09 March 2021

The UEA ENV graduates bringing opportunity to smallholder farmers in the tropics

Futurepump is a small, Suffolk-based start-up designing and building affordable solar water pumps that offer smallholder farmers across the tropics a cheaper, cleaner and more sustainable alternative.

No fewer then three UEA ENV graduates work at Futurepump, which is now hoping to meet the needs of more smallholders through a new crowdfunding campaign. One of those graduates, Helen Davies tells us more. 

"I don’t think any of us would have expected to be back working together after graduating, but it is not all that surprising given the similar motivations and the connections we gained through our time at UEA"

People often ask me, ‘Is this what you expected to be doing when you graduated?’

No, I never imagined I’d be joining a start-up in a quirky office where every day I get to connect with smallholder farmers across the world. Or that I would have opportunities to experience life on a rural farm in Kenya and speak at international conferences.

However, I did always know I wanted to do something with a purpose and be in a company where my voice could be heard.

For five years, I have been working at Futurepump. We are headquartered in Bungay, Suffolk, but have offices in Kenya and a factory in India. We manufacture reliable and affordable solar water pumps for smallholder farmers across the tropics.

When I started, we were a very small operation, we had sold fewer than 100 solar pumps. The co-founders had just raised enough grant money to employ a graduate and I had been following Futurepump closely since a brief stint as an intern in 2014.

Since then, we’ve grown to sell over 8,000 pumps across 15 countries. Along the way I’ve had to jump in and learn everything from digital marketing and website SEO to how to write grant applications and report to funders and much more! 

Quite quickly, we needed to expand our UK team to keep up with this growth, and we only had to look as far as UEA. I was extremely pleased to reconnect with a friend from my course who had gone into digital communications and we hired Freya to expand our digital marketing reach. Through her work we are now emailing over 40,000 farmers weekly and have built a social media following to be proud of. Two years ago, we needed someone to help manage the data from our pump data loggers. Helen M took up the opportunity through the UEA internship programme I’m pleased to say and stayed on after the placement.

I don’t think any of us would have expected to be back working together after graduating, but it is not all that surprising given the similar motivations and the connections we gained through our time at UEA. Sometimes work life isn’t altogether that different to one of our coursework assignments.

For future graduates, our advice would be to follow your passions. Don’t just look at what job you want, but the culture and the mission behind what a company does. If you get that right, then you’re sure to find something to excel at. And as with all these things, it’s about networking, but not in the boring business sense - just keep connected with people from your course, from societies, you never know what opportunities may arise. And when the right one comes along – go for it!

Right now, it’s an exciting time for us. We are growing again and selling shares in the company for the first time. We’ve decided to open our company to investment through a crowdfunding website, Crowdcube where anyone can buy shares from as little as £10 (capital at risk). We opted for this route so we could build a strong group of backers who share our mission, rather than getting money from faceless corporations.