A short way into our conversation, it’s clear that Roy is a shrewd businessman who carefully plots success – and has the drive of an entrepreneur to see opportunities and grasp them with both hands when they arise. With several grandchildren, he also sees the importance of doing right by the planet and people.
It’s against this backdrop that he and business partner Steve Hawkins have established Alpha Investments Funds, which uses the Guernsey protected cell fund structure. It is structured to contain a number of cells – funds within funds – to support projects involved in life science and environmental and clean tech projects to scale up and bring their products to market.
Life science is the study of living things, and in turn to make things better for humans, for example through medical products. In terms of environmental projects, this covers plans for a ‘cleantech’ cell focused on the energy sector as the world shifts to a low-carbon economy to mitigate against climate change as well as a ‘green earth’ cell, all the while delivering for investors in growth areas and real world benefits for the wellbeing and health of humankind.
Across the financial services sector, including among Channel Islands investors, there has been growing interest in sustainable and wellbeing investments – which Alpha Life Science Fund is hoping to tap into as well.
With the Alpha Life Science Fund cell already live, we focus initially on this area. It has already identified several opportunities as ripe for investment and development, which Roy outlines. ‘It’s about things that will either improve, save, help the human body. So for example, there is a heart pump, which is only the third to be developed in the world. Two are already in use. It’s obviously further advanced,’ he says.
‘We’ve got a product with Vision, which is to improve the sight of people who have very, very limited sight. This is about a project where they solved the problem, but they need to miniaturise the project. So that it’s a bit like just putting on glasses so that people with only peripheral central vision can actually see. There are other projects such as diagnostic products.
‘They are projects that can be funded and brought into the fund. So we have to do deals with the companies to take an investment in a business. Because these businesses are developing new technology they raise funds as they go along. So they start as a start-up and then they progress.
‘What we’re doing here is picking up projects that are within sight of commercialisation or sale. The fund is a three- to five-year fund, which means that after five years, it’s a closed ended fund, it needs to be wound up and the return distributed to investors. Then you might set up a second or third cell.
‘We’re looking in the range of raising between about £50m. and £100m. The directors of the fund can decide to close it out at a lower sum. But obviously it’s got to be a viable fund. It’s got to have enough money in there to attract into the cell six to eight projects to fund.’
Cleantech and Green Earth
In a world where climate change is one of the top challenges, Roy and his business partner are also looking to establish cells within Alpha Investment Funds to drive more environmentally-friendly businesses, including in the energy generation sector, by leveraging investors’ funds. That is a win-win for investors and the planet is the rationale.
‘Cleantech is a terminology for more efficient use of electricity,’ explains Roy. The Cleantech Fund will cover a wide range of innovations from longer lasting car batteries to wind farms. ‘It’s all the things that spin out of what people are trying to achieve now with the more efficient use of electricity – battery storage, all of these kinds of areas.
‘We are also we’re looking at an environmental fund, which will be called the Green Earth Fund. This will involve projects which I’m personally very interested in which are hydroponics, aquaponics, food waste to feed using black soldier flies and things like edible insects and snail farms, all those things that are looking for new sources of protein, or more efficient ways of growing things.’
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water without soil. Aquaponics involves growing fish and using their waste to feed the plants in an efficient way. Insect crops meanwhile offer a high protein alternative to feed the world’s population rather than farm animals.
And to deal with food waste, said to be the world’s biggest carbon polluter, Roy says that black soldier flies are highly efficient at reducing food waste down and eliminating its carbon footprint while also providing a feed for animals and birds and a carbon neutral fertiliser. It’s an area that he has been working on in Guernsey, setting up a pilot processing plant and black soldier fly colony in highly controlled conditions.
He adds: ‘For example, with aquaponics and hydroponics, you can grow up to 20 to 30 times as much produce on an acre of land as you can on a ploughed field. And then you get into things like vertical grow-up farms and all the issues that move us on.
‘These are not new businesses, they are young industries based upon extremely old technology where you go back to the Chinese, you go back to the Egyptians, hundreds of years ago. Now these things are coming into focus because we have to grow food more efficiently and more productively.’
The inspiration behind Alpha Investment Funds
As we near the end of the interview, we touch upon why Roy is so passionate about Alpha Investment Funds. ‘It’s all about saving the planet,’ he says. ‘It’s also about projects which make obviously good financial returns, otherwise you won’t attract investors into the area.
‘But it’s something that the planet has to do to go forward. I’ve seen enough of these areas that I know that they make good business sense too.’
‘Because of the nature of the technology moving forward you actually will have good returns, for example the returns in the Alpha Life Science Fund are offering a 10% rate of return with the expectation it would be higher than that.
‘We’re all used to high multiples when people have come along with Facebook and Amazon and so on. These types of project should be in that direction because exploiting new technology normally will mean that people will invest in them because they see a good return. Do you want an investment that gives a higher return but also does something for society on the whole?’
The interview ends with a simple message: ‘We’re primarily going to be in life science, cleantech, environmental. That’s the primary purpose of the funds. They are, of course, green projects. We’re aiming that these would be 100% green.’
A laudable objective indeed.
n For more information on Alpha Investment Funds, you can email Roy on firstname.lastname@example.org.