Member’s Spotlight – Philip Sellwood CBE

We are thrilled to present our first interview in our new TRICAPITAL member’s spotlight with Philip Sellwood CBE. In this spotlight, we explore Philip’s journey to becoming an investor and director, his professional background, and his perspective on the exciting opportunities in Scotland’s sustainable energy sector. Philip shares his experiences with TRICAPITAL and highlights the unique aspects that set the syndicate apart, including its camaraderie, scalability, and commitment to diversity. He also discusses the future of TRICAPITAL, emphasising the importance of collaborations, exploring new industries, and expanding beyond Scotland’s borders. Join us as we delve into Philip’s insights as an angel investor and his involvement with TRICAPITAL, offering a compelling glimpse into the landscape of investing in Scotland.
We are eager to delve into your journey to becoming a member of TRICAPITAL, learning what motivated you to join and how your experience has unfolded. 

Serendipity played a role in my association with TRICAPITAL, as I initially became involved with a previous investment in IRT. This Scottish technology company had connections with TRICAPITAL and then through the spin-off venture, Heero, stemming from IRT, I found my path to TRICAPITAL. Engaging in a conversation with Moray, one of the co-investors and I expressed my interest in Heero as an investor and enquired further about TRICAPITAL. 

And have you enjoyed your time with TRICAPITAL so far?

Though brief, throughout my time with TRICAPITAL, I have encountered a series of intriguing experiences that have left a lasting impression. One notable development has been my appointment as the investor director for Heero, representing both TRICAPITAL and my personal investment in the platform. This role holds particular significance for me as it will be my first experience as an investor director, presenting a fresh opportunity for growth and learning. I am driven by the desire to contribute to the venture and to learn from this unique experience.

We would be delighted to gain insight into your professional background, as it undoubtedly brings a distinctive perspective to your role as an angel investor and director for investments. 

Absolutely; well, I believe that the fundamental principles that hold true in business, and indeed in organisations as a whole, are the very principles that have significance in the realm of investment. Two guiding factors that I consider important are the business’s financial model and, equally, if not more vital, the individuals involved in the organisation. While having a good financial model is important, people with the right mindset and experience truly make a difference. A well-known saying goes, ‘You can train for aptitude, but you can’t train for attitude,’ and I believe this holds immense importance in investment.

My professional background is particularly broad. Initially, I embarked on a corporate journey within the commercial sector, encompassing retail and pharmaceuticals. I assumed diverse roles, traversing the globe from Australia to the Far East, South America to America. These experiences entailed extensive travel and engagement in procurement and commercial buying. Subsequently, I ventured into the sustainable energy sector and became the CEO of a notable public-private sector organisation. Simultaneously, I’ve always maintained involvement in various arenas, serving as a non-executive director in government departments, startups, and small companies, some of which I have invested in and others where I have been sought after for sharing my expertise. I have also contributed to the charitable and third sectors, having co-founded the Ellen McArthur Foundation a decade ago, which champions the concept of a circular economy. 

Returning to my initial point, I firmly believe that a venture must possess an investable proposition supported by a capable team to transcend being merely a good idea. I hope to bring a comprehensive array of experiences from my engagement in public, private, and civic spheres to the investor platform.

What prompted your transition to the sustainable energy sector?

There were two factors at play. Firstly, I had some involvement in the sector during my corporate life, however as the Head of Global Strategy at a large Plc, my strategic advice wasn’t being fully heeded. Realising that being in a position of global strategic influence held little value if my recommendations weren’t effectively implemented, I saw an opportunity to explore a different industry. Energy and transport were uncharted territories for me, and I felt compelled to embark on this new path. Secondly, as life takes its course, one reaches a point where it feels right to move on. In my case, it was a personal decision driven by the desire to pursue my passion. It was not a result of any significant disagreement or discord. 

When I first joined, we were a modest team of eleven or twelve individuals. Today, that number has grown to over 500. It has been a captivating journey of growth and discovery throughout this period.

We are also intrigued by your personal journey as an investor and the factors that sparked your interest in investing in start-ups, particularly within the realm of sustainability. Furthermore, we are eager to understand what led you to join TRICAPITAL.

Interestingly, my path as an investor began before I even recognised myself as one. During my corporate career, a significant portion of my work revolved around investing in future product development, both domestically and internationally. Whether it was engaging in substantial procurement initiatives within the food industry in places like Australia, New Zealand, or Brazil, I found myself involved in the world of start-ups. This was approximately 25 years ago when you would find yourself venturing into remote corners of the world, devoid of the mobile telephone infrastructure we enjoy today, embarking on the exhilarating journey of establishing a start-up business. Thus, my initial exposure to investing stemmed from my corporate endeavours, albeit with the use of company funds rather than my personal finances.

Around 15 years ago, I was invited to advise on a small pharmaceutical board. At the time, they were unable to pay me, but they proposed using company shares. Intrigued by the prospect, I accepted the arrangement, which marked the start of my advising smaller companies. This approach proved advantageous as it allowed me to contribute my extensive experience and support to start-ups without burdening them financially.

