Name: Charlie Blair

Age: 39

What is your business called?

Gravitricity Limited

Where is it based?

Edinburgh (Leith)

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Gravitricity Limited is a research and development company developing patented underground energy

storage technology.

We use excess electricity to raise a weight in an underground shaft to charge the system, and then lower the weight to discharge electricity back

to the grid.

It’s the same principle as pumped storage hydro, but using solid weights, winches and cables instead.

Our first full-scale systems will be in former mine shafts, and later this year we will be building our first grid-connected demonstrator in Leith.

One of the main features of our systems is that they will respond very quickly (in less than a second) and can output a lot of power fast, which is what the grid needs; but they will also last for many decades of continuous use.

To whom does it sell?

We are in discussions with mining companies that want to find alternative uses for end-of-life mineshafts.

Our target customer base also includes vertically integrated power companies who recognise that long-life storage could massively reduce the costs of upgrading grids for renewables, electricity users and other generators, particularly wind and solar

What is its turnover?

Our turnover is expected to be roughly £1 million this year as we start work on our Leith demonstrator

this autumn. We then expect this to increase fairly steadily for the next four years. If all goes to plan, it should skyrocket

after that.

How many employees?

Currently seven full time, plus four part time. We also work with various external partners and contractors.

When was it formed?

In 2012 by veteran clean energy innovators Martin Wright and Peter Fraenkel. Back then it was really a vehicle to submit early patents

from Peter, our visionary

technical director.

Why did you take the plunge?

I had known Peter and Martin for several years, having been Head of Marine Energy at the Carbon Trust in London. I first started discussing the idea of Gravitricity back in 2015 and joined full-time at the very end of 2016. Initially I’d thought it was a mad idea – it took a while to realise that sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Working as an independent technology consultant, finding funding for Gravitricity and I took over the family farm in East Lothian from

my dad.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

My first focus was on applying for R&D grants from the UK and Scottish Governments. We received a £130,000 grant from the UK Government in 2016, which enabled me to go full-time. Peter, Martin and I matched this with the first equity into the company. In October we raised £750,000 in a seed round via Crowdcube (in less than a week). We have secured a further £450,000 backing via Crowdcube in recent days after setting out to raise £100,000 funding to give us runway through Covid-19-related delays.

What was your biggest break?

Employing our Lead Engineer Miles Franklin back in 2016. Miles had been the “bright young thing” at a huge engineering company in Bristol which was very loath to see him go, but we persuaded him to come north to Edinburgh and we haven’t looked back. Miles is the main brains behind Gravitricity’s progress now – I just enable him and his engineering team

to get on with it.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The cut-and-thrust, particularly regarding fundraising. I thrive on understanding situations and jumping at opportunities, and at getting unexpected things to happen. Also the strategizing – I love the moments when we don’t have perfect information, which is extremely common in innovation, but need to make a decision in any case.

What do you least enjoy?

To be honest I enjoy just about all of it, but I’m not a fan of detail or admin.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We’re building an industrial consortium of major global players and expect to have deployed our first full-scale system in a mineshaft by 2023. With the support of these global partners we expect to have a turnover in the hundreds of millions by

the late 2020s, with core R&D activities remaining in Edinburgh and project offices in Europe, South Africa and possibly elsewhere.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

We’re grateful for the support we already get from the UK Government in innovation grants.

If they could focus on making sure we can still access European funding mechanisms for projects in Europe that would make life much easier.

And give some more stability post-Brexit.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Belief is critical. You have to believe in what you are doing – many investors and public agencies are naturally cautious, and you have to enable them to take a bit of a leap.

How do you relax?

Trees. I plant loads of them and also fell a few occasionally, then I cut them up as we sell firewood and sawn lumber on the farm.