We all know that the world’s energy sources are being depleted, and going green is the only way to ensure future security of supply. Having spent many years working for a multinational power utility, Erik Nygard and fellow co-founder Ning Zhang saw a huge need to come up with a new, hybrid energy utility utilising technology to deliver value to customers and together they came up with Limejump. We spoke to Erik to get the story.

Tell us a bit more about Limejump and what it’s all about

Limejump is a tech startup taking on the Big 6 energy suppliers. Our Virtual Power Plant technology, comprised of our software, optimisation engine and Smart Box, aggregates small scale generators and businesses with flexible demand and dispatches these in response to electricity grid balancing and market price signals, simulating the energy profile of a traditional power plant. Our technology is positively disrupting the energy industry by decreasing reliance on fossil fuel power stations, increasing the uptake of renewable generation, lowering carbon emissions and empowering small scale generators and businesses to become active market participants and thereby decreasing their energy costs and increasing their revenues.

And who would you say your target audience is?

The UK energy system is facing two serious challenges: an ever narrowing margin between supply and demand and an over-reliance on carbon intensive and costly fossil fuel power stations.  In order to meet these challenges, existing small scale power generating assets already connected to the electrical network, such as solar panels and backup generators, need to be fully flexed to fill the supply gap that will widen with the expected coal plant closures over the next decade. This can only be achieved through monitoring and automating these devices in real time, which will generate vast quantities of data.

To provide perspective, we’ve estimated that the UK energy system currently produces 1GB of data per day. However by 2030, if we are to achieve National Grid UK’s ‘Gone Green’ scenario, we’ve estimated 270,000GB of data will need to be processed per day. No other utility in the UK currently has IT in place that can cope with big data. Our Virtual Power Plant technology already processes 290MB of our customers’ data per day, a number which is constantly increasing as our portfolio grows. Our technology is capable of processing data generated by all small scale generators and half hourly metered businesses in the UK.

Tell us about your unique selling point. What do you think gives you that competitive edge?

Our business model is unique as we’re the first utility to combine energy aggregation, trading and supply services. Our business model, powered by our Virtual Power Plant technology, enables us to provide our customers with full energy market optimisation.

And how long have you been working on this project? What stage is it at?

Limejump officially kicked off in 2014, but was a year in the making. We started with a team of 4 and now we’ve grown to be a team of 20, made up of developers, engineers, traders, marketers, designers and account managers.

And how have you been funding the project? Do you have backers or are you self funded?

Limejump is fortunate to be backed by some of the most successful and respected technology investors in Europe and has an advisory board with extensive experience in energy trading, mergers & acquisitions and technology. We have received £1.4 million from Venture Capital (Passion Capital, JamJar Investments and Angel CoFund), as well as from private investors. We’re going for our Series A funding round in the spring.

Is this your first startup venture or did you start other businesses before this?

It’s my first tech startup. In a past life, I opened and ran a restaurant and bar in Shanghai. I learnt a great deal about project management and problem solving which I’ve carried over to my current role as co-founder at Limejump.

How did the idea for starting this business come about?

Myself and Ning Zhang, joint co-founder at Limejump, worked together at Centrica where we identified a gap in the market for a new, hybrid energy utility that uses technology to deliver value to customers. We also noticed companies like Uber and AirBnB were tackling excess capacity in their respective markets and realised these principles could be applied to the energy market.

We’re passionate about levelling the playing field to allow small scale generators, businesses and even households to compete directly with fossil fuel power plants for energy market opportunities.

Limejump Homepage

Tell us about your work background prior to running your own business?

Prior to co-founding Limejump, I spent 5 years working in energy trading, hedging and optimisation. At Just Energy, I set up the trading and optimisation desk and at Centrica I managed the hedging of British Gas customer electricity demand. Prior to that I received an MSc in Energy, Trade & Finance from Cass Business School.

What about your family background? Did you have any other entrepreneurs in the family who set you on this path?

My father is Norwegian and my mother is American. I spent my childhood between the USA, France, Norway and Ghana. In Ghana, I witnessed first hand what’s possible when you have a drive to succeed – you see people with all odds stacked against them, who by sheer willpower are able to go from being impoverished to having well respected jobs and being pillars of their community. That’s a really powerful message about what you can achieve if you focus all your energy on reaching your goal.

Any hobbies that you are passionate about?

I love to travel. Exploring somewhere totally new and having all your senses engaged is the best feeling. I went to Austria for the first time last year to speak at European Utility Week and had the opportunity to sneak out of the conference for a few hours. I wandered around the narrow, cobbled streets of Vienna old town, discovered traditional coffee houses and soaked up the culture – it was a fantastic experience.

Do you have a mentor or role model who inspires you?

My parents have been a huge influence in my life. My father left a comfortable, 9-5 job in Norway to move my family to Ghana where he eventually started a string of prosperous businesses. He wasn’t afraid of failure and, in fact, he did fail on occasion. However he persevered and achieved success, maintaining a positive attitude throughout. That certainly inspired me in the early days of Limejump.

Tell us about the most exciting or inspirational moment to date

There are two that come to mind. The first was our initial payment to customers last June. It was a culmination of months of hard work to get our trading desk set up and to ensure our technology was up to spec and running smoothly. It was great to see it result in something tangible that we could pass on to our customers. It felt real then. The second was last December when we outgrew our tiny office and moved into a new, more spacious office overlooking the London Eye – that was a very proud moment.

What about the toughest moment?

Our first investment round was tough. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the first time someone scrutinizes something you believe in and tells you it will never work. However, we made it through the initial setback and came out swinging, partnering with investors who understand our business, believe in what we do and who are now some of our most trusted advisors.

Have you made any “bad” decision along the way? What was, if there was any, interesting lessons you learnt from it?

Absolutely. It’s my first experience running a company so I’m making mistakes all the time and learning from them along the way. As a company, one of our first mistakes was with our initial software release – we created functionality we thought our customers wanted instead of finding out what they really needed. We realised very quickly that understanding their businesses, building our technology around their requirements and maintaining a tight feedback loop is critical to offering an excellent product. We’ve since taken this learning on board and our technology is now very much built around our customers.

Tell us what your goal is for your company in the next few years

Currently, we operate exclusively in the UK but our goal is to expand into Europe and the USA within the next 3 to 5 years. Given our momentum over the last year, we’re confident we can achieve this – at the beginning of 2015, we had 30 customer sites. Today we have 1,250 customer sites – that’s a growth of over 4000%.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone considering starting their own business?

Start up entrepreneurs can have a tendency to romanticise life at a startup. To focus on the initial buzz and on the success stories and not talk about the late nights and even earlier mornings that made those success stories possible. To be clear, it’s a lot of work. And, no matter how well you define your business roadmap and how many contingency plans you make, nothing ever goes 100% to plan. Unforeseen problems will pop up and you’re going to have to think on your feet. The best advice I can give to someone looking to launch a startup is to have a real conviction in your vision but equally not to be stubborn or deaf to criticism. Have your end goal set, but realise that to get there you might need to make a few unforeseen pivots. And that’s okay… it’s all part of the journey.