Meet Sweden’s Sara West: CEO of a start-up that harvests energy from ocean waves

Sara West is co-founder and CEO of Swedish renewable energy start-up Wavetube, which won last year’s edition of Climate-KIC’s clean-tech business idea competition. 

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After winning ClimateLaunchpad, the Gothenburg-based company enrolled in the Climate-KIC Accelerator. Wavetube is currently testing its wave energy technology at a laboratory in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

With extensive prototyping and experimental testing underway, the company is gaining momentum in taking the wave energy concept to commercial viability. 

Climate-KIC makes a virtual stop in Sweden this week (27 July – 2 August) as part of its journey to the UN climate change summit COP21 in Paris. For more items in this series visit the #JourneyToParis page.

We caught up with Sara in December, time for a recap of that 2014 interview!

Q: How did you feel the day of the competition?

I came to Valencia with other Swedish teams. To say the least, we were all of us very excited to take part of this unique venue. We all stayed together in a flat in old town Valencia, so the setting was perfect for intense preparations both mentally and physically. All and all, it felt all very good during the morning prior to the start of the competition.

In the morning sessions (five semi-finals) I saw a diverse group in terms of clean-tech ideas, from Adaptavate’s novel eco-friendly building material to Tychobio’s moss chemicals.

I understood that Wavetube’s idea was a lot more early-stage to market in comparison to competition. It was important for me to communicate the actual long-term impact on climate and sustainability, if Wavetube were to be realized technically and commercially.

I think that is also the reason for Wavetube making it into finals during the afternoon. When the finalists were announced I did not really know what to expect. I know Wavetube has significant potential, but the other teams competing in the same group were so impressive that I actually believed that Wavetube was not able stand competition and make it to the finals.

Adaptavate was the group winner, and Wavetube was thereafter announced as a “wild card” into the finals.

Both Wavetube and my friend Sofie in Swedish Algae Factory were chosen as “wild cards”. I realised that I mentally needed to re-focus and get ready to present Wavetube as never done before.

Q: What was the jury like?

It was quite stunning, because I actually never felt so relaxed and confident at the same time. The panel had some tricky questions, both regarding the business model and the technical parts.

I am happy to have been able demonstrate our concept by showing a small 3D-model of the Wavetube solution during the Q&A-session. Having something tangible to show turned out to be really beneficial.

Q: How was it for you to perform in such a setting?

Competing in this type of setting is really nurturing personally and for the good of Wavetube. Learning from each other in this setting is extraordinary, and somewhat a means of bringing the entire sector a small step forward, by interacting, interchanging and discussing tomorrow’s energy solutions among others.

On a personal level I learned a lot in communicating and presenting, and also being able to listen to feedback and answering questions. Meeting criticism is also a learning experience, and one needs to always question criticism in order to move forward.

Over all, I am impressed by the various teams and their clean-tech ideas. It is amazing to hear about what is currently going on, and it will be even more amazing partake in the future when ideas come to realisation.

Q: The winning moment… What happened?

All the teams, organisers and the audience were gathered shortly after final pitches. We were all awaiting the announcement with excitement. Firstly, the audience’s favourite was announced, then thrid and second runner up. When neither Wavetube nor Swedish Algae Factory had been announced, we actually did not expect anyone of us making it as winners, strangely…

But then came the moment, when [Climate-KIC Entrepreneurship Director] Mr. Hero Prins announced that “a simple idea with great potential” had won, my guts feeling said it would Wavetube, and so it was. It was a somewhat surrealistic moment, filled with happiness and excitement.

And also, a feeling of that, now it is really up to us to realise our idea and make it to commercial prominence. The expectations on us to perform are now higher than ever before, and that is to me an important motivational factor in our upcoming developments.

Q: Please share your secrets with us; how did you win this competition?

There are no secrets. Though, I think in terms of climate impact and job creation Wavetube really has a vast potential to make a difference in the future, which I was able to communicate well. I got the feeling that many of the judges were knowledgeable within the marine energy field, that is that wave energy is a really challenging industry.

For the judges having now seen a solution that really stands out in comparison to other earlier wave energy solutions in terms of the most critical aspects of making these types of technologies viable meant a lot.

Q: What happened at Climate-KIC’s Innovation Festival? Were Investors all over you?

I met a lot of interesting people, having listened to their opinions and questions about Wavetube, which was very useful. I think Wavetube is still a bit too early-stage for investors, though I think that we have awakened the interest in investing in Wavetube in the future.

The Climate-KIC Accelerator is for instance a way of attracting even further interest. However, there are other stakeholders interested in the concept within technology development. I cannot go further into that, but we have some really interesting activities ahead as a consequence of the connections during festival and the competition.

Q: What will be your next step?

Our very next step is that we are heading to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Wavetube wave energy solution will be tested in a laboratory setting before moving on from the laboratory to real sea trials during the end of next year.

Along with that we are constantly communicating with industry actors to gain feedback on the concept and to awake their interest and confidence in wave energy.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years with this project?

Within five years from now, I will still be me, myself and I and having basically the same role and dreams as of today, though with a bit more experience and knowledge, and still having my complementary technology developer, colleague and friend Alexander Torstenfelt by my side.

Looking at Wavetube, by 2018 we believe in having a full-scale device of the Wavetube wave energy solution, operating at sea and delivering electricity to the grid.

In 2019 and 2020 we are fully operational and hopefully we have both development partners and customers engaged into developing and producing renewable electricity in coastal regions from Wavetube’s wave energy farm.

Q: Who would you like to thank?

I took part of this journey along with my colleague Alexander Torstenfelt, starting with the boot camp held in Sweden.

From that day on we have had great support from the CleanLaunchpad team, which we are very thankful to, and also all the support from Chalmers University of Technology, Tomas Faxheden and Bo Norrman, along with the joint support of the teams Swedish Algae Factory and ReVibe Energy has meant a lot.

Climate-KIC’s Journey to Paris

Climate-KIC runs its #JourneytoParis campaign from June until December 2015, with the UN’s crucial COP21 climate change summit as destination.

Every week for 28 weeks, Climate-KIC puts the spotlight on a different part of Europe. Join us and meet the people and initiatives who are building Europe’s low-carbon economy!