Jemma Green claimed top honours at Sir Richard Branson’s 2018 Extreme Tech Challenge and she created a blockchain marketplace for renewable energy. Needless to say – we were drawn to talk to Power Ledger’s female Founder.
Power Ledger was born in Perth in 2016 and its Chair and Co-founder Jemma Green describes it as a movement that enables electricity trading, renewable energy asset financing and carbon markets.
Since its inception Power Ledger have established projects and partners internationally including Thailand, Japan and the US. Jemma was famously invited to Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island to pitch this year and claimed the top honours at his 2018 Extreme Tech Challenge.
However, despite this early international recognition and success, Perth remains the hub from which majority of the team works from and where the company culture is curated.
We talk to Jemma about pitching to Richard Branson, pursuing Australia’s first ever Initial Coin Offering, and how to attract more talented women into tech leadership positions.
What inspired you to start a business?
We started the company in May 2016 after identifying some problems in the electricity market. There were a few key issues at play. Rising electricity costs, blackouts or no access to power and the potentially devastating toll the burning of coal, oil and gas is having on the Earth’s atmosphere. In 2013, I began a PhD in energy markets and disruptive innovation and one of the things I noticed was that barely any apartments, which make up 30 per cent of the housing stock in Australia, have solar panels. Knowing that apartment blocks could operate as an energy retailer without a retail license, I designed an embedded network for apartment blocks to generate and trade solar energy.
I was struggling to find software to allocate units of electricity until 2016 when I was introduced to two blockchain developers, one of which is Power Ledger co-founder John Bulich. Once I learned more about how the blockchain works, I realised the technology could facilitate and regulate consumer energy trading in the way I had envisaged.
Synchronously, our fellow co-founder and Power Ledger’s Managing Director Dave Martin had identified some other issues in the market. After 20 years working in the energy industry, Dave saw what we now call the utility death spiral unfolding. In short, it means people are installing their own battery and solar – because it’s becoming cheaper for them to do so — and leaving the electricity grid behind in the process. When they do this, they make the grid more expensive for everyone left connected who are left supporting the cost of the existing infrastructure. It means the people that suffer most are the people who can least afford it.
It was with these ideas that Power Ledger was born. Power Ledger was created to provide a marketplace so renewable energy can be affordable, low-carbon and available to everyone around the world. It means individuals are able to maximise the return on their renewable energy investments, while their neighbours are able to buy their renewable energy for cheaper. It maintains the value of the connected grid, while preventing the need to invest in expensive infrastructure in developing nations.
Blockchain is a buzzword at the moment leaving many confused, how would you describe it?
The easiest explanation I’ve come across is that Blockchain is a public database of transactions. It’s distributed, so instead of one person controlling all the transactions, there are millions of computers around the world connected to a network, and these millions of computers come to an agreement on which transactions are valid. The chain of linked transactions is known as the blockchain. Essentially, blockchain takes all the data, breaks it into millions of pieces or blocks and stores it across the network. This makes it incredibly secure. So instead of breaking into one network, you now have to break into a village, simultaneously, all with different keys. The distributed ledger is what keeps it secure.
In terms of blockchain being a buzzword, I think it’s helpful to think about it as another technology, similar to the internet, which is working in the background of our platform.
Power Ledger claimed top honours at the 2018 Extreme Tech Challenge run by Richard Branson – tell us a bit about that.
Being named in the top three was incredible, as was visiting Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island to pitch. While everyone else was partying and relaxing, I was memorising our 7-minute pitch. I must have practiced it over 100 times. But it was all worth it when we secured the win! Sir Richard was at the Paris Climate talks and was one of those present at the pledge for carbon neutrality by 2050. He saw Power Ledger as having a role delivering that pledge. So I’m very proud Power Ledger is such a part of the future as he sees it. Taking home the crown is huge validation of what we’re doing. It shows that people outside our circles see our company as a solution to a global problem.
Have you experienced failure during your start-up journey and if so, could you share any lessons from this?
Every day I make mistakes! We made hiring mistakes. Not everyone is interested in innovation. Some see it rather like an anthropologist does, with theories. Innovation for me though is about problem solving. You need to be fascinated by the problems and to hire people who are equally as fascinated to create an innovative culture.
Could you share something about your funding journey, like how was your first pitch to investors?
We were eager to pursue an Initial Coin Offering for funding and began to plan the first ever token sale / ICO in Australia. At the outset, we had no idea what the process would entail and were left promoting the sale in an incredibly tight timeframe.
I pitched my heart out to angels, VCs in Perth and eastern states. We were a curiosity. Some were interested but wanted very difficult terms. The Australian market was harder to get up than the international market.
Who assisted you with the technical expertise?
I had vaguely heard of blockchain in relation to Bitcoin a few years ago during my time at JP Morgan, but I was only introduced to its full capabilities just before Power Ledger was founded in 2016. I was introduced to two blockchain developers, including Power Ledger co-founder John Bulich and when I realised the capabilities of the technology, I was hooked. I spent time Googling, in forums, listening to podcasts and consuming everything I could find about the topic until it all clicked.
John is an ongoing source of knowledge. As is the rest of the Power Ledger team. They understand the ins and outs of the tech, and are never done learning. From blockchain experts and software wizards who help guide the business to our community members that come to us with difficult questions about our products, all of which helps extend our knowledge as a result.
What is it like being a woman and leader in the tech industry?
From my experience, while there are countless, talented and driven female entrepreneurs globally, I would love to see more. There’s still not nearly enough women in tech startups, and even less in the blockchain space. That said, my experience has been very positive and the women who are making waves in the space are truly inspiring. I’m very proud that Power Ledger is attracting a lot of female talent. I think having more women in leadership positions in startups gives other women something relatable to strive for.
Do you have a mentor?
Yes, many! To name one – Bill Tai, Power Ledger’s advisor and friend, is an ongoing source of wisdom. He was in Perth last week for West Tech Fest and also attended the Power Ledger Christmas party where he imparted some nuggets of wisdom on the team. He’s lived through the last industrial revolution and can see it happening again. Talking to him is like a technology history lesson.
As well as the incredible, and ever-growing, network of advisors who teach me new things about blockchain, energy and cryptocurrency every single day, the Power Ledger team means I’m exposed to more brilliant minds who understand the ins and outs of the tech, from different walks of life.