NappyZap: “The private sector should provide ways for consumers to adopt greener habits”
NappyZap is an on-demand nappy recycling service that was piloted in London last year. Founder Nic Hamilton was one of eight start-ups who pitched at TechPitch 4.5 on 31 January 2016. We caught up with Nic to chat about NappyZap’s progress and plans, the burgeoning “circular economy”, holding the UK government to its environmental promises, and his appreciation for “tough questions” at TechPitch 4.5.
-Nic, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your professional story?
I came to London from New Zealand and worked in a range of roles mostly in media production and advertising. The first job I had when I arrived over 15 years ago was breaking up concrete with a jack-hammer on a building site.
-Tell us how the idea for NappyZap began and evolved. Was there a particular experience – personal or professional – that led you to spotting the market gap in nappy recycling?
When our two daughters came along, I became aware of how much nappy waste we were creating, and that it is a problem for waste authorities across the country. Then I saw the founder of Ocado speak about how they view themselves as a technology company, and I started thinking: what if this on-demand software we were seeing, with the rise of Uber and online grocery delivery, was applied to the waste industry and tackling nappy waste?
–Once you had the idea, where did you start?
I started by taking the idea to UCL Computer Sciences, and giving it as a brief to students. The first version of our software was developed there. Then I partnered with Camden Council to run a pilot with a number of households to test the software and survey the market.
-What is NappyZap and how does it work? Why is it unique in the market and what value does it give to its users, especially compared to similar products?
Nappy Zap is an on-demand waste collection service for households, focusing on nappies, to divert them from landfill to recycling. It is unique because the algorithm powers a fleet of electric vehicles that are route optimised in real time. Parents make requests for a collection via our app and we respond in a very short time frame, normally a couple of hours. Parents can schedule collections too.
-What is the status of NappyZap? Are you officially up and running?
We haven’t launched yet. We’re ready to go, but waiting for a nappy recycling facility to open in West London. Our plan is be operational by the end of 2017.
-How have you funded yourself so far and what are your plans/hopes for future funding?
During our first phase when we developed the software at UCL and ran the pilot in Camden, the costs were very low. An electric vehicle manufacturer loaned us a collection vehicle, so the only costs were some server costs and my time. The next phase of software development was paid for by an Innovate UK grant. I spent that on a developer and infrastructure architect to incorporate learnings from the pilot and make the algorithm more sophisticated.
-You did really well at TechPitch 4.5 Play. How did you find the experience? Did you make any good connections and get any good feedback?
I had to focus on how to get my business idea across to an audience and explain the revenue model in a short space of time, so having that experience has allowed me to hone the idea and give me confidence to pitch again to investors – a process I’m about to embark on. In the networking part of the evening, I made some useful connections and received great feedback. But I also faced a few difficult questions from one chap in the networking, which was what I was ultimately after. I really wanted to be challenged on the concept, because I’ve had too much positive reinforcement up until now. So I will be meeting up with him in a few weeks time over a coffee to face a few more difficult questions!
-The UK government has stated its intention to support innovative technologies, but there is some concern that leaving the EU will mean forfeiting our responsibility to reduce climate change and waste and support renewable energy and technologies. Do you think this will be the case? Will it ultimately be up to the private sector to find cost-effective ways for consumers to adopt greener habits?
The government is saying it will replace EU environmental legislation like for like or go even better. It’s important to hold government to this promise, and the private sector has a huge role to play to ensure this happens by advocating for even more robust legislation that works for the UK. The private sector should provide ways for consumers to adopt greener habits, because that’s what consumers want. Products have to be designed to be recycled, and we’ll see more of this with manufacturers. The circular economy is here to stay and ‘producer responsibility’ legislation is expanding.
-What is your take on the start-up ecosystem in the UK, especially after the Brexit vote?
I see that most entrepreneurs view Brexit as an opportunity, because that’s how their brains are hardwired. There is uncertainty about how new legislation will be implemented, and concern about investors moving their money and focus to other countries. But the UK has always been a place of innovation and we have the opportunity to be vocal about the shape legislation needs to take, so let’s get out there and influence policy-makers! The government recognises that support for innovative technologies needs to continue because the UK needs to remain competitive, so let’s help them by coming up with great ideas.