Alumni talks: Mackenzie Banker
Large-scale changes in how energy is produced will be crucial to a successful energy transition, but lifestyle changes will also be key. In our latest alumni talks, we caught up with Mackenzie Banker, who told us all about her startup and its role in helping people improve their habits.
You’re in charge of your own startup, tell us a bit more about that and its link with the energy transition.
I am co-founder and CEO of Verdantips with two of my other classmates from Energy for Smart Cities, Natalia Fano Yela and Mahima Rathore. We are working to create a sustainable living and travel app for your city, starting in Barcelona, which will also allow eco-conscious individuals to share ideas and tips about sustainability digitally through our community and connect in person at our workshops and events. Right now, our MVP, a sustainable restaurant locator app, is live in Barcelona with over 50 restaurants. We will soon be adding more food options and other sectors to the app so people can easily see which businesses are making efforts to reduce their impact and choose where to spend their money accordingly. While we are not an energy startup, we do hope to be a platform and brand that helps educate about energy issues. From our research and user interviews, your average citizen really doesn’t know much about electricity, renewables, or the energy transition, and we hope to help fill that gap. At some point in the future, we may even facilitate the formation of renewable energy communities among our users! And one of our sustainability badges is Renewable Energy, so our users can easily see which restaurants (and other companies in the future) are buying renewable energy, or better yet, producing their own!
Do you think that personal accountability when it comes to sustainability - whether that is more people watching what they eat, changing the way they travel etc - is going to become more widespread and common in the coming years?
Yes, I definitely think so. I personally have gone through that change in the past few years, where I realised I need to start living by my values. If I care about the planet, I need to show it in my actions and not only advocate for change at a systemic level. I’ve been vegan for two years and put lots of effort towards not using plastic and generating minimal waste, for example. But, it’s challenging! Our society doesn’t make it easy, which is why we came up with the idea for Verdantips, so that more and more people actually do start adopting these changes in their daily lives.
Which skills and experience do you need for your current job?
Ha! As a co-founder and CEO you need so many skills, but being a great leader is one, which of course isn’t easy. My consulting background helps as well because I learned how to wear many hats, which I have to do now on a daily basis. Though I think if I ever decide to launch a second business after Verdantips I will be much, much wiser, and prepared.
What was the main learning you took from your studies with InnoEnergy?
Getting a glimpse into what it takes to launch a startup. The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Journeys gave a solid foundation of what steps to take to get started. Of course, nothing can teach you everything about being an entrepreneur, but at least I had some guidance helping me along the way.
What was your first thought when you graduated? Did you feel prepared or daunted by going into the "real world"?
I already had five years of experience as a consultant at Accenture, so I didn’t feel daunted by the “real world”. I was excited though to start focusing all my energy into my startup! And felt that the Master had taught me a lot about myself and what I’d like to accomplish in my life.
What was your first work experience after graduation?
Post InnoEnergy, just Verdantips!
What is the biggest lesson you learned in the period after graduation?
I learned that to be a better leader I need to make sure I’m dedicating time to myself to bringing my best self to my team. That means taking care of myself physically and mentally as well as dedicating time to grow professionally and personally. It can be very hard to make the time for it, but it’s fundamental for us to achieve our long-term vision, and for my own wellbeing and happiness. And I try to make sure my team is doing the same for themselves!
How has the pandemic affected you, did it make your work easier or make it more difficult?
Definitely more difficult. I didn’t see my two co-founders (who are also very good friends) for over a year, and at one point we were remotely working across three continents. Not to mention trying to launch a business in the restaurant industry when restaurants are all closed is not great timing. But we try to focus on the positive sides of it.
What do you think will be your next step? Will it involve growing the startup more, taking it into new markets?
Yes, definitely still focusing on startups and trying to get it to really take off! We are about to start our first funding round, build up the Verdant Community in Barcelona, improve the app and add more features to it, and then of course start scaling it to other locations and sectors.