Gold Coast surfing icon Nev Hyman is making waves in the ethical investment community thanks to a ‘royal blessing’ of his eco-housing revolution.
Nev Hyman may have never won a world title, but after successfully pitching his new business to a global audience of movers and shakers, he reckons he’s come close to experiencing the euphoria of it.
Mr Hyman last year beat the odds to take the honours at Pitch@Palace after presenting his vision for NevHouse, a company that builds low-cost homes from recycled plastic waste.
“It’s a bit like winning the world title of surfing,” Mr Hyman says.
“I’m incredibly proud of my company, the people in my company and the energy everyone put into their presentations to help us win the pitch.”
The journey to a royal audience in London began for Mr Hyman in September last year when he presented the compelling business case for NevHouse to Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, at Bond University on the Gold Coast.
It was part of the regional selection of candidates for Pitch@Palace, an initiative founded by Prince Andrew in 2014 to support global entrepreneurship. Last year’s pitch is understood to have attracted some 25,000 hopefuls from around the world.
Since being named the overall winner of Pitch@Palace in December, Mr Hyman says the doors have started to open to some of the world’s biggest investors and philanthropists.
“I am over the moon and it really hasn’t started yet,” he says.
New opportunities include NevHouse potentially building housing for Syrian refugees.
It’s been a whirlwind few years for Mr Hyman, the surfboard shaper who founded surfboard company Firewire.
He started NevHouse in response to the rising threat of plastic waste to marine environments by recycling plastics, wood and aluminium and converting them into sturdy composite building products for modern housing.
The low-cost flat-pack homes can be quickly assembled and are designed to withstand hurricane-force winds. The company is also applying the building technology for community-based structures such as schools and medical clinics.
NevHouse is currently working with 15 jurisdictions around the world, including the Australian Government, to secure projects.
However, the immediate focus is a capital restructure to make the company investment ready for the ethical investment community.
Just weeks before taking out the Pitch@Palace honours, Mr Hyman launched the $20 million Earth Fund to raise capital for NevHouse’s first manufacturing facility.
“We want the Bill Gates of this world and the major funds and companies with corporate social responsibility programs to feel comfortable investing in the Earth Fund,” he says.
“The Pitch@Palace is the icing on the royal cake when we talk to people about the fund. We’re really confident of getting some serious traction this year.”
NevHouse plans to initially build five manufacturing facilities globally, with the Gold Coast potentially among the first.
“This facility would bring a lot of attention to the Gold Coast; I have no doubt about that,” Mr Hyman says.
“It will be a $50-$60 million investment for the Gold Coast, an investment that will make a clear impact on waste management in the city.
“We’ll be creating products from waste generated on the Gold Coast and shipping them across the South Pacific.”
NevHouse is also weighing up other potential manufacturing sites as well, including Byron Bay and Wollongong.
“There’s a lot of competition out there but ultimately I’d like to have it on the Gold Coast,” Mr Hyman says.
There’s no doubt Mr Hyman’s mission to halt the spread of plastic waste is personal. As a surfer he frequently came across plastic trash drifting across the sea.
“The waste problem globally is huge, it’s such a big problem,” Mr Hyman says.
“The biggest source area is South-East Asia, but some of the worst plastic pollution I’ve seen was in Peru.”
Even in Australia, Mr Hyman says more can be done to reduce plastic waste heading for landfill. His altruistic aim is to stop it altogether.
“Through our technology we can even use the low-grade plastics that nobody wants and usually goes to landfill.
“Every NevHouse needs two to four tons of plastic resource. Because we need such huge volumes and because of the size of the global market for housing, I can see a day when no plastic waste goes to landfill and no plastic waste goes into river beds because this waste will have value.
“Two things can make a difference to the waste problem globally and that is to commoditise plastic waste and to create waste-to-product systems to stop waste going to landfill.
“I almost cry when I see some of the rubbish going into landfill that is not being recycled. Every single waste transfer station today could potentially become a waste resource station instead.
“If we can commodify plastic to build homes with, then it’s such a powerful thing for the environment.”
Mr Hyman believes the year ahead will be a game changer for NevHouse.
“We are hopeful that 2018 will deliver the first production plant,” he says.
“Our aim is to subsidise the cost of manufacturing from the profit of recycling. At the moment we can sell into New Guinea and Fiji from Australia at a very competitive price, but when we are manufacturing in country we will be able to manufacture at a much lower price.”
NevHouse first came to fruition after Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu in March, 2015. Read the full story of the organisation’s compelling origins.