Former Challenger Lewis Bowen has been named by Virgin as one of the top four entrepreneurs to watch out for in 2016.
How did Geco Industries come about in May 2011?
Geco Industries was set up the same day as my last exam at the University in Sheffield. I wanted to create a business that was built on helping people through business. It was the meeting between a lady in South Africa and my Dad that sparked the idea of a Gel fuel. There are huge problems in South Africa (and globally) with fuels that are toxic, can spill easily and are harmful to the environment.
We decided to develop our gel fuel in order to combat this and problems closer to home (everyone is familiar with the soot on pans from toxic fumes and the dangers of methylated spirit and gas). We manufacture our fuels in Sheffield as UK manufacturing is very important to us.
What benefit do you envisage World Challenge having now that they are using the Bio Fuel?
We have created fuels which are clean burning and safer for you and the environment. Our gel is non-spill and non-toxic whilst our spirit fuel is methanol free and also clean-burning, both saving hours cleaning soot off your pans. Through using gel and liquid fuels you are not only helping yourself but also millions around the world. With two million deaths a year from indoor air pollution, you are helping to save lives.
With which school did you undertake your World Challenge trip to Malaysia?
Malaysia with Gillingham School, Dorset
How did you find the experience?
It was a once in a lifetime experience. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to take such a trip with an incredible team of people and at such a young age. There were too many highlights to put on one page but I will bring to life just one.
As part of our trip we embarked on an adventure through a 130 million year old jungle in the Taman Negara region of Malaysia. The plan was to trek up Gunung (Mt) Tahan but our plans soon changed when a member of the team twisted their knee just before we hit camp A.
After a gruelling trek through often untouched areas of the jungle, crossing rivers, coming face-to-face with deadly insects and ascending hills to find an elephant had already beat us to the top, we had hit camp A. At this point we set off an alert beacon to call for help. Of course we could not travel through the night and we set up camp in the middle of this spectacular jungle (ignoring the scorching humidity!).
After a night of cooking on Trangias and rotating sleep between the team, we set off in the morning with the member of our team on a stretcher made from bamboo and 6km of jungle to get back to base camp (this is a long way in dense jungle). The challenge was divided amongst the team of 24, some taking the job of navigating and clearing a path, others taking the stretcher which needed to be carefully manoeuvred between obstacles such as rocks, vertical ascents and trees and the rest taking the kit we had set off with.
On our way, we heard the propellers of a helicopter circling to find us and we helped it to track us through smoke signals. After 5km and an incredible amount of team work, we were met by a group of NATO representatives armed and ready to help us to base camp.
This is just one experience which cannot be given justice on paper. It was an incredible feeling of team work and leadership when a group of 15-17 year olds come together to overcome a challenge that they have never faced before in an environment that they had never been in.
Would you recommend a World Challenge to others?
I would actively encourage anyone to take on a World Challenge. From fundraising to get your finances together, meeting new cultures and learning the most you will ever learn in one year, it is sure to be one of the best experiences in anyone’s life. World Challenge provides any young person with a toolkit for their future lives; it enables people to explore new worlds whilst learning new skills.
Did your experience inspire you to set up Geco Industries and make a difference?
It most definitely inspired me to create a business that could help the world. It inspired me to travel more and understand that we need to create products that can secure our world's future.
What is next on the horizon for you?
We have plans to create new fuels that are even cleaner and safer that will help to eradicate more of the world’s big challenges.
Watch our Alumni Video to hear more from Lewis on how his World Challenge experience led to him setting up his own company.
Lewis Bowen, Gillingham, Dorset – Malaysia 2005