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Mind the gap: a decade of growth at RIG


From 2013 to 2022, two views on RIG: an interview with Ffion and Anya 

FR: What was “life before RIG” for you, and what do you feel prepared you well for your role here?

ALF: I worked in recruitment in Singapore and I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to stay in it long-term, but I think I learned a lot of useful skills. For example, picking up the phone to reach someone when they might not be expecting your call can be daunting but it’s a useful approach. In recruitment, that is a big part of your day-to-day and it has helped me at RIG.

I was also previously a teacher, abroad in South Korea. While there, I was the only foreigner at the school, so I had to get used to feeling out of my depth, and having that experience is something that I think I’ll draw upon at work and elsewhere because it allows you to be uncomfortable in the unknown.

Through teaching, you learn how to manage different stakeholders. You have to learn to respond in the moment, and that’s something I want to keep working on. You can prep all you want but sometimes there’s a curveball thrown at you, and you need to think on your feet. I think I built a good foundation for this in teaching, and I want to keep improving.

FR: That’s very interesting, especially as there are a few former teachers at RIG who’ve found that experience to be a valuable contributor to what they do today.

ALF: So you’ve been at RIG for a long time, but I’m wondering about your time before RIG and how it influenced your experience here?

FR: I think it’s fair to say my professional career before RIG was fairly limited, but I did a stint at the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff and most of what I was doing there was looking into whatever was relevant: research for policy, engaging with constituents’ concerns, and so on. There was a lot of talking to different people in the Assembly itself, but also dealing with letters or inquiries from the constituency.

While the area of work was quite different, there were lots of different interactions requiring careful management of conversations with a range of people to get a particular outcome. The approach was to engineer a solution which would ideally benefit everyone, so there are certain similarities between that and the way we approach negotiation: you are not setting out to “win”, but rather to engineer something which can benefit all parties.

More generally, during my later years in high school, I did a fair amount of debating, which gave me access to very motivating and bright people who helped to shape the way I think about topics and arguments, and I find I put that to use every day. So, helping me to understand how to construct a point of view and then communicate it effectively to achieve the desired outcome. I’ve found that this has served me very well here at RIG and in general day-to-day life.

ALF: When I joined RIG, the idea of a practice was quite well developed, but when you started, the company looked quite different. Can you talk through your experience of how the practice model was formed?

FR: It was quite organic at the beginning. RIG had a smaller, much more concentrated team. I was working with James [Evangelou] on a number of things, largely within decarbonisation and the circular economy. We decided to make it an explicit focus because of the knowledge and expertise we were developing and repeatedly leveraging in that space. As we grew, we brought additional people into the team and that then became the first practice. What marked it as an evolution from the way RIG had previously operated was that it was in many ways its own unit: one team with a resource dedicated to a small portfolio, all working in one common technology area. We were of course still drawing on knowledge from other areas of RIG, but in this, we had created our own niche.

It proved to be a very effective model, allowing us to focus on a particular industrial and technology area, and further deepen our expertise, which today holds a significant amount of value. It allowed us to team effectively, developing each other, and building on each other’s strengths which ultimately allowed the team to grow further in number and capability. Eventually, the practice became quite large, and that’s when we realised we had developed enough expertise and leadership within the original practice that it could split again into even more focused areas. And that’s what we see today with the four practices: Renewables, Waste-to-Product, Circular Energy and Advanced Fuels, and Industrial Decarbonisation.  

This is now how RIG is structured, and the practices are what you could consider “the verticals”, but we are also developing the “horizontal” practices like the Deal Support Team, which operates across the verticals and provides specialist support on complex deal execution and close, especially on the Series A and B rounds that we facilitate.

I think we’re seeing that this is how we will be able to grow: it allows people to come into a practice, learn about what we do and master a particular space. It also allows subject matter experts outside RIG who are enthused about our model and trajectory to establish a practice in their space and build a team to commercialise some really interesting technologies.

FR: That’s my experience, but what’s been your view as someone who is newer to the business?

ALF: I think having the practice structure is helpful as a new person: you feel like you have that support within the team, but you also have people across the business like the Directors and Deal Team, who expose you to a lot of opportunities to learn. As Sam [Pal] once said to me, “you’re thrown into the deep end, but we won’t let you drown; there will always be a life ring thrown to you ”. You can also, as you mentioned, see a path of progression within the company.

FR: What would you see as the defining elements of RIG’s culture?

ALF: One our colleagues, Krish, shared a useful definition by Simon Sinek on culture and values. For example, Sinek says that ‘innovation’ is not a value because you can’t execute it, but telling people to look at the problem from a different perspective is, because it's clear action. Taking that definition, I’d say that the key to our culture is ‘speak your mind’. At RIG you are encouraged to think, challenge, and share your ideas, not only because that’s how you learn but there’s also the chance that you’ve seen something that someone else hasn’t; it facilitates discussion and that means we get better ideas in the end.  Other than that, we have a pretty strong karaoke culture, not sure how that fits into Simon Sinek’s definitions though!

ALF: What would you say is key to our culture?

