Kirsty Kenney and Harold Craston, final year students in the Department of Geography & Environment, have won £5000 in the 2014 Mayor of London Low Carbon Prize for their idea, solarbox. They share the £20’000 prize fund with a team from Imperial College London. The annual competition, which this year received hundreds of entries from students and recent graduates, seeks the most innovative business ideas to help reduce London's CO2 emissions, and is supported by technology giant Siemens.
Presenting this year’s awards, Mayor of London Boris Johnson said “The incredible students behind these green innovations are the future leaders who will be powering London’s booming green economy. I look forward to seeing these students develop and succeed, whether through a fantastic internship at Siemens or by turning their ideas into thriving new businesses, they will help shape London’s economic future”.
The aim of solarbox is to transform disused telephone boxes into solar powered mobile phone charging kiosks – a free service sustained through advertising (read more about the solarbox idea).
We spoke to Kirsty Kenney to find out more about the competition, and what’s next for solarbox:
Tell us about your experience in the Mayor of London Low Carbon Prize.
We heard about the MLCP through LSE, a friend in the Sustainable Futures Society passed on the information to us. Before entering this competition we had won funding from UnLtd (through their HE 'Try it' and 'Do it' awards). UnLtd are a foundation for social entrepreneurship and that competition was about social and environmental impact and quantifying success with regards to these goals. While solarbox is undoubtedly a social enterprise, concerned with both social and environmental benefit, this opportunity was more about validation both from city government and from the private sector. We submitted an application form along with around 250 other applicants, the top 36 were invited to a practice pitch day and the final ten pitched to a 'Dragon's Den' style panel, including Deborah Meaden, Richard Reed (Innocent Drinks) and Zac Goldsmith MP. We came second and were awarded £5000.
What happens to the prize money? How do you intend to develop solarbox?
The prize money, alongside our original grant from LSE, will provide the funds to cover the start-up costs and the fixed costs of creating and installing the first solarbox. As you can see from the images below, we already have our designs ready and plan to launch in August.
What made you decide to work together on this project?
Harold was the original ideas man who wanted to explore the idea of public charging points. We validated the idea through a series of focus groups and further tested advertising as a viable strategy through a conversation with JCDecaux. We came together by chance really, almost a year ago at the end of our second year we began bouncing ideas around.
In terms of roles, Harold takes the lead on PR, Marketing, Social Media and looking at potential advertisers. I manage the finances, legal and want to take the lead on social impact. We both manage the relationship between BT and local councils.
What got you interested in low carbon ideas?
I think this has to come from our degree choice! Harold is particularly interested in Environmental Economics and I am interested in Public Space.
As students, how did you balance the competition with your studies? Do you think it is possible to succeed in both?
It was a big ask to do the pitch on the 27th June, the day before Harold's final exam ever at LSE (and two days before mine), but we did our best to prepare in advance.
Both Harold and myself are Honorary Students of the Student's Union. This is the highest possible award bestowed on any student for their contribution to the union. Harold is the outgoing Athletics Union President and I have sat on four society committees and run a programme with former youth offenders. This contribution, and award, is entirely separate to our commitment to solarbox and I think shows that we both enjoy to be busy and love a challenge. If it wasn't solarbox, it would be something else!
I think the LSE system is set up to allow flexibility in terms of extra-curricular involvement. That doesn't mean it isn't hard though!
Kirsty Kenney and Harold Craston are final year students in BA Geography at LSE.
Follow @solarboxlondon for updates.