Spotlight Series: interview with Virginia Gardiner, CEO of Loowatt

03 Feb 2020

Virginia Gardiner - spotlight series 2

Firstly, give us your best elevator pitch on who you are and what Loowatt is

Loowatt makes waterless flush toilets and sanitation solutions suited for today’s water-scarce world. Sewered sanitation is simply unfeasible in most parts of the world today. Our unique technology is perfect for urban and portable sanitation providers who need high-quality sanitation that doesn’t rely on sewers.

What inspired you to come up with the idea of Loowatt?

When I was doing my master’s degree, I decided that my degree project should be to create a toilet that doesn’t use water, works in any dwelling, and turns waste into a commodity. Why? At first it was because I thought there was something fundamentally unethical about using drinking water to flush the toilet. But I soon learnt that the majority of people on earth don’t even have access to sanitation, and that is the real driver for needing innovation in toilets, which generally haven’t changed since the Victorian era.   

Sell it to us - how does it work and why should people buy it?

Loowatt is truly a 21st century toilet because it provides the experience of a flush toilet without the water. It’s also odourless and hygienic, which is crucial because toilets are a vital part of everyday life. Our processing equipment then facilitates waste-to-value treatment, which is key to sustainability.

What would you say are the best things about working at Loowatt?

Our field is fascinating because toilets and sanitation are relevant to so many fields. They rely not just on new technologies but also sustainable service models. Loowatt has brought many wonderful people into my life, from the team I see at the office to the sanitation experts we get to catch up with at conferences. People interested in sanitation tend to be good humoured and down-to-earth – I guess it makes sense, as they have to talk about things that are taboo and they must be willing to get their hands dirty!

What is the hardest thing about working at Loowatt?

Developing a new sanitation technology that is not only a product, but a service model and waste management system is a long road. We have been building the market in tandem with perfecting our solutions, which, while endlessly stimulating, is not without challenges.

What’s the biggest thing your company has achieved so far?

I am delighted that we are starting work with the City of Manila in the Philippines for the rollout of toilets to their informal settlement areas. This is a huge milestone for us because the Loowatt system was designed for applications just like this. We are so much looking forward to working with them to deliver high-quality non-sewered sanitation for people living in informal settlements. 

What does the future hold?

We are already providing hardware to service providers who need great waterless toilets – both for portable applications, like events and construction sites, and for cities that don’t have sewers. We are working to scale this up over the next few years.

What’s the top piece of advice you would give to someone considering entrepreneurship?

You need to get lots of advice and listen to it carefully, but you also need to build up your capacity to filter it and make your own decisions.

What impact has the SME Leaders Programme had on your business?

I have really loved being part of this amazing network. The 1-2-1 coaching offered valuable coping skills to enable better focus on the important rather than the urgent.

What advice would you give to potential applicants?

The application is definitely worth the effort!  I was grumpy while completing it, as the deadline came up during a much-needed vacation. After joining the programme, I was glad every time I looked back on that grumpy morning that I’d followed through!

What other startups/scaleups do you admire and why?

I would not necessarily pick a single startup, but I’m really inspired by the range of companies that have transformed logistics through new technologies.

And finally, if you received an infinite sum of cash, what’s the first thing you would do for your business?

The environment is a huge priority for us. We would invest more in this at every level of the business – we’d find ways to offset every flight a Loowatt employee takes for work, and we would invest more in the R&D we do relating to closed-loop waste processing.  

Quick fire questions

Who is your role model?  Politicians who might change the course of the next 10 years: whether it’s Sir Keir Starmer or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

What is your secret talent? I am a very good cook.   

What’s your guilty pleasure?  Long, lazy meals with good friends.

I don’t understand why… people ever purchase pre-mixed salad dressing.

When I’m not working at Loowatt, I am... playing with Lego with my 6-year old son.

What makes you happiest in business? Working with a great team on a shared purpose.

If you could have a superpower it would be... the ability to fly like a bird.

If you could switch places with any famous entrepreneur, who would it be? Hmm… could I say a musician like Sade who has a quiet life in the country?  

The tech that I could not live without is… cutlery? Honestly, I sometimes miss when the internet did not exist

Ever told a white lie to get what you wanted in business? Nope. 

Which fellow Hub Member are you most impressed by? I am really impressed by Lise Honsingers’s innovation in plastic alternatives with her company Notpla.

If you had to choose another sector to work in, what would it be? Agriculture.

And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve?  A compact, zero-emission kitchen device that converts all the non-recyclable packaging waste I get into resaleable products.

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