Women In Innovation Success Stories: Sophie Walker, Dsposal, North West
Co-founder of Dsposal Sophie Walker is on a mission to bring transparency and accountability to the waste sector. When she first joined Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards in March 2021, the business was generating revenue almost entirely from project and development work.
Co-founder of Dsposal Sophie Walker is on a mission to bring transparency and accountability to the waste sector. She is developing technology that can help both waste producers and waste management companies make good decisions about their waste, for example, through improved data and reporting, ensuring compliance across their waste contractors and reducing costs and environmental impact.
When Sophie first joined Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards programme in March 2021, the business was generating revenue almost entirely from project and development work. Their first cornerstone product, Paperwork (compliance-focussed enterprise waste management software), was still being developed and their other key product, Waste Manager, funded by the Women in Innovation Award, was still at the discovery stage.
Dsposal already had support from Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) for the project, but the credibility of being on the programme helped them engage with five other Trusts, which led to a better understanding of their challenges and complex waste management needs. “I know we’ve done a good job because during usability testing one NHS waste manager literally hugged the laptop with joy!” said Sophie.
When they launched Paperwork, one of the companies they built it with said: “it’s like moving from dial up to 5G!” “We’re so happy about the reception Paperwork has been getting from waste management companies and the impact it’s having on their businesses. We’re excited to start onboarding new customers to Waste Manager now, so we can help waste producers in this way too,” said Sophie.
Another key milestone was starting their ‘Plastic Packaging Portals’ (PPP) project in June 2021. A consortium project, led by OPRL (On Pack Recycling Label), developing open data standards and software for the plastic packaging value chain.
In the next 12 months, they are focussing on building subscription revenue from Paperwork and Waste Manager. They will also finish the PPP project and have a functional prototype. Sophie said: “We love doing project and R&D work but to maximise our growth and impact we need to drive our subscription sales.”
She continued: “Defra’s consultation into mandatory digital waste tracking recently closed and we’re really supportive of the changes it will bring to the industry as it will help tackle waste crime and move us to a more circular economy, but we know how challenging it will be for many organisations. Our software is designed to help our customers to make the most of these changes and support them through this digital transformation.”
Sophie has been seeing a coach for the last few years. She said: “This past year I feel like I have come to terms with what it means to be a leader and got comfortable seeing myself this way. Being part of this tremendous cohort of exceptional women awardees has been instrumental in me actually relishing that, including the decision that I would take on the CEO role, with Tom, my co-founder and fiancé, moving into a newly created CIO role.”
Sophie’s challenge has been resisting the usual advice. She said: “You are told that you need to attract investment – it’s how you prove your worth, how you grow and how people gauge success. I feel these metrics are outdated and unhelpful. How you play and win at that game doesn’t fit with us at Dsposal. For us, it’s about delivering on our mission and values to make a positive impact for people and the planet.”
The Women in Innovation bootcamps, the get-together in Newcastle organised by Innovate UK KTN and a self-organised gathering in Bristol with fellow awardees have brought about connections and support for Sophie. She said: “Being able to spend time with each other to share stories, experiences, advice and encouragement is so reassuring and provides the sort of boost that I’ve not had from anywhere else.”
Her advice to other women is to make the time to really get involved with the women on the programme. She said: “It can be hard juggling a myriad of work priorities, life tasks and self-care. Taking the time to be present with each other and really connect was really rejuvenating.”
Women in Innovation
Innovate UK’s Women In Innovation programme consists of funding competitions and events that enables brilliant women to fully achieve their visions and change the world, while championing and celebrating gender diversity throughout UK innovation.