The Trailblazers in Impact Interview Series celebrates some of the partners we’ve worked with over the years in creating positive social and environmental impact.
In this edition, we speak with the CEO of ATEC* Biodigesters, Ben Jeffreys. ATEC* Biodigesters has been working with Impact Partners since 2016, helping ATEC* to raise Series A Funding. ATEC’s biodigesters process green waste into biogas for clean cooking and organic fertilizer. In 2019, IIX facilitated another round of funding for ATEC to roll out the world’s first pay-as-you-go model for biodigesters. By installing a biodigester system, farming households can access a reliable source of free, clean energy, replacing traditional wood-burning cook stoves with a cleaner, healthier alternative. Prior to his work at ATEC, Ben served as a development manager at the School for Social Entrepreneurs and Oxfam Australia.
Enjoy the read!
- What pain point are you addressing and how are you addressing it?
The pain points we are trying to address stem from different areas. Firstly, many existing options for cooking fuel in Southeast Asia are hugely detrimental to health. The use of wood or charcoal is particularly dangerous as smoke inhalation kills approximately 14,000 people a year. Secondly, even alternatives such as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) – which is contained in small butane cylinders – are extremely dangerous as they present a risk of explosions within households.
These constraints led us to develop biodigesters—devices that are fuelled by green waste and manure and produce gas to be used for daily cooking needs. As the waste goes through the biodigesters, it also produces high-value fertiliser.This fertilizer contributes to sustainable farming practices as it is an alternative to chemical fertilizers, which have typically caused a decline in soil quality.
- What is your growth strategy? ATEC’s growth strategy is creating a product that so adequately fits the needs of the client that it would not make sense for them to not adopt it. We also ensure that the entire process of adopting the product and service is intuitive and smooth to minimize friction. With enterprises like ours, you realize that in the process of addressing problems, more issues tend to crop up. Because of this, we try to get past our challenges quickly to get started on addressing the next issue.
- What are your main challenges in growing your company?
Following the close of our investment round in 2017, we had been focused on increasing the size of our team, hiring sixty more staff across Cambodia. One big challenge we face is employee retention and we believe that implementing the right retention strategy is critical for us to scale. In line with this, we have tried creative approaches to incentivize staff such as working with MFIs to offer different types of in-kind support to our employees.
- What would you advise other impact enterprises when raising capital?
Many impact entrepreneurs don’t have a background in finance, which is something that can deter investors in the capital raise process. To address this, it is crucial that impact enterprises focus on demonstrating their scalability and adopting sound financial operations as those aspects of the business are critical to investors. Impact enterprises also need to have a better understanding of financial terms like margins or NPVs (Net Present Values). By understanding these terms, impact entrepreneurs can give their investors confidence that their money is being used well.
Furthermore, in order to scale, impact enterprises need to think big. In the product development process, it is vital to actively consider scalability and the means of growing so as to increase the overall impact of the enterprise.
- What keeps you motivated and how do you avoid Founder burnout?
I am motivated when I see the tangible impact that our work has had on the lives of our clients.
As a founder, burnout is unfortunately quite prevalent, so I would advise that people maximize their resources and learn to be more effective.
The main advice I have is to make sure that you spend a lot of time identifying the problem before attempting to solve it. I also recommend looking after yourself – whether through focusing on good health or giving your mind some space.
- What is it like working with IIX? I have a lot of respect for the work that IIX and other intermediaries do to connect investors to impact enterprises. Bringing these two parties together isn’t always easy and IIX plays a big role in the region.
- How do you communicate your impact to investors? We have a strong relationship with each of our four investors, with two of them even being on our board of directors.To communicate our impact, we produce quarterly impact reports to share our achievements. Working with intermediaries such as IIX or DFAT has enabled us to conduct impact assessments which provides us and our investors with an understanding of our social, environmental and economic impact.
- Tell us about yourself, how you decided to become an entrepreneur, and how you created ATEC. I started my professional career in the corporate world. I later discovered social enterprises while I was at Oxfam and had the chance to work with an incubator in Australia. During my time there, I was presented with the opportunity to take a tech product that was just at the prototype stage and bring it to the international markets.