“I want to take a company from the lab to its first million and beyond”: An interview with James Evangelou on his 1 year RIG anniversary

James Evangelou joined Rapid Innovation Group in September 2015 after graduating from Cambridge and spending 6 month teaching English in Colombo. He spent a lunch with RIG Engagement Manager, Ffion Rolph, talking success, challenges, and his bid to take over RIG.

First things first, are you still happy to be here?

Yes! I’m still enjoying myself and I think there’s a lot to look forward to in the next year.

Good stuff. And thinking back, what made you want to join RIG?

Well, I was fresh out of university and looking for a job. I liked what RIG does and the technology areas in which it works looked very interesting.

After I met some of the team a few times, I felt there was a good fit. The third time we met, I was torn between working for RIG and taking an opportunity to teach in Sri Lanka for 6 months. When Shields told me to go to Sri Lanka and join RIG when I came back, I knew it would be a good place to work.

Did you have any preconceptions that turned out to be wrong?

I thought that there might be more of an individual focus, or that teams would be more distinct. In reality, there’s more of a company-wide team ethos. We all maintain our own areas of expertise but we address challenges together by drawing on the collective experience.

What’s been your biggest challenge over the last year?

I suppose I could try to define my greatest challenge with a particular moment or event. More generally, however, I think a great challenge for any new recruit is understanding and managing expectations in a new work environment. This comes back to the preconceptions you just asked me about. When I joined, I was told about the lack of formal hierarchy at RIG. But I still had my own notions about how things would work in practice and, at first, I had a tendency to defer to others’ experience or knowledge.

Over time, I’ve had to challenge myself to realise that it’s not about age or experience but about who is the subject-matter expert on a particular type of challenge or technology. In my first year, it’s been a challenge to put myself forward as a leader, but one which has brought a lot of opportunity.

And how about your greatest success?

I’ve really enjoyed finding interesting new technologies that we would like to work with and establishing the relationships to facilitate that. It’s also been rewarding to identify key applications and multiple value propositions for emerging energy technologies. The opportunity to prove and develop these with some of the largest energy service companies in Europe has bestowed a responsibility on me which requires organisation while fostering creativity.

What do you think are some really exciting technology areas right now?

I recently went to a conference on the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ and this is an area I think is pretty interesting. What’s cool about it is that it overlaps with so many other things. It could be linked to advanced materials, industrial manufacturing, and a host of other things. This overlap is what makes it so interesting.

Beyond this, I’m also interested in energy infrastructure technologies – software or hardware – because of the significant macro challenges that they’re solving. The interplay of distributed generation, energy storage, and the significance of data in the wider energy ecosystem is demanding open innovation and collaboration It’s bringing out some clever technology in the process.

Any tips for some technologies to watch?

Energy storage is an area which is continuing to grow and is seen as an essential component of any electricity grid. The recent $85 million investment in the Germany battery company, Sonnen, is indicative of this perception. Storage, however, is a broad category that ranges from smaller scale home batteries to compressed air in large underground salt caverns and it will probably take a combination of these technologies to achieve a sustainable energy mix. For me, what’s really interesting is the integration of domestic battery technologies and their battery management systems with elements of device communication. This will help usher in the promised  era of smart homes and cities of the future.

I’d also like to add water technology to this list. Given the importance of water in our world and its increasing scarcity, an interesting water conservation or anti-desertification technology is something I’m keeping my eyes peeled for. The issue of water scarcity goes far beyond my interest in cool tech; it could well be one of the defining geopolitical issues of this century.

What do you think is one of the critical commercial challenges for an early stage technology company?

Finding the market before ‘finding’ the product. Tailor the product to the market and not the other way around. If the market isn’t obvious or there is no demand, then you need to look at selecting another market. How you position yourself relative to the market and the opportunity is more critical to success than how much time you spend perfecting your first prototype.

Define your ambition for us: where do you want to be in 3 years’ time?

Other than taking over RIG? I’d like to work with a really interesting technology, become an expert in that space, then develop and execute a strategy to take that company from the lab to its first million and beyond.

Finally, what’s it really like working at RIG?

Working here is both challenging and rewarding, and those two go very much hand in hand. The opportunities to work with interesting technology and be on the road mean that working here isn’t your standard office 9-5.

The people you get to work with at RIG aren’t half bad either.