Research driven energy pioneer and serial disrupter

Interview with Dr Glenn Platt – Founder of Evergen & Research Director of Energy at CSIRO

Dr Glenn Platt has been described as both a serial entrepreneur and energy pioneer. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has been involved in so many game changing startups. His research is focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency, from solar cooling to smart grid control technologies or zero emission buildings. Through his startup Evergen, Glenn developed Australia’s first smart solar battery system. He was the recipient of the Young Australian Executive of the Year award in 2011 and has also played a pivotal role in establishing clean-tech incubators Eighteen04 and Energylab.

Your innovation

In my role at CSIRO I lead research teams and come up with innovative systems and ideas. We then turn these into businesses through a process we call ‘spinning out’. Through this process I have been involved in the development of 8 different startups. Evergen is a company that was developed and driven through my research with CSIRO. When it started, it was a completely revolutionary idea – Australia’s first, next-generation, intelligent home energy management system. In basic terms, Evergen manages solar and battery systems inside people’s homes. When AMP Capital showed interest in developing the technology into a product, I was asked to develop the business from the ground up. Evergen cuts energy bills by huge amounts and helps people to make money from their home systems. It’s a complex technology made simple for the consumer.

Your story

My background is in electrical engineering. I was originally in the coal and steel industry, which is pretty common for a Novocastrian engineer. I then completed my PhD in mobile phone systems at the University of Newcastle and this study led me to Copenhagen where I worked with Nokia. Whilst there I went ice diving to see how climate change was affecting the ice thickness. I had always been interested in the environment but this really got me thinking about what I was doing for work and the impact I was having on the world around me. When I returned to Newcastle, CSIRO was establishing a team in energy management. This aligned with my PhD; the core technique for sharing energy is similar to how you share radio waves. I have now been with CSIRO on and off for over 14 years.

Your business and team

I am often working with different teams of people depending on the company or project. I built Evergen with two people – Marcus Dorreen, an investment analyst and Emlyn Keane, an engineer who works in green buildings. We were paired together by one of our investors AMP Capital. We also worked with human centered design teams to develop a different way to discuss and sell energy to our clients. Terms like ‘kilowatts’ mean nothing to most people! We really wanted the product look cool so we worked with experts in consumer marketing from Sydney, as well as social scientists from CSIRO in Brisbane.

Innovation Support

I didn’t access any of the usual support systems myself. These didn’t really exist when I was beginning. However this has inspired me to mentor and support other innovators looking to follow similar paths. I was involved in the development of clean-tech incubators Eighteen04 [supported by Newcastle City Council] and Energylab. I also led Australia’s first solar hackathon, Hack the Sun.

Why Newcastle

There are two main reason for why I choose to work in Newcastle. Firstly – it’s an incredible place to live! There are lakes, mountains and beaches all within close reach of each other. Secondly, I feel people in Newcastle are really hungry to make a difference. As a heavy industry town that has experienced huge economic change, I feel the demand to be innovative and stay ahead of the game. For energy innovation – it’s an exciting place to be situated.

Your challenges

It’s important to know your own strengths. Despite being involved in the development of numerous companies, Evergen was my first experience as a founding CEO of a company. I had a great time getting Evergen off the ground but once the company reached a certain point of maturity, it became much more sales focused. I recognised that there were other people who are much better at driving sales and so after two years I chose the leave to company and return to CSIRO. My focus and
enjoyment definitely lies in development.

The future

There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into that process of founding and developing Evergen. It was hard to leave but I’m excited to do it all over again in a different area. I am now back at CSIRO and have begun development of our 9th business!

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