Interview with Fabian Lemke – co-founder of nuventura, runner-up of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge 2019. 

Fabian, how is nuventura managing to make the world a more sustainable place?

At nuventura, our focus is on switchgears and on sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) in particular. SF6 is a harmful gas that has a tremendous greenhouse effect and a global warming potential of over 23,500. Switchgears are used as an electric insulator for the prevention of electric arcs. We will be able to make this greenhouse gas superfluous if we change the technology in such a way that the use of SF6 is no longer required in switchgears. Our technology enables the use of air instead of SF6, which provides the switchgear with the same power.

You came second in the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge, one of the biggest international sustainability competitions there is, and won 200,000 euros. What has changed for nuventura since then?

The win has made it possible to invest in areas that have a longer-term focus and did not form part of our very narrow business plan straight away. The win is also a major success from a marketing perspective. It is much easier to recruit people, for example, because by winning the Green Challenge, they are already able to see in a certain sense an external validation of our business approach. For me personally, the additional expert coaching was fantastic, because I was able to take time out for personal development. Unfortunately, that is an area that usually is neglected, because as founder, you are always trying to advance the company. The coaching has enabled us to grasp measures that we otherwise might not have grasped or seen in this form.

Swedish start-up wins half a million euros for innovative algae-based material

Fabian Lemke together with Sofie Allert of Swedish Algae Factory on stage

What tips would you give to sustainable founders?

Networks are what it‘s all about and shouldn‘t be underestimated – if you don‘t have a network, you will find it very difficult to make your first sales, find investors or share ideas with likeminded people. As a tip for building a network, the only thing I can say is: help other people. When you build a network and help other people in the process, you will always get something back from it, as well as the opportunity to gain access to new people or new insights. So it‘s always worth applying to the Green Challenge – even several times. We applied twice and were successful the second time. You gain an unbelievable amount of experience in the process. As far as competitions are concerned, the Green Challenge is like being part of a Champions League. Participation in events is very important for public relations, for the perception of the company, and even gives a whole host of opportunities for further development.

What aspect of your work motivates you?

What motivates me in particular is the fact that we are able to make a real impact. We are providing a very specific solution to a sustainability problem, so the contribution we are able to make is very easy to measure. Another thing that motivates me is that as a hardware company, we are able to see the results of our work straight away. It‘s great fun working on such a major solution.

Did you always want to make the world a better place?

I would describe it more like a development process. It became clear to me that something had to change. The immediate turnaround came when my children were born. This emotional event causes you to suddenly see the world through very different eyes, and ask yourself what you will leave behind when you‘re gone. That was a very important point for me and that‘s where my motivation comes from. We need to create a world for our children that is rich in different species, beautiful and worth living in.

What do you believe needs to be done to incorporate sustainable business practices in society?

We need to factor in the real costs of emissions somewhere in our consumption. The problem in doing so, however, is that the social gap will then become even wider: with high earners still being able to afford emissions and lower earners not being able to. Another problem is our attitude. In society, we need to make intrinsic changes to our existing needs and/or our behaviour, to ensure that our focus really does lie on sustainability and we don‘t regard consumer restrictions as a loss. This is in connection with beliefs and education and it is up to each individual. Because in the end, the only thing that will help is to sensitise ourselves and even to question what is right.