Clint Bemont: on accelerating the energy transition in the Netherlands.
Clint Bemont is the Founder and CEO of Maxwell & Spark and a recent addition to the Dutch expat community. Originally hailing from South Africa, Clint speaks of his experience in accelerating the energy transition, all whilst moving his business and family overseas.
His journey as an entrepreneur started a little differently compared to most, as Clint began with an academic career and then transitioned to building and selling lithium-ion batteries. The move happened thanks to an unusual suspect – his participation in a solar car racing event. He and the team were required to make their own solar batteries, which sparked the interest of a slightly crazy Norwegian who wanted to use the concept in his solar-powered airships.
“One thing led to another and we started building batteries,” says Clint, who looked at the industry and found a gap in the industrial mobile lithium-ion space. “We initiated the company to focus on that space, also because we felt that no one was doing much with regards to saving carbon in replacing existing energy sources with lithium to drive the energy transition.”
Revolutionizing the heavy-duty battery power
The first real product to come out of Maxwell & Spark was their lithium-ion powered transport refrigeration systems, which replace a traditional diesel cooling system with lithium-ion batteries.
Of course, there are some unfortunate realities that come with battery production. When touching on the negative impacts like carbon footprint, intense water usage, and the social injustices around mining and constructing batteries, Clint reflects “to some extent, there’s no such thing as a green source of anything, there’s no silver bullet and we all need energy”.
He’s aiming to produce the best possible product and drastically reduce the global carbon footprint. Clint also described potential future green sources of lithium, like extracting lithium out of drinking water whilst generating renewable electricity.
Replacing diesel-fuelled parts in a polluting industry is the biggest win for Clint. “Ok you expend a bit of carbon manufacturing your lithium-ion cells, but they last an extremely long time, thousands upon thousands of cycles”.
On finding the right target markets and funding a startup
Clint found that finding the right target market was in some ways, the easy part. What was more difficult was telling the right story.
As an entrepreneur, you definitely need to be a bit of a storyteller. People need to see where you’re coming from and understand the benefits for themselves, their business, and society.Clint Bemont, the Founder and CEO of Maxwell & Spark
Once he had the right story, Clint was able to make a connection with SPAR, the Netherlands’ largest retailer and supermarket chain. They then created a prototype for the lithium-ion refrigerated transport, which was sold to SPAR within a few months of testing, and is still running today.
In getting to their first big customer, Maxwell & Spark leveraged a small amount of angel funding from a friend, around €50k. Once SPAR was on board, their funding efforts mainly consisted of reinvesting back into the company whilst running at break even or even a slight loss.
“About 18 months to two years in, we had another investment round from a company linked to the friends that gave us the initial angel investment. It was a little bit more, but certainly, not a lot compared to European standards.” Today, Clint funds the company mostly with capital injections. He has personally invested money into the company, along with various shareholders.
Weighing the pros and cons of moving to the new markets
Comparing the funding landscapes of Europe and South Africa, Clint found much more readily available sources of capital in Europe, which is likely driven by Europe’s amazing drive towards the green technology space. Not only is the funding more readily available, but he also found the support mechanisms around the funding to be more robust.
“Being a smaller economy, and an economy that has somewhat different focuses, certainly the support for entrepreneurs is much less.” Clint believes that the national focus in South Africa on large scale, expensive projects are potentially hindering progress on projects that are still relevant and that have a clear benefit for the economy. “The Dutch environment, certainly for us, has enabled us to grow in a much faster way with the support that we’ve been given.”
Despite this, Clint doesn’t underestimate the challenges of moving overseas, which he mostly puts down to networks. “One of the things that makes it more difficult here compared to in South Africa is that we don’t have the network compared to somewhere you’ve grown up in and been educated in.” But the benefits outweighed the costs, especially in relation to the size of the market.
Another benefit for Clint that drove his choice towards moving to the Netherlands was the extremely high cost of diesel prices. This, coupled with the large local focus on reducing carbon emissions were the key reasons that ultimately led to the move.
One of the biggest tips Clint would pass on to anyone considering moving overseas with their family is to “approach the new place you’re moving to with an open mind and try to enjoy their culture.” With this in mind, Clint and his family have found the transition to be even better than expected.
Listen to the Up!Rotterdam podcast with Clint below, or check all the episodes of the Up!Rotterdam podcast here: https://podcast.uprotterdam.com/