Naturally, not all ventures find success, and I have encountered my fair share of endeavours that did not achieve the desired outcomes. However, I firmly believe that if you are not prepared to take risks, you may not be adequately pushing the boundaries. Once you have vested interests as a shareholder, your alignment with the founders and management of these organisations becomes resolute. As I embark on this new chapter with Heero and other endeavours within TRICAPITAL, I aim to bring this invaluable perspective to the table.

Looking ahead in terms of investment, where do you see the most exciting opportunities in Scotland over the next few years? Are there any other particular industries or sectors that you believe would be especially ripe for growth and innovation?

Right, well, I don’t know if you can see, but I looked at that question, I wrote it down, and I got to about 15, and I decided that probably that was enough. I think the main reason I’m interested in TRICAPITAL is that Scotland has led the way as a country in some of the areas I’m interested in. Sustainable mobility, electric vehicle technology, home energy management systems, and domestic renewables are areas where I believe Scotland has taken the lead in the UK. Part of this is about payback; it’s about saying you’ve taken the opportunity and risk as a country with some excellent skills.

I think these are the areas that are going to expand, whether it’s battery technology, EV infrastructure, as I say, home energy management systems. I believe we’re seeing that we’ve got lots of individual technologies at the moment. So you’ve got wind, you’ve got solar, you’ve got ground source heat pumps, you’ve got EVs, but what we’re going to see is a convergence of the convergence, everything coming together.

I think the next real opportunity is investing in whole property or whole business propositions to join all those things together. Because at the moment, if you’re a business or a householder, trying to get somebody to do your whole house refurbishment or your whole business refurbishment is almost impossible. Somebody will do solar, but they can’t do battery. Somebody will do the battery but can’t do EV. In my view, there’s a natural, investable opportunity to bring all those things together, which I think is very exciting.

TRICAPITAL is known for being one of the leading angel investor groups in Scotland. What sets this syndicate apart from others and makes it truly unique and appealing to both investors and entrepreneurs?

Although I haven’t been involved for long, I can already highlight a few distinctive aspects. Firstly, the sense of camaraderie within TRICAPITAL is remarkable. Despite being an unfamiliar face, the members have warmly welcomed me, offering encouragement and willingly sharing their experiences. This inclusive and supportive environment is crucial for personal growth and continuous learning.

TRICAPITAL strikes a balance in terms of size. While it is large enough to have a significant presence, there is a concerted effort to expand further. One exciting initiative is the collaboration with Mint, an all-female equivalent angel investor organisation. This partnership brings a valuable dimension of diversity to the investment platform. It is vital to have a multitude of perspectives when assessing investments, encompassing different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. TRICAPITAL’s willingness to embrace this inclusivity is admirable.

TRICAPITAL ensures that every member can have a tangible impact. Unlike some larger investor groups where individual influence can be minimal, here, even as a relatively new member, you can make a meaningful contribution. This scalability allows for greater involvement and engagement in shaping the group’s activities.

In summary, TRICAPITAL stands out for its friendly nature and its scalability. These factors make TRICAPITAL an exceptional and appealing choice in the world of angel investing.

Looking ahead, what do you see in the future for TRICAPITAL?

Firstly, strengthening collaborations with other angel networks and Scottish Enterprise. This partnership not only provides financial support but also demonstrates valuable political backing, which is essential for building trust and credibility. It’s important to know that support extends beyond words to tangible investments.

One promising area for TRICAPITAL to explore further is smart mobility. While electric vehicles are a significant part of this landscape, there are numerous other innovative solutions worth considering. Scotland’s proficiency in platform technologies presents an opportunity for TRICAPITAL to attract investments in this field. Taking a proactive approach by actively promoting these opportunities and engaging with potential investors would be advantageous.

Additionally, although TRICAPITAL is currently predominantly Scotland-based, there is a whole world of possibilities out there. While maintaining the distinctiveness that makes TRICAPITAL special, expanding beyond Scotland’s borders could lead to exciting new ventures. 

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with us on your experience as an angel investor, your involvement with TRICAPITAL or the broader landscape of investing in Scotland?

Well, two or three things. One is a cliche, but ‘the future is now. Whether it’s in smart healthcare, sustainable energy and mobility, or the development of new technologies like biotech, Scotland is exceptionally well-positioned in these areas and TRICAPITAL benefits from this favourable environment.

To anyone considering joining TRICAPITAL, I want to highlight how welcoming and friendly the group are. The members are not only sharp and astute, but they also possess the right values that set them apart from other angel investor groups. While seeking financial returns, there is also a strong emphasis on achieving a social impact, which has been evident in our conversations. It’s not a matter of choosing between financial success or making a difference; it’s possible to accomplish both objectives simultaneously. TRICAPITAL’s unique position enables them to tap into this market demand and bridge that gap effectively.