Ben Gibbons – GreenBrick Ventures CIC
It was a Start Up loan of £11,500 from Outset Finance that helped one young man turn his dream of creating an ethical business utilising recycled plastic to help benefit a developing country.
GreenBrick Ventures CIC was set up this year by Ben Gibbons, aged 24 years, who was forced to return to the UK from overseas where he had spent time working with NGOs and local communities, and seeing first-hand the problem that plastic pollution posed to them and the environment.
Catching the last flight back to the UK from Nepal in March before the first lockdown, Ben settled back in his native Dorset. Like many other young people in their twenties, he found the employment situation in the UK challenging and his thoughts turned to how he could utilise some of the knowledge and experience that he developed overseas into a potential business of his own.
“There were a number of companies in the UK using recycled materials in construction but not specifically recycled plastic, so I spent time researching the potential for the materials we throw away every day to be used to create new products.” Ben stated.
Initially Ben looked at grants from the government to see if they would help to fund his “grand daydreams” of establishing a company using recycled plastic and innovative design to have a positive impact on the environment both here and in Nepal, with a portion of the money generated going to fund the set-up of similar recycling centres there.
“I loved the idea of entrepreneurship” said Ben, “but I soon realised that with no business experience, it would be harder work than I thought to apply for grants and funding. I needed to prove that I could make it work in order to be in a more credible position.” A close friend, Connor Winter joined the company as co-founder bringing practical skills and experience to balance Ben’s creativity.
Ben decided to start on a small scale and carried out a huge amount of research into the market to use recycled plastic. He discovered an organisation in Holland who had developed an open-source network, available to anyone to help them set up plastic recycling centres.
Whilst looking for possible funding options, Ben came across Outset Finance and the Start Up Loans. After making contact with his local advisor, they had several meetings to talk through his forecasts and other aspects of the business. He stated, “The whole process took just three weeks from start to finish, which was incredible! The advisor helped me to improve my application, suggesting that I look at my competitors to consider how to position the Community Interest Company. This help was invaluable and certainly helped to make the application go through so quickly.”
Ben used his loan of £11,500 from Outset Finance to purchase the equipment and tools to kit out a workshop as well as install the three-phase electricity required to run them. The workshop is actually located in an old Hovis van which they have been allowed to locate at a community therapy farm in Dorset. “As GreenBrick is a community interest company, we are keen to develop a network of organisations helping each other and one example of this is that we have been given a rent grace period to help get us going,” commented Ben. He now plans to spend time testing products in order to develop a range of garden furniture, bike shelters and small storage cabinets depending on how successful the production process is and customer feedback.
“I’ve had to work hard to develop my technical competency, learning how to use machines and tools. You have to be willing to make mistakes and just experiment and Connor has had a lot of knowledge sharing with me” said Ben.
The aim of the company is to contribute to the circular economy where we recycle the plastic to create products that people want to buy so that money can go to projects in Nepal. They’ve already had interest from the large retailer Lush for their product ideas as part of their environmental practices. Ben has been also been busy building their new website in preparation for launching the business to the world.
“What we’re trying to do is bigger than me, as a founder, or even the company, as a single organisation – so it’s important that local communities are at the heart of it, and not ourselves. That’s actually taken me a while to understand: our focus is all about empowering people to be able to take on this challenge, rather than ‘beating’ competitors. Things take on a different light when you’re clear that that’s your aim,” said Ben. He has used his contacts in NGOs overseas to help start developing a network of community projects with the plan to creating a business model for the recycling workshop which can be replicated elsewhere.
Ben is keen to work with local authorities and schools to provide solutions to their recycling issues which can provide them with the materials to create products which can then be sold benefitting many people in return.
“I am truly grateful to Outset Finance for the loan that they helped me to be successful in applying for and that they had the open mind to take the time to understand what we planning to achieve.”
Ben’s advice to others thinking of starting a new enterprise is the following:
- I think the single most important quality in starting a business isn’t what you know or what you’re already skilled at, but how willing you are to keep on learning new things. It’s hard on your ego to stay in that place of learning, because it’s more comfortable for all of us to stay doing what we’re already good at. I’ve never been a hands-on person and so starting a workshop seemed like an incredibly scary thing to do. But I’ve learnt so much already, and if I can continue to learn, I know I’ll be fine.
- It’s also a good idea to keep some sort of employment going at least in the initial stages of setting up your business – I teach science to kids at Crystal Palace football club as they often have to miss school in order to train a few days a week. This allows me to have an income rather than rely on family and friends to support me and reduces the risk to starting the company.
- Others have told me that things always take longer than you plan them to and cost more money and to an extent they are right so bear this mind when doing your projections and try to anticipate some of the unexpected costs so that you don’t end up with cash flow issues.
- Be brave and reach out as people genuinely want to support you and often have contacts which can be useful or can offer help in forms other than money particularly for companies such as ours which have a strong ethical and environmental ethos.
- Don’t expect to know everything or be able to have a fixed strategy for the business – be fluid in your thinking. Accept that you can’t do everything – our logo for example has been created by a designer as these are skills that we don’t have in-house.
- Be optimistic but with a touch of realism and willing to tolerate a degree of discomfort to achieve what you set out to do
For more information about Greenbrick Ventures visit www.greenbrick.org.uk