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Q&A with alumni innovator Vanessa Rauland

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Vanessa Rauland is an author, entrepreneur, academic, public speaker and small business owner of ClimateClever – a social enterprise that enables schools, homes and businesses to reduce their carbon footprint, save on utility bills and learn how to create a low-carbon future.

The idea for ClimateClever first emerged while Rauland was a PhD student at Curtin and volunteered to help a local high school become the first carbon neutral school in Australia. She quickly saw there was a gap in the market when it came to people’s demand for living more sustainably. She took that idea and transformed it into a full-time business, with the latest ClimateClever program launching in March this year.

Below, Rauland shares her start-up journey, her Curtin experience and the future of sustainability.

  1. What three tips would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

“One: Sign up to entrepreneurial programs like Curtin Ignition, Curtin Accelerate and the Curtinnovation Awards! I did all three programs and they absolutely helped me get to where I am now. They teach you to think strategically about your idea, your customers and how you are different.

“Two: Many start-up ideas come from university research or assignments. My advice to PhD students is to think like an entrepreneur. When you look at your research, ask yourself why you are doing it and what impact it’s going to make. Try to address the needs of industry, so then you might have the basis for starting your own company when you come out of it.

“Three: Pitch and network constantly! You never know where a new contact might lead you. I won a small pitch event ($1.5K prize) that led into a big $350K grant!

  1. What inspired you to become an advocate for sustainability and addressing climate change?

“I grew up spending a lot of time in nature. All of our family holidays were spent camping. My family were also pretty environmentally conscious, so sustainable habits were instilled in me from a young age.

“When I finished high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career, but I knew it had to have something to do with protecting the environment. I eventually ended up working in the field of climate change.”

A selfie of Vanessa Rauland and her camp site among pine trees.
Sustainable habits and a respect for the environment were instilled in Rauland from a young age.
  1. As an entrepreneur, what is the most surprising thing you have learnt from starting your own business?

“Firstly, that nobody really knows what they are doing when they begin! It’s so easy to be daunted by others who seem so much more experienced, qualified or further down the track than you are.

“The key really is just putting one foot in front of the other, getting started, and moving quickly. It’s very different from academia, where things take a lot longer (and rightly so – research needs to be thorough). Business needs to move at lightning pace.”

  1. Why did you choose Curtin to study your degree?

“In 2009, I  was offered a research position with Curtin to undertake my PhD and coordinate an ARC Linkage Project. It completely changed my career trajectory in the most amazing way imaginable! I spent the next 10 years as an academic at Curtin, researching and lecturing in a field I was extremely passionate about (climate change), while also having the flexibility to pursue my growing interest in entrepreneurship.

“Having the support of a university that embraces entrepreneurship and innovation is quite exceptional. I have never doubted that I chose the right university!”

  1. What does your current role as founder and CEO of ClimateClever entail? What do you enjoy about it?

“As a start up with a small team, my job as CEO entails so many different things! My role flits between marketing, business development, sales, finance, investor pitching, project management, product development, user testing and day-to-day customer service.

“While I can’t wait for us to get bigger so we can hire people for specific roles, I enjoy the variety of things I get to do. I also have an amazing and agile team, who understand the phase we’re in and constantly help out with all these tasks.

“The thing I love most about my job is waking up every day knowing I’m doing something I’m passionate about and that is having a positive impact on the world. I also love that no day is the same.”

Rauland with fellow sustainability advocate, Craig Reucassell (centre), and her Chief Tech Officer, Alexander Karan.
Rauland with fellow sustainability advocate, Craig Reucassell (centre), and her Chief Tech Officer, Alexander Karan.
  1. Where do you see the future in your field?

“I see a lot of automation in the future. I think a lot of our unsustainable behaviours can be solved with technical solutions – hopefully by our current youth!

“For example, more efficient and smarter appliances, automated electric vehicles, greater use of digital technology for work and communications (we can thank COVID-19 for kick-starting that trend!), reducing the need for travel, greater resource recovery/recycling – the list goes on. I think the future is bright and exciting! We just need to embrace all these new technologies and leave the antiquated ones behind.”

If you have a brilliant idea for a new technology, product or service that could have positive impact on the world, you could be eligible for the 2020 Curtinnovation Awards.

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