University wasn’t for me. Now I’m about to make my first million
Richard Branson said: ‘We need to watch him, he’s going places.’
20-year-old George Edwards isn’t your average entrepreneur. While studying in his final year at school he took what started out as a AS-level project from conception to a fully functioning manufactured product, Gas Sense. Now, he’s made friends with some of the most important businessmen in the world, and he’s about to make his first million.
George decided to seek out commercial opportunities after receiving intense interest at the Big Bang Science Fair’s annual Young Engineer for Britain Competition, where his project was highly commended. He based his business on his product, which allows you to monitor the levels of gas remaining in a bottle using magnetic sensor strips, solving the age old problem for many a keen camper. He’s since received overwhelming acclaim and contracts, with a major US retailer signing up for 450,000 units. He’s working with the world’s largest industrial gases company and has an arrangement with Amazon to use the storage and distribution network.
Skipping University to concentrate on his business and fly across the world, he’s living the life of which most people can only dream. Richard Branson said of George: “We need to watch him, he’s going places.” Having dutifully noted the Virgin tycoon’s prediction, we caught up with George to discuss the road to success and hear his advice to other young entrepreneurs.
So what inspired you to invent Gas Sense?
Well it was an AS coursework project when I was doing Engineering as an A level. I had to come up with something to design and make. My teacher was a very keen caravaner who felt bottled gas running out was a big issue. So I thought I could have a stab at fixing it.
How has your life changed since?
It’s been remarkable, really. I’ve always been interesting in engineering and business and knew it’d be something I’d like to end up in. So I just followed through with Gas Sense and it’s sort of happened organically. It’s led to me starting a company and doing all sorts of exciting things. As a result I’ve not gone to university but it’s taken me all around the world meeting really exciting people, shaping everything that I’ve done since.
Are you happy not to be at University?
It’s tricky. I’m perfectly content not to go. It would have been hard to have gone and made both work but it would have been really tough to leave my business. This is what I wanted to end up doing anyway, so it would have been the shame to go to uni and end up doing something else.
What do you think has been the main reason for your success?
I think the ability to not be bound by convention, so when opportunities presented themselves, I was able to take the decision, such as not to go to university.
Tell me about some of your highlights of the past few years .
So when I first met Richard Branson, he was hugely enthusiastic about the product, that was really exciting. He invited me to go on a big PR trip to Detroit and we did all sorts of crazy stuff. They had the cast of Motown the Musical on the plane there and in the middle of the journey they appeared and started dancing. I also spent the day with Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the internet, which was pretty crazy as well. You find yourself in lots of surreal situations.
Another highlight was at school, before I started to turn Gas Sense into a business, when I went to the finals of the Young Engineers for Britain competition in the Excel Centre with 60,000 people attending. Everyone came past and hundreds of business cards were left for me saying ‘Look if you’re ever selling this I have a holiday home and I’d love one’. That was really exciting.
What are your future plans?
I’m very keen to keep going with Gas Sense. I don’t want to sell it or move on. Something we’re working on the moment is the idea that when your smart phone knows the percentage amount in your gas bottle, it can talk to our servers up in the Cloud so we can do things like send you a notification that it’s gonna run out of gas soon and tell you where the nearest station is.
I have a couple other ideas, not gas or leisure or anything. But ways to use technology to fit people’s needs in order to make something much easier in their lives, and then to use data to make advertising better. It struck me that most adverts we watch are just scattered randomly and not advised. Whereas you can use technology to really laser focus that.
Have there been any low points to contend with?
Business is tricky and it’s all sorts of ups and downs. Lots of fairly mundane stuff, such as people not paying on time or people saying no to contracts. There are certainly lots of low points but I don’t have any regrets.
How do you stay motivated?
You’ve got to really believe in your product and business, and also love it. I work seven days a week basically all the time and its not because I have to it’s because I really want to.
And finally, any advice for other entrepreneurs dreaming big?
Well business is great, I really love it. It’s not for everyone but if you think its for you and you have an idea, try it now. When you’re young is the best time to do it because you get much more media attention, and you don’t have things like a mortgage to worry about or other things like a job that can get in the way. Even if it’s a terrible idea and doesn’t go anywhere, the experience of trying it is hugely mind-expanding and eye-opening and educates you about how the world really works. So I’d tell anyone to just go for it.