Sarah MerrickSarah is Founder and CEO of Ripple. She set up Ripple to bring clean energy ownership into the mainstream.  She was frustrated that big companies could access low cost clean energy direct, but people couldn’t. 

She has worked in the wind energy industry for 18 years. Prior to setting up Ripple she was Head of Public Affairs for Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer.  Alongside her day job she was vice-chair of RenewableUK, the UK’s trade body for wind and marine energy.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the Founder and CEO of Ripple Energy, a clean energy ownership platform which enables customers to co-own a wind farm – putting the power in their hands when it comes to reducing their bills and receiving their energy supply in a planet-friendly way.

Prior to establishing Ripple Energy, I’d worked in the wind industry for 20 years as an economist, working mostly on strategy, energy policy and communications.  All that’s changed since setting up Ripple. When you found a startup you need to do a bit of everything, from investor relations, graphic design and sales, to UX and copywriting. You learn so much so quickly, putting multiple skills at use.

It’s been incredible so far and we have huge growth ambitions to make renewable and green energy accessible and affordable for everyone.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really. I didn’t even know my first job existed until I saw the advert in the paper. It was for an electricity trade body that covered all electricity but even back in 2000 it was pretty clear that renewable energy was going places. I found there were lots of opportunities for me to progress doing something I knew was right  – making clean energy mainstream.

The only time I really planned my career was when I decided to start a family. My career had progressed so quickly I thought I’d ease off the career pedal a bit. For a couple of years I stayed in a job I knew I could do really well, that wasn’t stressful and fitted in with my family and children’s routine. It was great.

I obviously planned when to quit my job to focus on Ripple fulltime. I’d been working on preparing and establishing the company on evenings and weekends, but I knew I had to take the leap and commit all my time to it. Before the company launched, I took the summer off to spend lots of quality time with the kids as I knew it would be full-on once we officially started. I wasn’t wrong.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The biggest challenges I faced were early on in my career when the renewable energy sector was not as established as it is now. Although it may now be denied, the industry grandees dismissed renewable energy at the time and we were belittled. The flip side was that there were so many opportunities opening up while the industry was growing, yet so many people in the sector were still too stuck in their old ways of thinking.

To that point, I’d not felt particularly hampered by being a woman or mum in my career; until I became a founder. When I learnt that women who led start-ups secure less than two per cent of venture capital funding in the UK, it was a hammer blow. It’s just not fair. That’s why at Ripple, we’ve gone for crowdfunding  as it seems to be a lot more open to female founders. As a result, Ripple has nearly 2,000 amazing investors.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The highlight of my career so far was launching the first wind farm on Ripple’s platform in June 2020. It was mid-lockdown and the Ripple team were all on a video call, watching the first sales come in. It was really special; we’d all  worked so hard and overcome so much to get to that point so it felt amazing to see it all come to life.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I’m not afraid to do what no one else is doing. I don’t follow the crowd. The early years in the renewables industry taught me the crowd can be wrong. The energy sector is changing radically, with so much still to come, yet so many companies and people don’t want to embrace or lead the change. They’re paralysed with fear.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Start wherever you can and work up from there. Sometimes you need to take a step back and be patient, particularly if you’re moving into a different field. But never be afraid to do or think differently, or go against the crowd. The world needs more variety of thoughts and ideas to help us progress and constantly change and evolve!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

The tech sector is still very male dominated. There are still barriers to women succeeding, but often they’re quite subtle. Measures like flexible, part-time and home working should be standard practices now, and hopefully lockdown has proven that once and for all. Culture can have a big impact. Actual day-to-day working culture – not values statements – where everyone feels valued and respected are really important.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

First, they need to acknowledge it’s something they want to actively address. Then look at what has happened to female colleagues in the past. Did X and Y and Z just happen to all leave when they had kids? Or were they refused part-time working and not given support to help them stay in their roles? By looking at past examples, companies should ask themselves: what could have been done to have kept them? Then do it. It’s too easy to explain away lack of inclusivity.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I’d parachute in a load of women to fill 75 per cent of the senior roles so they can reset the company culture and shift the hiring, promotion and working conventions to better reflect the needs of women. When senior roles are all held by men it’s really, really hard to get the change needed throughout every layer and aspect of the company. A male dominated workplace is more likely to have a male-centric culture, in which women are an anomaly rather than the norm. This affects how women are treated and also, at a really basic level, whether working in that company is any fun.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are many tools and support available for women in the tech industry. You can check out the Anita Borg Institute that has been around for 30 years, including their Systers online email community for women to support one another. There are also courses and training available for those new to the sector and want to develop their skills, such as the Girl Code Too workshops. The Women in Technology International (WITI) also host global events and meetups to drive change for workplace inclusivity within the sector.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here