We caught up with Sandra Sassow, CEO & Co-Founder of SEaB Energy as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. SEaB specialise in on-site containerised energy from organic waste. Their patented Muckbuster® and Flexibuster™ containers provide compact anaerobic digestion systems that can be tailored to meet site waste quantities, rather than requiring certain quantities of waste to function.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK scale-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Sandra: Hi, nice to meet you! My name is Sandra Sassow, and I am a Co-Founder and CEO of SEaB Energy. This is a trading name of SEaB Power Limited in the UK. We are a UK limited company with a US subsidiary and have developed a technology that converts organic waste into energy that recovers the water and fertiliser at the same time. What is unique about SEaB Energy is that we have managed to get our technology into a small-scale format (Muckbuster® and Flexibuster™) so it is a modular system that can be incorporated into a site that is either urban or rural. On the urban front, we can be incorporated inside a building as an appliance. This is a game changer as currently all organic waste is transported to be processed and so transport is where the majority of the carbon footprint comes from beyond the waste carbon footprint itself. By eliminating the need for transport, we are vastly reducing the carbon footprint of the waste.
Sandra: We can process between 0.5 and 2.5 tons a day of solid organic waste in our modular units. This is dependent on the product and the type of waste. We have modular systems, and we have 2 different products. The Flexibuster™ is targeted at food waste sites and the Muckbuster® is targeted more at farm waste sites. The difference between them is the pasteurisation element which is incorporated into the Flexibuster™ and the pre-processing capabilities. We can scale to any amount of waste on a site, but our modular systems have limits on how many additional processing digestor modules you can attach on the back without having the need for a new front end. Our maximum capacity for food waste is 2.5 tons a day and for the farm waste it can be up to 7 tons a day. However, for agricultural waste it depends a lot on the type of waste that is being processed e.g. – slurry or sludge.
We also have prospective customers processing up to 10 tons a day on a food waste site by putting multiple units onsite.
Sandra: We are husband-and-wife founders, supported by an amazing team focused on engineering, project management, and sales. My co-founder Nick was a founding member of PWCs Renewable Energy Practice. In 2003, Nick was doing a lot of research into Oil and Gas sector technologies where they were looking at establishing their renewable energy strategies. During this time, we looked at a broad variety of technologies that could potentially be established on a distributed basis because everything, when it is large scale, is centralised. It is normally the grid that is the limiting factor because you have to deliver the energy to the user. As seen with offshore wind, the wind resources are in one location, but the energy users are in a completely different location, so you have losses associated with the transmission of energy. Across the board, smaller technologies are generally not as efficient as larger technologies. This includes wind turbines, solar, or the waste sector. However, for SEaB Energy have made gains on the efficiency by not requiring the waste or the energy to be transported to another site. Therefore, you have a better localised cost of energy, better carbon footprint, and more localised resilience. SEaB Energy came from an initial look at what was happening in the renewable energy sector. We saw that there was space in the sector to do something on a distributed basis. Specifically in the waste sector, very little was being done at a localised level and so that is what Nick and I focused on with our team. We started with much larger shipping containers and we have shrunk them down to 20ft. This is why the modularity was important because we wanted to scale to the amount of waste a site had rather than the site having to produce a certain amount of waste to meet capacity.
Sandra: Sure. On the business model and scaling, we initially started in an office and tried to recruit locally. We struggled to get the skillsets we needed, and we were quite limited by geography. We changed the business model in 2018 and as a result, we have changed to remote working. We actually had remote working prior to COVID-19 and so this was really helpful as every team member was already tech enabled and had remote access to our data. I found it essential to have remote access as I needed current information on the business whilst I was travelling globally. This also helped us scale the business into new international markets. SEaB Energy now has the ability to hire the best candidates, independent of their location. Our HQ is in London but our team of 13 is spread across the UK, US, Portugal, and have the option to temporarily work from an alternative remote location like me, as I am currently in Bermuda.
From my career, I think many people face a choice between family and career. SEaB Energy’s approach allows our employees to have much more flexibility which allows us to hire a more diverse team, making the organisation stronger overall.
Sandra: SEaB Energy were solely focused on Europe up until recently. We are just starting to look at the US market. Each of the geographies we expand into, and this will be the same for most tech companies, have different regulatory environments. By moving into a new market, you have new regulations you have to comply with, some of which are similar to the UK and some of which are very different. The US market tends to be quite different to the European market regarding physical pieces of equipment. For market entry into new geographies, it is a slower initial process and then picks up.
Sandra: We spend a lot of time analysing the market before we enter it. We have pinpointed the first entry points and we test and iterate around this. In addition to this, we feedback market information into product design, and as such, we are a market-led design company. This means we start with market information and design to meet market requirements.
Sandra: Sure. In terms of challenges and barriers, there is the regulatory barrier. This is much more significant than people anticipate. The other elements are the cultural barriers and identifying suitable supply chain partners. SEaB Energy also need the maintenance and support element within the local geography. It is quite a significant step to take something designed in one location with a certain infrastructure, support, and supply chain, and recreate this in a new location to be able to successfully enter and support a customer base. In some countries we have faced language barriers so we had to ensure we knew exactly what customer support would entail and scaling this with a team who have adequate skillsets to meet customer expectations across different markets. Occasionally, we have had to cross-resourcing as the person who speaks the language may not be within a sales role. It helps to have a flexible team who are willing to do a little bit of everything, but that is the nature of a scale-up business.
Sandra: From my experience, I would say networking is super important. People buy from people, and investors invest in people. The more comfortable investors feel with you, the more they understand your ethos and business culture, your mission and vision, the more likely they are to step across the line. My advice would be get to know the investment community before you need to ask them for something and nurture those relationships over a period of time. Then, the investors have followed you and will be more comfortable giving you the capital you need to grow your business.
Thank you for your time, Sandra!