Energy-Scanner: Neil O’Hara
During his time at British Energy, this entrepreneur decided it was time small businesses had the ability to 'confidently check' the energy market
Tell us what your business does:
Energy-Scanner is an online platform where small businesses are able to compare the very latest energy tariffs in the market from a large range of energy companies and switch in less than five minutes.
Our technology means small businesses can make a decision on their energy needs, checking an unbiased list of relevant energy contracts which are specific to their business, and switch. And if they are already on the best deal, we will let them know and we can send regular updates so they can switch if and when they want to.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The idea of Energy-Scanner was first born during my time at British Energy, when I thought that there needed to be a better and easier way for small businesses to be able to confidently check the market and enter into an energy contract that’s right for them.
However, achieving this reality is complex because energy companies provide a price that’s specific for each small businesses; which is quite different to domestic energy contracts. We needed to develop the technology to solve this. And last year we did, forming an exclusive partnership with a technology provider that has developed the only reliable and accurate pricing and switching engine in the UK.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I have worked in the energy sector for a long time, so I knew the opportunity existed. But that experience was backed up by recent calls by the CMA and Ofgem, who both argue that small enterprises could save hundreds of millions a year in costs by switching energy contracts.
This has been backed up by our initial customers; who’ve saved an average of £2,000 a year on their energy contracts.
What were you doing before starting up?
I held the position of CEO at Eggborough Power Station, and managing director of EPH’s UK operations. These are positions I still hold alongside my work as CEO at Energy-Scanner.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Absolutely. Running your own business gives you the freedom to design and deliver a solution that the market place needed, and have the ability to directly influence the outcome.
How did you raise the money?
I pitched the idea to an experienced private investor, who shared my absolute enthusiasm for the concept.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
Using innovative technology, and based on our customer’s address, we scan the market for the latest prices offered to that business’ location, list them and let small businesses switch online. There’s no need to wait for an email or phone call back to run through your details again and complete more checks.
We have contracts with all the energy suppliers who provide pricing and contracts through our service. And our brand ethos is transparency. So we’re upfront about the fact energy companies pay us a small fee for providing the technology; in fact, we list our fee on our site. We’re completely unique because the same small fee applies to each and every supplier – from the big six to the smaller niche suppliers – so our customers are assured we’re 100% impartial.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
As with any new idea, there have been common business challenges such as securing the buy in from some energy suppliers to be a part of this drive towards fairer energy provision. We’ve also invested heavily in technology, so that we can offer the best and most reliable service
Our biggest challenge is assuring customers that they can get a better deal by coming through us, rather than just going back to their existing supplier or phoning another. We are much more than a comparison site.
The comparison of energy tariffs is just one part of our business model. The most significant aspect is that small businesses are now more empowered to check and switch energy providers based on the cost of the energy supply that is being offered.
On the whole, the concept and the business has been well received because there is a clear demand for fair provision of energy in the UK.
What was your first big breakthrough?
We worked hard to secure a number of energy suppliers during the development stages of Energy-Scanner. To date, we have three of the six big UK suppliers signed up to the site with a further seven smaller organisations on-board. Seeing these names sign on the dotted line was definitely a turning point for us as a business.
We look forward to nurturing these relationships as well as provide the very best service to the small business community.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
It can be challenging to start a new business, so you need to be brave. And most importantly, seek out and embrace constructive feedback, and be absolutely clear about what differentiates you from all the others.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
We want to have a large section of the small business community signed-up to the Energy-Scanner service, as well as having all of the major energy suppliers signed up. We believe that Energy-Scanner’s platform is a critical offering to small firms, enabling them to find the best possible energy deals that will cut their overhead costs, and allow them to switch providers if necessary.
We will continue to offer smaller enterprises a transparent service to ensure they receive the best deal possible to help make energy bills a little less complicated.