It’s always so refreshing when you come across a business that really inspires you. Recently I met with the very modest (but clear Genius-Inventor) Phil Selwyn from Water Powered Technologies (WPT). Phil operates the business from Bude, tucked away in North Cornwall. The business has developed water technology that appeals to a global market, and is a company with sustainability at its heart.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve always been an inventor and was known in the village from a young age as “the kid who fixes things”. I was always interested in tinkering and making things. My Grandfather was an inventor and my father was an engineer. I discovered I had a natural instinct and ability to fix things from a very young age. I became interested in energy – I think this was helped by the fact I was living in the countryside, where you see it all around you. As soon as I learnt that the sun is the primary energy source, I began to look at things in a sustainable way.
Where did the idea for the Papa Pump come from?
A friend of mine who’s a farmer collared me to look at his water pump. There were various issues/inefficiencies with the pump. In the process of going to have a look at it, I noticed a concrete chamber with a ram pump inside. I then set myself a challenge of getting it working.
Going through the process of stripping the pump down, I noticed there were some clear issues with it. I thought I could design one from scratch that was better. The main part that needed improving was the waste valve. It needed looking at because it wasn’t adjustable over a wide enough range of flow. I was working on a wind device at the time, which inspired my idea of developing a valve that operated like an aeroplane wing.
The criterion for making the pump was for it to be made from as few parts as possible, and as simple as possible – I made the first prototype around 1995. In 1997 I set up a company with the help of some funding from a Channel Islands investor and that’s when we first started making the first metal ‘Papa Pumps’. Working with a more active investor has enabled us to move from metal pumps to the injection moulded version you see today.
Not only can these zero energy pumps be used on farms, they can also be used in the developing world. The majority of places that use these pumps will be fairly remote, so the simpler the better.
What’s the size of the business?
There are ten of us at present, with our upcoming move we are taking on more research and development resource. We’re hoping to reach fifteen within the next two years.
Tell us about the future?
We’re hoping to establish a Centre of Excellence in Newquay at the Aerohub, which we’re excited about. Here, we will have a testing facility utilising a stream which runs throughout the site. We are also going to put up a 15 meter high tower, for testing purposes. The new site will allow us to scale and take on new team members.
How do you find working in Cornwall?
For me, Cornwall has always been an industrial area – people are hardworking and committed. There’s also a broad range of industries from engineering through to farming and fishing. It’s now moved into tourism and other things, but I’ve always found it to be an exciting place. The fact that the region is surrounded by water gives it a dynamic of its own.
If you could be anywhere in the UK, would you still chose Cornwall?
Yes, I would still choose Cornwall. Things have changed, a lot. Twenty years ago investors would come here and say to me that they wanted to move the business to the Midlands. Digital communication here in Cornwall has made travelling less relevant. Even in terms of logistics, we can now order stuff from China and items arrive within two days. The fact that you are out on the edge has got no relevance at all to trading in the modern world.
Finally, how have you found raising finance in Cornwall?
Historically I’ve found that with innovation finance, individual equity investment has been the best route, however it seems that more recently crowdfunding has filled a large hole – I think there’s a great opportunity now for people with ideas to go straight out and utilise the support systems that are available.
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