Young Innovators Success Stories: Benjamin Gibbons, Circular11, South West
Meet the Dorset innovator taking on low-grade plastic pollution
Dorset-based Benjamin Gibbons co-founded Circular11 after living with communities that lacked any waste management. He saw the toxic impact of open burning plastics when no recycling options exist.
This experience ultimately led him to the global problem of plastic pollution. Now, Benjamin and his co-founder Connor Winter aim to turn low-grade plastics into more valuable material.
“Before joining Innovate UK’s Young Innovators programme, we had set up an extrusion line in Dorset and developed a prototype. But we hadn’t developed a commercially ready product, had any product sales or gained an understanding about how we might develop as a business,” Benjamin remembers.
Winning the Young Innovators Award gave Benjamin the financial support and direction he needed to take Circular11 forward.
“It was critical. I was living from this grant before we got investment. I couldn’t have worked on the business full-time or got it to where it is now without this financial support,” he says.
The past year has been a busy one, winning their first bulk order sale in February and hiring their first employee in April. A month later, Benjamin reassessed Circular11’s value proposition to make it more defined – something he describes as “crucial”.
“We pivoted our value proposition to focus on our ability to turn low-grade plastics into a valuable material, rather than our ability to make premium building materials,” he explained.
“This was a crucial move in developing our communication and marketing, and beginning to understand who our key customers were.”
Strength to strength
With a clearer proposition, Circular11 has gone from strength to strength. The business gained its first investment in July and has won R&D grants to support its product development.
Benjamin created a new range of products over the summer, made from low-grade plastic that is used as a feedstock. In September, the team won a contract with the Woodland Trust to provide a fully traceable recycling service for their land-management related plastics.
Benjamin credits his Innovation Champion from Innovate UK EDGE, Paul Albone, with providing guidance during the company’s evolution.
“My incredible mentor Paul Albone has been a backbone, both from a commercial and personal angle,” he says.
“A big part of my understanding of business strategy, growth mapping and my personal relationship with investment and business comes from his ability to listen generously and ask thought-provoking questions about my assumptions.”
The next step for Benjamin is to scale up operations. With a year of mentoring and support under his belt, he’s ready to move into a much larger industrial unit and expand production to better service preorders.
“We’ve raised £80,000 through an advance subscription note, and around £120,000 in grants,” he says.
“In December, we’ll be opening an investment round for £500,000. That will allow us to develop a material research department to adapt our formulation for a variety of low-grade plastic waste streams.”
The investment round will also help to fund new equipment to service larger orders. Next year, Benjamin has plans to set up their first joint venture with the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Confidence and focus
Winning the Young Innovators Award has given Benjamin the confidence to execute his business vision. Despite not having a background in business or material science, he now has a stronger sense of himself as a leader and where his focus needs to be.
“I feel privileged to have had the opportunities and support, and feel really empowered to execute my vision and the vision of our company. I believe in my ability to do this now,” he says.
Benjamin recommends other young entrepreneurs apply for the Young Innovators Awards, particularly to make the most of the mentoring on offer.
He adds that budding business owners should try to enjoy the “bumps and bruises” along the way – it’s these times that often precede the jump to the next business stage.
“When you come out of the other side, you know you’re strong enough for anything because you were the one at the heart of every setback and reevaluation. Lean into your mentors and confront what doesn’t work too – those are always the discussions that mean the most,” he says.
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