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Article appeared in Business Quarterly on Tuesday 30th August 2016
Heliex Power was established in 2010, and designs, manufactures and supplies patent Steam Expander Systems used to generate electricity using waste heat and steam. The firm currently exports to a range of countries including India, Italy, Ireland, France, Austria, Poland and The Netherlands. Chief executive Chris Armitage caught up with BQ to tell us more...
Professor Dan Wright MBE launched Heliex Power in 2010, a company which designs, manufactures and supplies patent Steam Expander Systems used to generate electricity using waste heat and steam.
These days, the firm exports to a range of countries including India, Italy, Ireland, France, Austria, Poland and The Netherlands, in sectors including chemical manufacturing, brewing and distilling, district heating, steel, farming and agriculture, paper, medical waste, and steel.
Heliex allows businesses to make the best use of the energy they are already producing.
“We’re the only company in the world producing a system that can harness energy from this ubiquitous, yet frequently untapped, energy source,” explains chief executive Chris Armitage.
The firm began life when City University contacted Professor Wright, who had previously been a lecturer there.
“A potential customer in Australia wanted to use the university’s technology, which it had been working on for more than 40 years, for a geothermal power station,” says Chris.
“They needed to form a spin-out company and asked Dan to take the project on, given his experience of running engineering businesses in the past and his familiarity with the technology. A lot of time was spent on developing the product and building the team before Heliex began selling in 2014.”
The firm kicked off its exporting journey almost as soon as it was able to begin trading, after receiving support from Scottish Enterprise.
“One of our first clients was a glass manufacturing plant near Milan – it produces over half a million glass bottles each day. That was followed soon afterward by the country’s largest steel mill.
“We’ve had a lot of success in Italy, primarily because the cost of electricity is so high there.”
“When you have a unique product such as ours it generates its own interest in the market place; customers naturally approach us regardless of where they are located,” says Chris, when asked about what he thinks makes exporting easy for Heliex.
However, exporting isn’t without its difficulties too, as he points out: “Customers are naturally nervous of new technology. Whilst they want the benefits, they often do not want to be the first to step into the unknown and so they adopt a “race to be second”.
“Gaining those first reference orders was a challenge, but we are now beyond that with more than forty orders and in excess of 50,000 operating hours.”
Looking to the future, Heliex has big plans to set up a joint venture in China, where high demand could result in the sale of up to 1,000,000 of its systems.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for us, but we also want to expand our presence in the countries in which we’re already trading, as well as gain access to new ones. At the same time, we’re looking to enlarge our portfolio with three new products – all of them are currently in development and are based on the existing Steam Expander System. We hope to bring the first of them to market shortly,” Chris says.
“Overall, Heliex is growing exponentially – we increased revenue threefold to £3 million this year, aim to double that to about £6.5 million next year, and then £13 million during the following 12 months. It’s a really exciting time for the business and things are changing all the time – it’s hard enough saying where we’ll be in a month, let alone five years.”
With global success under their belt in just two years, Heliex have a wealth of advice for any potential future exporters: “Firstly, do your homework. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy researching different countries and their electricity prices, government incentives for installing low carbon technologies and infrastructure before taking any action.
“Secondly, stay focused. We receive enquiries from all over the world, but we try to remain focused on our initial target markets with the resources that we have. It’s better to start smaller and do it well, before going further afield.
“Finally, build strong relationships with people that know your target markets inside out.”
Exporting and international trade remain high on the Scottish Government’s economic growth agenda and the Scottish Export Awards, in association with Scottish Enterprise, are about recognising the excellence in those emerging, wealth creating companies that are selling their products, services and expertise in scores of overseas markets.