THE BIG INTERVIEW

Seratech talks to Richard Templer, co-founder of Undaunted, and Professor Emeritus of Climate Innovation at Imperial College London about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur and the OBE he will be receiving later this month for his services to Climate Innovation.

By Seratech

3/28/20243 min read

"A good company needs a good business plan, great founders, a brilliant idea" - Richard Templer

Richard Templer, co-founder of Undaunted and Professor Emeritus of Climate Innovation at Imperial College London, retired last year. A career highlight was 13 years spent working with over 150 climate startups at embryonic stage and getting them to a point of becoming functioning businesses.

“We were very selective about who we took on,” Richard explains of the Greenhouse, the 12-month start-up accelerator for climate innovators that he and Andrew Burford launched at Imperial College in 2011, first as part of the Climate-KIC and now as part of Undaunted (https://undaunted-hq.org/).

“I was the ‘technical’ and Andrew the ‘business’ brains. 82% of our graduates were able to raise significant amounts of money after they finished with us and 93% are still trading after ten years. I’ve understood what breeds success – and what doesn’t”.

The format

The popular accelerator, which continues to run successfully in the hands of Alyssa Gilbert and Jim Shaikh, takes the form of a stage-and-stage programme: to develop a business model; then determine market fit through customer discovery and finally to build their business and raise investment. The Greenhouse enables start-up access to Imperial’s know how, networks and people, meaning that it focuses on climate innovators with science or engineering innovations.

“You help them improve their business model before they talk to potential customers, and you work with them to interpret the feedback from potential customers. In the process, their business matures and changes significantly, but this does not mean they have a company,” explains Richard.

“This is because their view of what their business is, is still not usually clear enough. They get caught up in the weeds with overly technical explanations. You need them to talk about it in a way that the average person can understand what they do.”

Encapsulating the idea

Richard often finds that founders take a long time to understand how to encapsulate and communicate what they do: “If you've got nothing to say that’s coherent and compelling, it's a waste of time. The internal realisation of what you truly are as a business is the point at which you are ready to raise money.

“Founding a company is not easy and requires personality traits, some of which you can train, or tickle so they become active. All the failures we've had were cases where the founders could not be persuaded to adopt some of the behaviours they needed to succeed.”

Personal motivation

It’s clear that after years of experience, the Greenhouse team has become expert in identifying those with the potential to succeed. Originally a physicist, Richard says one of his fortes was always to bring groups together and create organisations around them that could help them. It was in 2003 when he was head of department at Imperial that he was called upon by the College to assist with ideas around climate innovation i.e. the causes and effects of climate change.

“Action on climate, I feel, is a personal responsibility. One month ago, I became a grandparent and I've always said to my kids: I'm doing this to set things up for your generation. But my grandchildren will be the absolute arbiters of whether we are going to get through this or not. To hold a little child in your hands and look her in the eyes makes this very personal indeed”.

As for Undaunted, the future’s bright. Richard would like for it to ultimately become global: “We would like the world of climate innovation to become more visible and more accessible to the public at large, but more importantly, investors”.

For now, it’s time to dry clean his suit and get ready for the his investiture at Windsor Castle. How does he feel about it?  “Embarrassed. Because I only played small role in the impact the Greenhouse has had. The award is really for everyone who has been involved”.

Image: Richard Templer