Telling the truth about SME life today

“Funding gap between university R&D and exploitation of IP”

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Colin Calder

Role and company:

CEO of PassivSystems

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

2012 £3.9m

Employee numbers:


Growth forecast for the next three years:

We have forecast a doubling of revenue, year-on-year for the next three years.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

PassivSystems is dedicated to helping consumers make good energy changes to their homes by providing mobile access to an ever growing range of home services – heat, hot water, Solar PV, smart switching – making savings of 20-40 per cent a regular occurrence. PassivLiving also analyses building performance and impact of external weather conditions on the home.

What’s the big vision for your business?

My vision is to create a home services platform that becomes a growing thing, a global business for managing and controlling devices and equipment in the home in a way that gives consumers maximum value for money in terms of efficiency and lowest cost of energy. Our system works in the UK, Denmark and the Middle East, however we want it to be something universally adopted.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

Today we operate in Europe and the UK. Our next step is to set up operations in the Middle East, and really expand into that market.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

When I was in my 30s, I was passed over for a main board position at a large company, where I considered myself to be the best suited candidate. As disheartening as it was not to receive the recognition of around 16 years of dedicated work, it encouraged me to leave the corporate sector and set up my own company, leading me to where I am today. It is funny in life how those big disappointing moments can turn into the next greatest achievement in your life.

What makes you mad in business today?

Hastily made changes to policy. As a company within the energy sector, much of what we are developing is influenced by the direction of government policy. It is massively frustrating when poorly thought through policy has to be hastily changed or turf wars lead to inconsistent policy direction. In the past three years the energy sector has had its fair share of U-turns and missed opportunities.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

Smart meter roll out will have started, the cost of electricity generated from Solar PV will be less than grid supplied energy and making energy efficiency improvements to residential homes will be far more commonplace. This will be the start of a paradigm shift in the energy market when consumers will be empowered to regain control of their energy bills.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow” If not, what can be done to improve things?

I think all companies are in the same boat at the moment. Banks have closed their doors, and venture capital companies are mostly not supporting early stage start-ups. Fortunately alternative methods of raising finance have emerged in recent years. Crowd-lending is becoming more common and PassivSystems has been extremely successful in raising capital from HNWIs. In my own experience many of the much hyped government finance schemes never materialised in a way that would overcome current market failures or provide adequate funding for technology companies like ours.

How would others describe your leadership style

That’s a bit of a curved ball. I think the common theme would be demanding. I ask a lot of my employees, and set high expectations. We are constantly driving in the fast lane but you know what it’s more fun being too busy than not. I am sure my direct reports must long for the day when they wake up to an empty inbox on a Monday morning.

Your biggest personal extravagance

I’ve always loved the sea, and sailing. When I sold Paragon Software, I was in the lucky position where I could buy myself a beautiful ocean going sailing boat.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

The most pivotal issue is to recognise how current market failures are impacting tomorrow’s high growth business opportunities. There is a massive funding gap between university led R&D and successful exploitation of that IP in new businesses. It is time to break out of the old funding model and reward universities and small start-ups for commercialising the vaults of intellectual property festering in academia. 

The TSB does a good job but it not there to provide the scale of funding needed to support the level of investment required for developing new ground-breaking technologies. On the other hand too often the serious money such as the LCNF (£500m) goes to incumbent corporates who will never develop the ground-breaking technology needed to bring about a paradigm shift in their markets. The future cost of our energy is not dependant on fracking and the dash-for-gas, it is dependent on government facilitating a paradigm shift in the energy industry as big in scale and impact as the Internet.



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