Cheryl Latham is founder and CEO of Brighter World Energy, a buy-to-give company that is on a mission to give UK customers a great deal on their energy, whilst at the same time bringing solar-powered energy to villages in Africa. Cheryl is a former journalist who had the idea for the company whilst on a trip to Kenya when she was still a student at Alliance Manchester Business School, and has since secured £500,000 of funding from a range of ethically-focused investors. The company will not be on price comparison sites, which means customers go direct and the money saved can be used install a solar powered micro-grid in an African village for every 2,000th customer that makes the switch.
“…My advice to other women who are contemplating making a career change and starting their own business is don’t be afraid to find your voice. Speak up for what you believe in, and back yourself. You don’t lose anything by getting up and every single day and trying your hardest, no matter what happened the day before…”
Changing career to become an entrepreneur in the energy sector
It sounds lofty, but equality and social democracy have always been important to me. It’s why I became a journalist in the first place. Some of the stories I am most proud of are the ones where we made a positive impact on people’s lives by giving voice to those who need it most, or by shining a light on some social injustice.
When I moved from local to national business journalism, I became inspired. There is a new generation of companies coming through the ranks, enabled by technology, and built from the ground up to do things differently. I realised that businesses – when run properly with a fair and transparent business model – have an opportunity to make the greatest impact on the world we live in.
Why purpose is just as important as profit
Historically, that impact was purely about profit, but I see a huge opportunity for values-driven businesses that want to give back to the world we live in. I hit 30, gave up my career and went back to school to study a Masters in Business Administration. I began to study the energy industry and met people in renewable technology.
I like finding solutions to challenging problems, and the energy industry fascinated me. Here in the UK customers are consistently overcharged for energy, while around the world, over 1bn people still lack access to power. It sparked an idea that maybe we could solve both problems.
Providing access to energy to help people in developing countries help themselves
It was on a trip to Kenya during my MBA course that I saw first-hand how children were doing homework with only toxic kerosene lamps for light, how fisherman had to throw out valuable stock as they had no refrigeration, and vital vaccines were not able to be stored properly.
Many developing countries are extremely entrepreneurial, but without access to energy, their growth is limited. Access to energy is vital to truly enable people to help themselves – that was the inspiration for Brighter World and now our customers have the power to change the lives of others at their fingertips, without changing their daily routine.
My role as CEO Brighter World
No two days are the same at Brighter World HQ. The office is a very creative space and we are always buzzing with new ideas. Everyone has a hands-on role, getting involved in all areas of the business.
I often start the day speaking to our East Africa field manager in Nairobi, followed by crunching numbers, speaking to customers, doing a live Facebook video or presenting to the board.
My favourite part of my job is definitely speaking to our customers, hearing why they have chosen to join us and why they love our mission. We’re so lucky that our customers are huge advocates and once they sign up they tell everyone about us because we’re the only truly different energy company out there. Knowing that they share our values is so rewarding.
With more than a billion unconnected people around the world, making a simple switch here at home will turn on the lights for villages in Africa for the very first time. Everyone should have the same right to access energy, no matter where they are born.
Securing £500k of investment
Closing the funding was a great feeling. Our investors believe that the Brighter World mission, putting positively life-changing power in the hands of UK consumers, and addressing global challenges with a fair and transparent business model, is the right way to do business.
They are ethically-focused and believe in Brighter World’s mission for a new generation of consumers. Owen O’Donnell, former finance director of OVO, the UK’s first energy disruptor, is our chairman, and our investors are keen for us to succeed so are always on hand for help and advice.
I am proud of the securing the investment, especially as only 10% of global venture capital is given to female entrepreneurs. This is a statistic that needs to change and I’m happy that I have bucked that trend.
Importance of a profits-with-purpose model
Imagine the world we would live in if all businesses were built with a fundamental, values-driven purpose in mind, rather than just making a profit. Brighter World is starting an energy revolution, where people can choose the world they want to live in with the power of their purchase. We are driven by people and want to inject energy into an industry that has lost its way – by creating sustainable change.
Constructing a solar powered micro-grid for every 2,000 customers
We offer a fair and sustainable price to our customers; we are middle of the table on price, and can save the average household up to £200 a year when compared to the average standard variable tariff of the Big Six energy providers.
Vitally for me, for every 2,000 customers who sign up, a solar powered micro-grid is installed in Africa – giving some of the poorest communities in the world sustainable energy for the very first time. We make this happen by not being on price comparison sites and ending up in a false price war. What we save from not being on the comparison sites goes directly to fund the build in Africa.
Keeping UK customers informed about the impact their decisions to switch have had in Africa
Our customers are on this mission with us every step of the way. We will be keeping them up to date online so they know when the first grid is triggered – we will be showing them images, case studies and video live from the villages. We’ll also deliver an annual impact report so our customers can see the impact they have made.
We are an open and transparent business, we want our customers to know they are a crucial part of our mission but also that they can hold us accountable so they can see we are doing what we’re saying.
Advice for other women who are contemplating starting their own business
My advice to other women who are contemplating making a career change and starting their own business is don’t be afraid to find your voice. Speak up for what you believe in, and back yourself. You don’t lose anything by getting up and every single day and trying your hardest, no matter what happened the day before. Take your family and friends into account – you’ll need them to be as ambitious for you as you are for yourself.
Installing our first grid in Africa
It’s incredible how quickly people are switching from the Big Six to Brighter World – customer numbers are climbing and it will be no time before our first group of world changers will be able to say they installed a grid in Africa. We are already preparing for the installation of the first grid in the New Year. It is an exciting time and I’m looking forward to joining our customers for the next chapter.