'Climate change is like a religion... and I'm a believer' - Sara Bell

HOW I BEAT THE ODDS: The CEO of Tempus Energy has worked insane hours, changed the course of her business and learned how to take risks.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 23 Sep 2015

I've always been an outsider. My family moved to Sweden when I was a baby. By the time we moved back to Reading, I was 11 - and Swedish. My school bus journeys were punctuated by cries of 'go home bloody foreigner'. I soon learned I would never fit in, but I could at least appear to.

After seven years working as a financial services risk professional in Australia, I started my first business, a magazine for intelligent women. It only lasted six months. It failed because once my bank account got below £500, the risk got to me. Instead of building the business, I spent my time worrying about how to pay for it.

Though the magazine was never insolvent, I was heavily indebted, so I returned to financial services, this time in Hong Kong. I'd soon paid back every creditor, but was itching to run my own business again.

I moved back to Britain and decided to get into the energy sector. Climate change is almost like a religion, and like most Swedes, I'm a believer. While technology had transformed other industries, the energy sector remained essentially the same as it was in 1980. I set up Tempus three years ago to change that by applying lessons from financial risk analysis.

Suppliers can't predict the demand for electricity exactly, so they charge a risk premium to keep the lights on if demand surges. The resulting oversupply costs £4bn to £6bn a year. Our system uses technology such as smart boilers to regulate demand instead, eliminating the premium. However, the industry was not receptive. We wanted to license our system to help energy companies adapt to a low carbon future, but they were afraid.

I had to take four consulting jobs on top of Tempus to keep it going last year. I'd start work at 4am and only stop to take my three kids to school and to bed. You can't let your kids or your career down. You have to look after both.

In agile development you identify priorities for the next two weeks, then concentrate on them to the exclusion of everything else. I was looking into that for Tempus when I realised my whole life was already an agile development. I worked insane hours but I wanted to equip my kids to follow their dreams. If I didn't do the same it would be a hollow message.

Towards the end of last year, it became obvious that none of the existing suppliers were willing to use our system, so we were forced to become an energy supplier ourselves. We launched in March and we've already got 102 customers and 22 staff. We raised over £700,000 in crowdfunding and will be profitable next year.

Occasionally, the risk I'm taking can be scary, but the biggest danger is shying away from the things you want because you're scared. Those things you can never get back.

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