Budget Energy is Northern Ireland’s only independent supplier of retail, pre-paid electricity.
Before founding it in 2011, Eleanor McEvoy built and sold two previous businesses: Pembroke Distributors, a food distribution and vending company which she sold in 2001, and Phonecard Warehouse, sold in 2006 with a net turnover of €50 million.
Budget Energy got a license to operate within Northern Ireland in December 2010. The company supplies electricity to domestic and commercial customers and, since going live in July 2011, has acquired more than 25,000 customers.
Budget Energy has negotiated power purchase agreements to obtain energy from a number of anaerobic digesters and wind farms operated by the farming community.
The company plans to continue to pursue its strategy for green energy, and achieve 20 per cent green electricity by the end of this year.
What vision prompted you to start-up your business?
Electricity is a necessity but has historically been offered by faceless organisations. I saw a niche in the Northern Ireland market for a competitive, price-controlled company, and to shake up an old fashioned industry.
Previously, consumers in NI had two choices – Power NI and Airtricity – this resulted in a staid and uncompetitive market with two large companies controlling the market and the consumer losing out.
How did you secure your first investment?
I started with an idea, very little money and built it on profits and a small bank overdraft. The business was eventually sold and the capital gain went to start the next venture.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
I have not quite had a back- to-the-wall moment because of the best advice I ever got, which was, “plan your work, work your plan” and “success is paper thin – it’s called a balance sheet”.
What moment or deal would you identify as the “game changer” for the company?
Our market offering was an idea, and was only tested after entering the market and offering the product to customers.
This is always a testing and nail-biting time in a business, but thankfully the consumer embraced our simple transparent offering. Transparency – one price, no contract, quality customer service.
This is the product I came to the market with and 7 per cent of the market has embraced it and more continue to follow.
Are there any imminent milestones for the company on the 12-month roadmap ahead?
Significant milestones include entry into the Republic of Ireland market and continuous customer growth. We aim to expand into the Republic of Ireland and further afield as pre-paid electricity is gaining in popularity as a choice for consumers. Our target is to reach 50,000 customers by next year, representing a 15 per cent market share.
Growing and managing staff numbers and systems to facilitate this growth is of paramount importance.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Feel the fear, and do it anyway. If you feel you have a strong proposition and a willing market, pursue your ambition and build your business. Remember, if you hide from risk, you hide from reward.