Title : Rising Star: Ramon Gray of PolyCare
Date : 3 April 2017
Each month, The LOWdown sits down with one of the rising stars of the European startup and entrepreneur community. This month, we catch up with Ramon Gray of PolyCare, a company revolutionising the construction industry with polymer concrete blocks made from recycled material, which allows those in deprived communities or disaster zones to quickly build houses that are both resilient and eco-friendly.
LOW: Why did you set up your company?
The answer isn’t what you might expect. We were a group of aging entrepreneurs who between us had done just about everything in business. But we knew considering our ages that we were approaching the final finishing post. And we asked ourselves: When we leave this world, what will we leave behind, and what difference would we have created for those we leave behind?
LOW: When did you set up your business, and how long did it take?
My colleague Dr Gerhard Dust setting up PolyCare GmbH in 2011, and I set up PolyCare UK in 2012.
LOW: Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’ (i.e. which led to you starting your business, or which triggered a change in the way you did things)?
For all of us in PolyCare it was for those poor soles in Haiti after their devastating earthquake. For those who had lost the wives and children, their homes and their jobs. We just thought there had to be something better than the way we currently construct homes and buildings. Why do we continue to use a system that still harks back to a system like that used by the Romans over two thousand years ago?
LOW: Where did you source funding to set up your business?
Unfortunately, for many inventors this is the most difficult area. Banks and finance houses generally do not support things they don’t understand or have no track record on. So most funding came out of our own pockets.
LOW: With hindsight, which would have been the single most valuable skill to have before setting up your business?
First and foremost, commitment and vision. You must fully believe in what you are doing and be ready for significant setbacks. The challenges we have faced are significant and are still there, but the technology has now been introduced and it cannot be ignored. In effect this is the Uber of the construction industry.
LOW: What is the single best piece of advice you have received along the way?
In fact this came from my wife (and still does by the way!). Don’t get side-tracked. I can’t tell you the number of times people look at our product and say…. “I tell you what you could use this for…..!”
LOW: Who or what are you inspired by?
It is the people with great vision that I most admire and those who come from the humblest of backgrounds to achieve great things. For instance, Sir Norman Foster is still a beacon of inspiration, and for obvious reasons Nelson Mandela.
LOW: What is the USP that distinguishes your product or service from its competitors?
1) Simplicity and speed of build (as some say it’s like building your house with LEGO); 2) can be built by unskilled people; 3) phenomenal strength and durability; 4) cost savings; 5) repurposing of waste materials, etc.
LOW: How would you describe your progress so far? Are there any significant challenges you have had to overcome?
We are trying to introduce disruptive technology in probably the most conservative and established industry on the globe. And we are face huge multi-national conglomerates with similarly large revenues. It’s not easy.
LOW: How are you planning to grow your business?
The story can’t be suppressed. In May we are building a small garden office in Weybridge, England and expect full coverage from the press and TV. The public will then have the ability to make a judgement on what we offer. I think I know what that response will be and then, as the saying goes “the cat is out of the bag”
LOW: If you were in charge of the government ministry for SMEs and start-ups, what would be the three most important changes you would make to help them grow?
Flexibility. Most governments have incentive schemes for innovation. However, many of these are just so restrictive and based around the technology and ways of working that currently exist that we can’t get access to them. In the UK the government has set aside a huge fund for build in new ways but it excludes us because it sets out so many rules about what can and cannot be funded. This follows us being judged as one of the most innovative projects of 2016. That’s just crazy!
LOW The best thing about being an entrepreneur is…?
Seeing your ideas ultimately changing lives.
LOW: What do you see as the key trends/disruptors for 2017 relevant to entrepreneurs?
Uncertainty in the markets, and especially the uncertainty as a result of the UK leaving the EU.
LOW: If you could go back to when you were about to start your company and give yourself a single message or piece of advice, what would it be?
Be even bolder, more certain, and press even harder. Don’t be afraid to confront the blockers (you will certainly get them) and don’t be afraid to press your ideas to the decision makers.
Find PolyCare on Twitter at @PolyCareResReturn to The LOWdown