FR: I’ve obviously been around for a while and have recently been able to observe a period of accelerated growth. What I think I’ve noticed most is that people join the company at various stages of their careers and very quickly feel integrated, and part of the team. I think that reflects a very supportive dynamic at RIG which creates space to succeed while providing the tools to let people “get on with it”. I suppose it’s also a reflection of the people that we look to hire, who are generally ambitious, entrepreneurial, and eager to create meaningful change. This means everyone is always pushing each other to be better. But I would also say that there is a culture of kindness. We work in busy teams at the coal face of sustainable technology innovation, but I think we believe quite strongly in taking the time to talk to each other and to take an interest in each other’s lives in a way which recognises that a work-life split is sometimes a false dichotomy, and that we are just people trying to do something meaningful with our time.

FR: Everyone at RIG cares significantly about the climate emergency and it evidently drives what we do, but I think even within that you in particular are concerned about the challenges we face – what do you think will have the greatest impact in solving this challenge?

ALF: I think there is a lot of hope in emerging technologies but without widespread political and social change, it is not going to be enough. We have acceptance amongst most people that something needs to change, but what’s depressing is that governments around the world may pay lip service to climate issues but then subsidise fossil fuels or allow unprecedented destruction of the rainforest. It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. There will be a point where there’s no turning back because the damage has set out a chain of events which can’t be reversed. We should work on the technology, political and social strands in parallel. In terms of technology, we are at the stage where we need disruptors; for example, in wind, there's an established technology which has been built on over the years, and the market is ready for a step-change.

FR: We have reached a certain level of uptake of renewable energy and now we need further innovation to take it to the next level. So, it’s a case of either making these technologies much more efficient or improving them from a systems perspective; for example, a wind farm which effectively becomes a power station so that it’s responsive and has significant integrated energy storage, ensuring it’s not just generating power in an intermittent sense.

ALF: When you are looking for companies to work with, what are you looking for and how do you form that relationship?

FR: We obviously have a practice technology focus, which drives what technologies a given practice looks at. Since we focus in this way, over a period of time we become familiar with what’s happening in that space, what technologies are being developed, what’s embryonic and will be making a fundamental impact in 10 years time, and what’s happening in the nearer term. Sometimes, we are introduced, or we simply come across them, and often they are at the stage of having proved out initial technology viability and are now thinking about how to take that kernel of innovation and turn it into a business.

Sometimes we meet a company earlier and we keep in touch for several years while the fundamental research is carried out as a precursor then to being ready to go to market or to pilot and partner with industrial companies.

In terms of what we are looking for, there are a few things: We are looking for technologies with significant differentiation; we tend to say ‘IP rich technology’. So that means it’s defensible; it is hard to imitate either because things are kept secret or they’re just difficult to replicate. Technology can also be protected by patents although I would say that isn’t the be-all and end-all because a patent effectively makes what you do, public.

We also look for technologies which are differentiated within a commercial context, i.e. they solve a real market need in a way that delivers a step-change in benefit or performance that currently isn’t possible and that’s from where you derive your commercial advantage. Beyond that, we are looking for interesting, large, and growing markets as well as capable teams who are experts in their space. These are often inventors or early management teams who hold shared values of creating meaningful change both environmentally and commercially, and that’s when it becomes a very attractive proposition.

FR: You co-ordinate our approach to new companies that we partner with – how have you found this?

ALF: I think it’s a good opportunity to get the whole Decarbinsation and Circular Economy team together. It’s invaluable to share our insights and to understand the landscape across different technologies. Learning about new technologies is really interesting and the team always has insightful questions to ask, which encourages discussion and perhaps a new way of thinking about a particular challenge or market. It also provides a space to sit back and look at the bigger picture of our day-to-day work, and plan for how we shape our portfolio.

ALF:  What do you think are the most interesting things we are working on or doing in the business?   

FR: I think we’ve really developed an effective and rarified capability for raising money for businesses of this type and stage, and we have a team which is very good at preparing a company for a raise and making sure they have everything in place, from the strategic story to the legal documents. We also get involved in facilitating the investment itself. Investment is a key enabler for our clients: it allows them to navigate their critical path to the point where they have achieved early scale, are self-sustaining, and are starting to make the shift from disruptor to industry standard.

We are also doing a lot of interesting “second stage” deals with technologies which transform waste materials and byproducts into something useful and less polluting. We have worked with a number of these companies in establishing or financing their first commercial plants, which act as a key techno-economic proof point, as it demonstrates that the technology works at an industrial scale as well as delivering the economic benefit claimed. Beyond that, the “second stage” involves working out which strategic partner will enable the company to accelerate its growth. You might engage a partner which works in the same or adjacent space, and which has the right customers and relationships, but also stands to benefit from the technology because it is solving a problem for its core customer base as well as creating a new revenue stream.

ALF: I think what’s really interesting for me is our work with disruptive technologies which may be entering a conservative industry. You have to overcome a fair amount of scepticism, and getting that buy-in requires a lot of thinking and preparation in order to open up the conversation. Once you are into the process, sharing the technology and you pique someone’s interest, it’s a satisfying thing to achieve.