Meet The Disruptors: Chantel Scheepers and OakTree Power On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chantel Scheepers.
Chantel is the CEO of leading climate tech startup OakTree Power with over 15 years’ experience in senior leadership positions within global utilities, sustainability, and other clean technology solutions providers. She is an advocate for the global adoption of clean technology solutions and wants to establish an open collaborative working approach with industry, policymakers, and co-opetition. Her goal is to empower companies to build a sustainable world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I am originally from South-Africa – a farming town in the middle of nowhere – and came to the UK straight after school as I wanted to explore the bigger world and how I could possibly fit into it. It’s now been 17 years and I am still here.
It was a bit scary coming to a country where I didn’t know anyone, although I quickly discovered that my work ethic – distilled in me from a young age – allowed me to excel at most jobs and quickly move up the ranks. I happened to fall into a very niche area of the energy sector, however, I’ve been involved with a lot of energy and sustainability roles in the past.
It was during my time at KiWi Power, a leading global energy technology company, that I really felt I was making a difference. Being part of one of the first companies pioneering the virtual power plant (VPP) industry made me realise that I had the ability to make a sizable change in the world.
Although it wasn’t easy at the start, we made the impossible possible. Back in 2012, the VPP industry was valued at £200m – now the industry is £8 billion and growing fast.
All of this brought me to OakTree Power, where I have created an offering that puts us at the forefront of the ongoing paradigm shift in the energy sector, positioned to become the global interconnected cross-border flexibility leader.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Countless SMEs around the world are struggling to cope with soaring energy prices. At the same time, Britain faces an incredibly important environmental challenge as the country aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and meet net-zero targets by 2050.
With these challenges in mind, our purpose at OakTree Power is to enable businesses to reduce their overall energy consumption, ultimately cutting electricity costs and CO2 emissions. We’ve developed an IoT device supported by AI-based software that identifies a commercial or industrial property’s non-essential energy consumption and then modulates usage for short periods of time without impacting performance whatsoever.
OakTree Power then uses these saved kilowatts to balance countries’ electricity networks at times of peak demand. The entire scheme not only reduces energy costs and CO2 emissions but generates a new revenue stream for businesses.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m sure many people can relate to this one. It was very early on, working in an office role for the first time. Pushing to get things done, I hit the ‘reply all’ button with internal comms included.
Needless to say, it didn’t go well for me, although it taught me to double-check emails and slow down. It was a very good lesson to learn early on.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
This often comes up and when I think about it, certain bosses did inspire me along the way. Every now and then we all come across a boss that will teach us something that we’ll remember forever.
For example, I used to think that if you train employees and give them all the tools to succeed, they should all achieve great results. Now I understand it doesn’t always go this way, but it used to frustrate me.
Many colleagues gave me advice on these situations, but just one comment stuck with me: We cannot all be good at everything; if you don’t have someone licking a stamp, you won’t get your post.
Since then, I try to understand how each person fits into the company puzzle and how best to empower them.
Separately, I’ve learned to take a step back when faced with a problem. It’s like when you are doing a puzzle and can’t seem to find the right piece. Take a step back and walk around – you might discover the piece you were looking for fell off the table. So now, when I am faced with a big challenge or project, I always try to book time off to go and climb a mountain. Changing my perspective in a different environment allows me to look at the issue from all angles and put the right plans in place.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
For me, disruption starts with a question: is this the most efficient way of doing this, or is there a smarter, cheaper, faster way of doing it? The phrase “it’s just the way it’s done” has always told me that there is room for improvement.
Most of the time we don’t create workplace cultures that encourage people to think outside the box, so I believe in disrupting from within and involving many people in an initiative to ensure each component of the project is as efficient, streamlined and cost-efficient as it could be.
Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Early in my career I read a lot of biographies to find inspiration. I learned about many great stories, but somehow didn’t quite find the inspiration I was looking for. Then someone told me to write my own story, so a couple of years ago I took a career break and traveled around the world for two years. At that time, I actually started writing that book. It’s all about my life experiences and the lessons I learned from the people I met along the way. If you can’t find inspiration, then it’s time for you to do something inspirational.
- It is my personal belief that everything is possible. When faced with a seemingly impossible task, I start by doing the things I can do, taking one small step at a time. Over time, and sometimes even without noticing, I find myself within what was considered impossible before.
- Being South African, this one quote from Nelson Mandela always stuck with me: “There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” If you have the gift and skill to do something, then you should do it, or at least you should try.
- Bring everyone along on the journey, you can achieve much more as a group. That’s part of our ethos at OakTree Power. In order to save the planet, we’ve invited on our journey the most prominent young professionals in the energy sector, as well as a host of companies and partners. After all, if we manage to establish the appropriate collaborative networks to tackle energy issues, we’ll certainly be taking steps towards a more green and sustainable future.
- Don’t be afraid to fail, that is how we all learn.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Our ultimate goal is to make electricity networks more sustainable to help save the planet. This clearly is a very ambitious objective, but we’re confident that our startup can play a key role in making this happen as long as our solution becomes increasingly robust and scalable. That is why OakTree Power’s new offering will combine four innovative products under one solution, which will create a streamlined and sustainable model designed for growth.
Fighting climate change is a mission that transcends countries’ borders, which is why we aim to help as many companies as possible reduce their carbon footprint and support countries’ grid operators.
After all, the number of people across the world without access to electricity declined from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 759 million in 2019. With electrification enabling internet access and free education, it’s crucial that these numbers continue to fall. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still much more to do ethically, responsibly, and sustainably. We have a duty of care to empower new generations in developing countries with sustainable power.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
It was a Podcast by Ulla Suokko at TEDxBigSky. The host said something along the lines of:
“How much longer will you go on letting your energy sleep? How much longer are you going to stay oblivious to the immensity of yourself? Don’t lose time in conflict; lose no time in doubt – time can never be recovered. And if you miss an opportunity, it may take many lives before another comes your way again.”
Since then, I make a conscious effort to listen to the soft voice inside. If the world is too loud and I can’t hear the voice, I know I need to find a quiet place to listen. Often this will be hiking in the mountains somewhere.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This mindset has given me the opportunity to transform the way we consume energy, and ultimately contribute to saving our planet.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Try and create a ripple effect, that way you inspire the people around you, and they inspire the people close to them. With that you have a continuous never ending loop. For me it is not a single action, but more a collection of smaller actions along the way that feed that ripple as often as I can.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can find me on LinkedIn!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!