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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

YouGen press release

Woman whose home renovation sparked a business idea wins Green Business award

Posted on 25 November 2013 at 12:51 pm

An idea that was sparked when renovating her new home wouldn't go away and eventually led Cathy Debenham to start Devon-based energy-saving website. Last week she won the green business category in the national finals of the Venus Awards for women in business for her work on YouGen.  Cathy reached the finals having picked up the Green Business of the Year award in the Devon Venus Awards in September. The ceremony took place at on Friday 22 November at Rhinefield Hotel in the New Forest.

YouGen was founded in 2009 as a result of Cathy’s own experience renovating her house. “We really struggled to find the information we needed to make good choices,” she says. “I was keen to lower our carbon footprint, and our reliance on fossil fuels but the advice I was getting from installers was contradictory and there were huge variations in price. In the end, we stuck with a gas boiler, but the idea for YouGen was born.”

The website provides practical information on a wide range of renewable energy and energy saving options that people can install in their homes or businesses. Questions are answered in the blog – either by Cathy or by a team of professional ‘YouGen Energy Experts’. Installers can become members and promote themselves on the website and ask their customers to leave Amazon-style reviews.

YouGen now has a team of four working on it – all part-time, all women, and all working from home. For such a small operation it punches well above its weight, with traffic of more than 40,000 visits a month – and lively discussion in the blogs.

Cathy has unwittingly become an expert in the government’s renewable energy and energy saving incentives. She regularly asked to speak about these, and also to give the consumer perspective at industry events. She sits on the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s consumer protection group and the Ofgem user group for the imminent domestic renewable heat incentive.

Despite the demands of running YouGen she and her husband continue to improve the energy efficiency of their home. The have installed low energy lighting, solar electricity-generating panels and solar hot water. This summer’s project was insulating under the living room floor and around the dormer windows.

“I am delighted an honoured that we won this award,” says Cathy. “It’s been a rough year for the renewables industry with demand for solar panels slowing down even though they have become much more affordable, and the delay in the start of the renewable heat incentive. It’s meant that many good installers have gone bust, or chosen to leave the industry. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day issues of running the business, so it’s wonderful to have all our work recognised and rewarded by others.

“Our enthusiasm for helping people to take action so they are more in control of their energy use, has not diminished, and we look forward to welcoming more people to the website to find out how to future-proof their home and reduce their reliance on the big six energy companies.”

Notes for Editors:

The need for YouGen (www.yougen.co.uk) struck Cathy Debenham in 2005, when she was doing up her house. There was so much information about renewable energy on the internet, but none of it answered the really practical questions she needed help with to be confident that she had chosen the right technology, the best product and a trustworthy installer. The idea just wouldn't go away, and eventually it grew into a business plan, a blog, and finally the full site was launched in April 2009.

The Venus Awards (devon.venusawards.co.uk)  started as the Langtry Manor Business women Awards and following its huge success in Dorset it was rebranded and the Venus Awards were born. 4 years later the founder Tara Howard wanted to recognise and reward women in business not just in her home county of Dorset but all over the country. Southampton was the first stop and after major success there the model was proven.

The Green Business Award was sponsored by the Centre for Business and Climate Solutions at the University of Exeter.

This year, 2013, Venus Awards has extended its reach in new regions and rewarding hundreds more business women across Devon, Brighton, Bristol and Birmingham. Winners from each area are entered in the national finals.


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