“Rather than say it’s an issue the fact that I have to bring a male with me to a funding meeting, I focus on what’s the best way around it, and if it means I need to bring my male Financial Director with me – no problem!”
“The biggest challenge is to put your ego aside, not let your own pride get in the way, and just side step and get out of the way to ensure your reach your end goal.”
Sandra Sassow is the CEO and co-founder of SEaB Energy Ltd, a multi-award-winning manufacturer of small scale micro power plants which use a patented microbial-based technology to convert food waste into energy. The product is shipping to the global market, for the purpose of converting food waste, animal/plant waste and septic waste into energy, anywhere. In 2012, SEaB Energy received awards from the UK government for innovation, recognition for the best small AD site from the UK Anaerobic and Biogas Association, and an award from NASA-backed sustainability initiative LAUNCH: Beyond Waste as a major game changer to transform current waste management systems and practices. The company was also chosen as one of the most innovative and fastest growing Cleantech companies in Britain and scooped the 2013 Resource Revolution Award for Technology Trailblazer.
SEaB Energy was most recently selected by ASTIA/TheNextWomen as one of 5 most promising women-led companies from a global pool over 100 and went on to win the prestigious We Own It Summit Award.
Sandra was involved from an early age in her family’s NYSE listed Environmental Consulting firm and Chemical Manufacturing company and has, over the last 20 years, achieved an accomplished track record of successfully launching new products into new markets in Europe and the USA, resulting in rapid corporate revenue growth.
Sandra holds a Bachelors from Duke University, USA in Biology with a specialisation in micro-biology, which she completed at the age of 19, and a Masters in Computer Science from George Washington University, USA. Sandra is married with four children, living in the south of England.
1. Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
I particularly admire Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo who is successfully combining a high-flying career with her family. This is of course important to most women, especially entrepreneurs, and I admire the way she has found balance as well as challenging an industry on how things are done. She doesn’t shy away from being controversial and finding a balance between her work and personal life. I relate to her as I have four children of my own and have always worked throughout my career, choosing a more flexible job in property investment when I wanted to have more balance at home.
2. What is your greatest achievement to date?
Taking a mindshare in our industry and modifying it to create a niche for ourselves and re-destribute the balance of power, by allowing everyone to create their own energy and become sustainable. We build portable power plants that allow you to use waste to produce power anywhere. The waste and energy sector was very controlled by big players and only available to businesses on a large scale. Things are now evolving and we are playing an active role as game changer, being vocal as an outsider, to make energy generation more available to people who do not need to rely on the big players in remote regions. The other thing I am most proud of is SEaB Energy getting global recognition for our launch program from NASA, and US Aid in particular. We were not expecting to get such visibility within the first 2.5 years of being a startup and are especially proud of this achievement, as we have not spent money on marketing, rather spent all our money on product development.
It’s important to constantly make people aware of what we do, whenever we are outside the building and networking, and I have been really amazed at how many corporates are aware of us already. That says a lot about us as a team.
3. What has been your biggest challenge as a Woman Entrepreneur ?
It was very interesting that when I went to the Astia coaching session, they brought in key people from Silicon Valley to help us learn about funding and the key thing they said was that bringing a male to a funding meeting helps you raise money. I’ve been in tech, a male oriented environment, all my life and am very comfortable working in that environment. The challenge for me is to remember that there still is a problem for women entrepreneurs to get funding – you have to adapt and keep the end goal in sight. Rather than say it’s an issue the fact that I have to bring a male with me to a funding meeting, I focus on what’s the best way around it and if it means I need to bring my male Financial Director with me – no problem! The biggest challenge is to put your ego aside, not let your own pride get in the way, and just side step and get out of the way to ensure your reach your end goal.
4. What in your opinion, is the key to your company’s success?
Our team! It’s all down to our entire team and their willingness to group together and persevere whenever an issue comes up. As a startup, you always run into something that may seem insurmountable at the time. How you deal with it determines success or failure. As a team, we pull together to figure out how we are going to get through it. This approach and mindset applies to all types of challenges, both technical and human resources. It’s all part of playing the game of growing the business. A great idea is only one piece of the puzzle – you need both idea and execution to be successful.
5. If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
We are now based in a science park, where we moved once our visiblity and profile went up. There are lot of corporates around us to help us succeed – it’s a bit like an incubator with service companies available so you don’t need to go out looking for outsourced payroll, etc. in different places. In hindsight, if we had moved here to the science park sooner it would have made things easier for us. There is a new 3 month pre-incubator service available, where I sit on the selection committee. I would have loved us to benefit from that earlier on when we were launching our company. This helps to short circuit the process, and the premium we pay offers many benefits which far outweigh any cost saving we might see on another site. While we continue to benefit, we have no intention of moving.
6. What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?
One of my biggest pleasures of being an entrepreneur is watching our company grow. It’s a bit like for a child, you nurture it, then watch it take a life of its own. I love that I have a challenge every day and that I directly see the end results of my efforts. I like the challenge of having to convince, create and establish something from scratch. Of course, the other side of the coin is a lot of hard work and long hours, but nothing replaces the pleasure of watching something grow from just an idea into a real business.
7. How would you describe your leadership style?
I like to empower people and give them the space to become who they can be. I prefer to under-define a role to allow the person to find out what else they can do and what other skillset they can apply to it. I try to inspire and be a positive influence, which is very important in the unstable changing environment of a startup. I tend to be cheerful and constantly keep the target in view, while allowing everyone to figure out where they want to be part of it. Good people can grow and nurture themselves into challenging roles, you just need to create the space for them. I am not a micromanager and believe that everyone in the team has to be autonomous. It’s about building trust and inspiration and my role is to bring it all together and bring together the team as a whole.
8. What advice would you give to your younger self?
There were some things I didn’t do because I didn’t think it was the right time for me. Now I think that it’s always the right time – you just work around it and make it be the right time! There will always be a reason why it can’t be today. So if I could do it again, I would tell myself, ‘What the hell, let’s try it!’ Of course that always come with doing more, having more experience and being more comfortable with yourself!
9. What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
I want to see our company become the size I think it can be, become firmly established and make a big impact in waste, energy and managing pollution. Our ultimate goal is to create a source of energy where we can bring electrification, sewage treatment and clean water to remote village areas all over the world. We want to become the waste-run generator that replaces current diesel energy generation and directly contributes to replenishing our planet’s resources, and look at ways for us to be really sustainable – making that accessible to everyone. We need to completely re-think about energy and waste and focus on how we will replenish the planet, not strip it of limited resources.
10. 3 key words to describe yourself?
“Distributed power generation is changing the balance of power by allowing everyone to create their own source of energy. We are game changers in the circular economy, to make sure that everyone has access to sustainable energy in remote areas.”
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