William Rowe is the founder and CEO of Octopus Hydrogen, an energy company responsible for producing and supplying green hydrogen as a source of renewable energy.
Octopus Hydrogen was setup to decarbonise the sectors which cannot be decarbonised easily through electrification.
We had a Q&A session with William to talk about his entrepreneurial journey and why he chose the renewable energy industry as his area of specialisation.
Hello William, and thank you for participating in this Q&A session. We would like to start by exploring your origin story. Please give us an overview of your background, career milestones, and what attracted you to the entrepreneurial and angel investment industry?
William: It's a pleasure. To be honest I was a late starter in life, I enjoyed school but was very disruptive and really struggled with the hierarchy and control. I did end up going to university, which I didn't even consider until clearing, and really enjoyed it. I managed to get onto a graduate scheme but only survived 3 weeks before I resigned! I then found a job at a company trying to disrupt the energy market, OVO, and realised that unstructured and fast paced environments suited me. I ended up leaving OVO to go into banking for a few years which was a great experience, but it helped me realise that I was more passionate about renewable energy, and soon returned to OVO.
Has your entrepreneurial and leadership journey been influenced by any past or present business leaders?
William: 100%. From a leadership perspective, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people over the years, but the most significant one for me has to be Sarah Calcott. Sarah is a fantastic leader who really helped me develop my own authentic leadership style and skills while we worked together at OVO. Entrepreneurially, I’ve always been really inspired by the late 90’s early 2000’s period. There are many brands from this period that have materially changed the way we live such as Google, Amazon and Apple, all with very different stories and styles, but they all had a shared belief in their ability to change the way humans live. Octopus Hydrogen has also got an awesome entrepreneur, Greg Jackson, as our major investor. It's incredibly helpful and inspiring having him on board as he is a great sounding board and has amazing vision.
What key challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurial and business leadership journey? How did you navigate these?
William: The hardest thing has always been finding a channel to express my passion and have an impact. I’ve been incredibly lucky, I was brought up to be confident and was always told I could do anything. If things didn't feel right, I would follow my gut and make a bold decision. Luckily those decisions have always worked out well.
As a serial entrepreneur and investor, what attracted you to the renewable energy market?
William: Climate change is the ‘perfect’ problem for humanity. The prevailing view has been that economic growth is not a zero sum game and that everyone can be better off year on year regardless of population growth.
However, the reality is our economic growth has come at the expense of future generations and a habitable planet.
Thankfully, I believe in humanity's ability to find solutions to our problems and that we can create technology that can and will save us. Renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuel, and can help us create a better life for everyone.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors looking to operate within the renewable energy sector?
William: The first would be to find a problem that motivates you and is large enough to keep motivating you. I worked just as hard trying to import aftermarket car parts from Japan via the USA when I was 17, to make a tiny margin as I do now.
Everything takes hard work, so find something you are willing to work hard on indefinitely. There is often a romanticised version of entrepreneurship that comes from stories such as Dyson or Gymshark (massive kudos to Ben Francis nonetheless).
In both cases, the founder starts a business from their garage with no prior experience of the sector and, despite the odds, succeeds. However you only hear about the successful ones, there are many great businesses founded by founders who cut their teeth somewhere first. So don't be afraid to gain experience and learn as much as you can.
We would like to explore the origin story of Octopus Hydrogen. Please give us an overview of why and how Octopus Hydrogen was established?
William: I would love to be able to say that I’ve always known green hydrogen was going to be part of the net zero future, but I can’t. My ex-nuclear co-founder, Ben Eaton, suggested we look at green hydrogen. As I started to research the area I realised that there are many applications where hydrogen is not a great solution (I am being generous, you could argue it's an awful solution), this is especially true for things like heating and general transport.
However for applications that are very weight sensitive, hydrogen is really our only viable net zero fuel. From a mobility perspective, aviation is the real ‘killer application’ of green hydrogen, followed by long range shipping and long range trucks.
We set up Octopus Hydrogen to decarbonise the sectors which cannot be decarbonised easily through electrification. We took the idea to Octopus Energy who are passionate about 100% renewable power grids, excellent customer service and technology, and after hearing the pitch and our suggested applications, we’re happy to say they backed us.
What is Octopus Hydrogen's core value proposition and target market? William: We are here to do two things;
1. Enable 100% renewable electricity grids and 2. Decarbonise heavy mobility.
Our core value proposition is to provide green hydrogen to heavy mobility users such as trucks, planes and ships without the operator needing to build and operate a complex supply chain.
What is Octopus Hydrogen's geographical reach and expansion plans? William: Right now we are predominantly UK focussed, but we have just hired a global sales leader who is based in Denmark. Our intention is to produce green hydrogen in areas of abundant renewable energy and to provide that hydrogen to heavy mobility applications across the globe.
One of my biggest frustrations is that some countries are trying to get from 60% renewables to 100% (with the remaining 40% coming from natural gas which is the best of the fossil fuels) but a neighbouring country might be 100% coal powered. For me we have to look globally at the problem of climate change and focus our efforts where we can have the biggest impact.
Before we conclude this interview, please tell us what are the risks associated with using hydrogen as a source of renewable energy? If there are risks, what control measures has Octopus Hydrogen put in place to mitigate these?
William: It’s a great question. When people think of hydrogen they think of disasters such as the Hindenburg, and therefore conclude hydrogen is unsafe or dangerous. However, the regulations and standards surrounding compressed and explosive gases are very mature. As an example, a tank that stores hydrogen at a pressure of 350 times greater than regular air pressure will have been tested at over 1000 times that pressure, you just don't see that level of redundancy in other sectors apart from maybe nuclear and commercial aviation. It is also worth noting this isn't new technology, there are thousands of hydrogen powered Toyota Mirais on the roads in Japan and California.
Thank you William for participating in this Q&A session, we look forward to seeing Octopus Hydrogen flourish and grow.
William: Thank you
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