Case study

Co-founders — Dr Aidan Bell and James Brueton

With a commitment to making the construction industry more environmentally friendly, Aiden and James set up EnviroBuild. Discover how they got the start-up off the ground

What degree/postgraduate course did you study and where?

Aidan (AB): I studied for a BSc in Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, before gaining a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Manchester. I then gained a Postdoctoral degree in Chemistry from the Universität Bielefeld in Germany.

James (JB): I went to the University of Leeds to study Business Management.

Where did the business idea come from and what does it do?

JB: The business looks to make the construction supply chain greener, making changes where possible to use more recycled products.

The first class of products we looked at were Wood-Plastic composites (WPC), which we make from recycled plastic and FSC certified off-cuts of wood from the furniture industry. The product retains the tactile feel of wood, with increased longevity, lower maintenance, superior non-slip and can also be modified to have increased fire resistance. When I was developing properties it was so hard to find a good product, coupled with a good service and that's why we got in to WPCs.

AB: We're both pragmatists, and realise that the construction industry is only driven by cost and quality. Whatever the external rhetoric of the large construction companies regarding environmental solutions, once it comes down to actual buyer level this becomes a tick box exercise.

It's therefore paramount when sourcing products that they are quality, cost effective, and sustainable. We aim to make the sustainable choice the easy choice.

How long did it take to get the idea off the ground?

JB: I started the business in July 2015, with the first step being finding the right suppliers, while setting up the brand and website.

How did you fund the initial start-up?

The original cash flow was self-funded, while the website and e-commerce was set up by friends with expertise, in exchange for equity.

Since then we've had great support from Aldermore bank who provide a draw-down facility against our debtor book.

Describe a typical working day

AB: While cycling to work I think about the most important tasks for the day. This might be a marketing responsibility, developing a way to measure a sales KPI better, or how to motivate the team. I'll get to work and get straight on with that task as I work best first thing. I try to only check my emails every couple of hours, as they are a distraction and never urgent.

I have lunch with James most days to ensure we're always talking.

I might have some one-on-one meetings with senior staff, generally after lunch. At the moment we're working on next year's numbers so there is a fair amount of work on that.

JB: My major focus is on finding the new products. I'll often be looking through samples, negotiating with suppliers, checking out the competition, scouring the web or news for upcoming items.

Other areas of focus are constantly improving logistics, which is never easy and finance matters. We've recruited a real superstar as our head of finance and operations so I'll talk to him every day. We're constantly looking to improve processes in this area.

We don't generally have to work much beyond 6.30pm at the moment; we're pretty much on top of everything.

What do you enjoy about your job?

AB: If there is something that needs improving you can just do it. You don't have bureaucracy unless you've created it yourself. I also love that you get to create a culture that is fun.

JB: You're ultimately responsible for everything that happens in the company and that forces you to have a laser focus. I really enjoy the energy that pressure can create. However, the greatest joy for me is knowing that we're making money, allowing me to support the great charities that we work with.

What are the challenging parts of setting up a business?

AB: People are always the most rewarding and challenging part of any business.

What are your plans for the future of the business?

AB: We'd like to become the leading UK brand for sustainable building materials, and achieve a £100million turnover.

JB: Something international would be nice as well.

Any advice for other graduates who want to start their own business?

AB: Do it with somebody else, it can be a lonely journey on your own. If you can't find a partner then ensure you have a support network of other entrepreneurs. That can only be found through networking, but is something I wish I had done earlier in my career.

JB: You will, on average, earn more if you get a job for a corporate. A lot of entrepreneurs are blind to the risks, thinking that the percentage of start-ups that fail won’t include them. However, if you have an idea, then go for it.

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