader in wind monitoring equipment.
A Powerful Gust
Armed with more knowledge of wind measurement and power generation, Vince applied for permission to establish a wind farm in the UK, and in 1992 gained approval. Just three years later, he founded Ecotricity (originally the Renewable Energy Company), offering the radical alternative of ‘green’ electricity to both household and business customers. Vince’s firm operates 12 wind farms today, representing 10% of England’s wind energy, 46 GWh/year of renewable electricity (at the end of 2007), and a savings of around 46,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year as compared with the same amount of ‘brown’ energy. His accomplishments have been duly recognized. Vince has been presented with an OBE for services to the environment, a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, an Ashden Award for sustainable energy and he made the list of the world’s Top 100 Eco-Heroes. But this is really just the start of the story.
“The one thing I have learned is that you have to be flexible, you have to continually reappraise that which you hold to be true because things change internally and externally.”ù – Dale Vince
Contingency in the Air
Fewer new age travellers roam Europe today, and green energy is no longer a radical idea. With the external environment, Vince himself has changed. His networks, his knowledge, and even his assets have changed. And as is often evidenced with serial entrepreneurs, he is reconfiguring what he has in order to create his next opportunity. His current effort is a prototype electric sports car based on the Lotus Exige. Which makes sense not only in light of Vince’s relationship with sustainable energy, but also because Lotus is already an Ecotricity customer, building a wind-powered automobile factory in Norfolk, England.
And what lies ahead? A vegan, a keen advocate of organic farming and still committed to a low-impact, self-sufficient life, Vince is currently experimenting with approaches to micro-generation at home. In fact, the more he does, the more he has to work with, and the more opportunities he has ahead of him. In addition to offering needed hope to my energy bill, this observation points to the real source of entrepreneurial opportunities. Less often are they blinding visions, and more often, they are a whirlwind of the many things you already have, mixed together with the changes and needs of the environment.
Written by Stuart Read, professor of marketing at IMD and Saras Sarasvathy, associate professor of business administration at the University of Virgina’s Darden School.
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