At its energy strategy launch in 2019, Oxfordshire’s enterprise partnership OxLEP estimated that by 2030 the county’s low energy sector could grow by 11 per cent a year – four times the national average.
One indicator of how achievable these forecasts are, is the success of low carbon business network Oxfordshire Greentech whose launch in February 2019 was seen by many as the day Oxfordshire’s business community got serious about low carbon.
Lewis Knight has worked for Bioregional for almost seven years and takes a lead role in the delivery and strategy for Oxfordshire Greentech. He describes its objectives as “to bring low carbon businesses together, namely those who have low carbon products or services, and those who can see the opportunities of being part of that sector.”
“Our definition of ‘who could be a member’ is broad,” explains Knight. “We’re about anybody who has a low carbon solution or product, or wants to be within the low carbon sector. Be that tech companies building low carbon products and those providing services such as a consultancy advising firms on how to become part of the circular economy.
“The professional service companies are also needed. If an economic sector is to grow, it needs lawyers who provide IP and patent advice and accountancy firms providing tax advice for example. And we’re proud to have social enterprises like Aspire, which is the county’s largest, and charities such as Restore for mental health.”
Oxfordshire Greentech is a collaboration between entrepreneurial sustainability charity, Bioregional, Cherwell District Council and Cambridge Cleantech. It was born out of the OxFutures programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
Membership is now running at 80+ and the network claims to reach over 2,000 people in cleantech firms. “Our members are getting to know us and each other, and we are starting to see internal ‘trading’ in the network. People look at our members’ list and view it as a pre-approved directory of ‘good organisations to work with.’
While its membership criteria is broad, Knight says it is clearly focused on the issues that need addressing if Oxfordshire is to act on the global climate emergency. Finance, mobility and the built environment are high on the list.
“Access to finance is a critical issue. How firms can win more funding and grow keeps coming up,” he says. The network ran an event with the Science and Technology Facilities Council at Harwell in October 2019, which brought together 70+ investors and innovators who are active in ‘clean and green’ sectors.
“Twenty-twenty will be a big year for us to build on financial opportunities for innovators such as around crowdfunding, tax relief and IP,” he adds.
In February 2020 Oxfordshire Greentech is joining with Cambridge Cleantech and Avanto Ventures to host Cleantech Venture Day at KPMG’s London headquarters, where technology firms will be pitching to fund managers, business angels and corporate investors. Pitching applications are now closed but the network expects to run more events like this later in the year.
Back in Oxfordshire, a region beleaguered by an overworked transport network (sheer mention of the A34 is sure to raise the blood pressure of any commercial fleet manager), low carbon mobility is attracting high levels of interest. In 2019 Oxfordshire Greentech assisted Oxford City Council to run several events around electric vehicles, including e-bikes and first and last mile delivery, and it helped to coordinate the Oxford EV Car Show in the summer of 2019.
“Oxford is a hot spot for innovation in mobility which we want to continue to showcase. We’ll also be looking at initiatives to promote low carbon mobility, such as the zero emissions zone coming to Oxford, and the different barriers to uptake they are experiencing.”
Bioregional has its roots in the sustainable built environment and a wealth of experience in the field. Formed in the 1990s, it built the UK’s first carbon-neutral community, BedZED, and has been in Oxfordshire for over a decade, where it has worked alongside A2D Dominion and Cherwell District Council to assist in the creation of NW Bicester. This is the nation’s first eco-town, housing the first phase, Elmsbrook, a community of almost 40 homes, a school and community space.
Oxfordshire Greentech is drawing on Bioregional’s experience to tackle the sustainability issues facing developers and policymakers in the region. “How we make the one million homes that are planned across the Oxfordshire to Cambridge corridor sustainable is a question that needs answering,” says Knight. “And more importantly, how do we solve the retrofit problem? How do we fix our leaky homes?” Focused events tackling these issues are planned in 2020.
He goes on to say that social enterprises and charities play an important role as many are environmentally focused, and the network runs events to help not-for-profits use innovation to become more environmentally sustainable.
“The circular economy is something which many members are expressing interest in and some such as Seacourt print have been practising for years,” he adds. “We held introductory events in 2019 and now want to help and work with those members are who really interested to explore more circular business practices.”
An annual conference is planned in March to bring the Oxfordshire Greentech community together under one roof. “We’ll be telling the good news stories about what we’ve delivered, as well as posing challenges. For example, the need for more participation from women and from BAME members is an issue which came out of our launch event last year. We need different and new faces in our network and we are really focused on achieving that.”
Oxfordshire Greentech comes out of the three-year OxFutures programme next year, so the network has to create its own revenue streams if it is to expand its ability to drive growth in the regional low carbon economy. “Our current model is based on membership and we are getting feedback that what we are doing is great, so we need to build on the value associated with that,” says Knight, adding that this includes plans to begin charging for some events.
The membership model alone can’t guarantee the levels of funding it needs in the future, and Oxfordshire Greentech has identified areas where it adds value, such as for funding bodies like Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation.
”A key benefit we bring to funders is dissemination. We can help to raise the profile of projects in fields such as the built environment and mobility and provide access for those funders to a whole range of different businesses they wouldn’t have reached otherwise.”
“Moving forward, our grand idea is to work more with organisations that come to us with an idea or a project and say ‘Hey, this looks great, can you help us do it.’”
Oxfordshire Greentech clearly has strong ambition to help firms make positive and lasting change in the low carbon economy. And if Oxfordshire’s clean energy sector is to grow by 11 per cent per year, as OxLEP says it is capable of, networks such as this one will be essential in fuelling the scale of interest and action among businesses, investors and policymakers.
Knight sums up: “It really is a network that’s working. And that’s important when you have lots of innovative companies who are looking to grow.”
Oxfordshire Greentech membership
All members receive Member benefits plus added perks in these tiers:
Founder includes steering group membership, facilitated international innovation events and business sustainability workshop.
Associate Founder includes opportunity to initiate special interest groups, and implementation training.
Member – free entry to all special interest groups, regular networking, discounted tickets to annual conference and Cleantech Venture Day, access to Cambridge Cleantech events.
Membership fees range from £100 a year and are split according to the size of organisation by number of employees, from Micro (less than 10) to Corporate (over 250)
For more info visit oxfordshiregreentech.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.