The Business Interview: Laura Hepburn
Laura Hepburn finalist in the 2020 NatWest Everywoman Awards chats to Group Business Editor Andrew Palmer.
It’s not often an interviewer can be thrown off his train of thought by discussing the merits of chicken poo alongside working on the latest Bond movie. But I’m with Laura Hepburn, a 2020 finalist in the NatWest Everywoman
Awards, Artemis category, for the most inspirational woman running a business trading for 18 months to 3 years.
Nothing is simple about Laura’s business life; it’s been interesting working in a range of diverse roles across several different sectors.
Laura is no stranger to awards, whilst at university, where she studied graphic design, she won ‘young designer of the year’.
“I won that award in 1998 at college, which lead me to being the first student to be taken onto a degree course at Liverpool John Moores University with an unconditional offer and a work placement at Parham Santana in New York.
“However, life is full of twists and turns and I had two babies in a year instead.”
Along the way Laura went on to study a Masters in Future design, looking at the plastics industry and the global problem that arose ten years ago.
“I saw how recycling was being black marketed and could actually be a valuable bi-product if sensible and responsibly dealt with. For example, let’s stop the thousands of tonnes being exported, incinerated, and landfilled and sustainably deal with it through depolymerisation – a technology that has zero carbon emissions and creates green fuels,” she tells me.
Getting Greenology off the ground was a bit of a struggle.
“Unfortunately, however much we have moved forward in inclusivity, some people’s attitudes do not change, and the waste industry is one of those sectors.
“So, the barriers of ‘you will never do this’ was an everyday occurrence because I was a woman with a different set of skills. So, against many horrible threats we continue to keep proving those people wrong. Every day we are providing innovative solutions to a future proof business full of forward thinkers.”
The idea for Greenology came when Laura was working in the marketing department at Happy Egg, it didn’t take her long to realise that their chicken Poo could create heat and electricity saving just one feed mill making food for the happy egg saving of gas and electric of £5mthrough biomass and that’s how Greenology was born to be able to help others create full circle solutions with what they classed as waste.
But to get to that point Laura needed to find ways to fund her ideas and so I am intrigued to hear how she gave up an opportunity to work with Daniel Craig.
“I would work on film for a couple of months to raise money for Greenology to pay for the research.” She tells me she was even offered the chance to work on the latest James Bond movie but had to turn it down owing to a heavy workload with Greenology.
“We were a start up and there were no boxes to tick for funding, so I was working in film alongside Greenology to make sure we kept afloat in tough times, but to be fair I loved it and it’s still nice to jump on big films now and then, as you never lose your film family - they are for life.”
Laura thrives on problem solving and providing solutions; she wants to be part of green recovery economy and she helps deprived areas as well as employing women from poor areas and that’s why she sits on the Board of the Renewables Energy Association and is a Board member of the Assist Women Network.
Moving back to the NatWest Everywoman Awards, which are now in their 18th year, celebrating female entrepreneurs from all walks of life, providing a platform for them to share their achievements, she was delighted to be recognised for work and shortlisted for the 2020 awards. I am interested to know who inspired her and how she thinks young female entrepreneurs can get heard today.
“Anyone who is brave enough to start their own business right now inspires me, as there are so many barriers to navigate, coupled with absolutely no financial help out there and so it's bloody tough.
“Funding should be measured on impact, not how long you have been in business. We don’t rate female entrepreneurs enough and they bring an amazing set of different skills to the party. Don’t forget we make up 50% of our demographic so why is that not what we see when we look at women in decision making positions in business.
“2021 will be my year to get to the table and be heard so if anyone wants to pass anything on, I’m all ears.”
With the Government talking about 'building back better', I wonder how this can be achieved from a green point of view.
“It is the perfect opportunity to look at what a mess we have been making by not taking responsibility of our waste sector and more importantly our world. It should not take an approach of a teenager striking from school to make an impact to change the world. We have the technology, innovators, funding and finally the government's backing to do things greener, more sustainably and I know I use this word all the time… but its about time… responsibly.”
Laura‘s involvement with the 'Renewables Energy Association' and the work of 'Assist Women Network' came about because of her belief in that the only way to get things done is to give real people a voice.
“Boards such as REA, Northern Power Women Assist and NECC get a different inclusive point of view as I wear many hats – I’m like the Mr Benn from the eighties* I wear so many different hats and walk-in others shoes, I am a career chameleon. That’s my superpower for being an entrepreneur!"
Superheroes manage to change the world so, I ask how do you think you can change hearts and minds on green issues? The answer is a clarion call to action.
“Unfortunately, Covid made the world stop for the first time. I think that shook everyone, it also raised how important it is, because COVID-19 is small compared to what’s coming if we don’t make changes right now. Things will be extreme, wetter, dryer, hotter, colder, and far worse strains of pandemics. Its is our responsibility to make change. 2030 is too long 2050 is too late – we have to act now.”
“Don’t forget what I said earlier about this year I want to get the voice of green issues and females in business heard. I’m all ears about the way forward.”
* Mr Benn is a character created by David McKee who appears in several children's books, and an animated television series of the same name originally transmitted by the BBC in 1971 and 1972. The first episode was the Red Knight. In both the books and the television series, Mr Benn's adventures take on a similar pattern. Mr Benn, a man wearing a black suit and bowler hat, leaves his house at 52 Festive Road, London, and visits a fancy-dress costume shop where he is invited by the moustachioed, fez-wearing shopkeeper to try on a particular outfit. He leaves the shop through a magic door at the back of the changing room and enters a world appropriate to his costume, where he has an adventure (which usually contains a moral) before the shopkeeper reappears to lead him back to the changing room, and the story comes to an end.
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