Leading Entrepreneurially with Purpose

With Entrepreneur in Residence Andrew Vincent, CEO of QuickBlock.

A passionate alumni supporter of our Saltire Leader Programmes, with a great deal of insight to share, Andrew is our latest ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’.

Scottish start-up QuickBlock manufactures and sells rapidly deployable building solutions, made from 100% recycled plastic. Essentially, a flat pack ‘adult lego block’ that are really easy to work with and assemble, with applications including shelters, sheds, mobile units, agricultural buildings and light construction.

The vision for Quickblock is that anyone, anywhere can use the product — empowering people, regardless of what they're trying to build, to solve problems and realise their vision.

Today, we welcome CEO Andrew to share his insights and thoughts on entrepreneurial leadership in a business with a sustainability and social purpose.


My Story

QuickBlock was originally founded by Scottish inventor and architect Hugh Fisher. He initially came up with the idea after working in the Middle East and witnessing poor accommodation, such as that provided for refugees and workers. He thought there must be a solution and also recognised a huge problem with waste, so he thought about how the two could be married together. Hugh came up with the original concept for QuickBlock — using recycled materials to create an efficient, fast building system.

Prior to joining QuickBlock, I had a varied career in accountancy, economic development (where I worked with the construction sector), following a year on the Saltire Fellowship, I set off to start my own business. Alongside my “day job” some friends and I started a charity called Classrooms for Malawi, which works throughout Malawi to build and improve places of education in some of the world’s poorest communities. To date, we’ve helped over 30,000 children across Malawi. One thing that had stopped us in our tracks was that in Malawi they often build using locally made kiln fired bricks — ‘burnt bricks’ — which was identified as a big driver of deforestation and was having a huge impact on local ecosystems. They ended up outlawing this type of brick across Malawi — meaning a new, more efficient way of building was needed for Classrooms for Malawi to be able to carry out our work. This sparked an already strong interest in new and innovative building materials.

In a serendipitous chain of events, a job became available at QuickBlock, who I had been introduced to a few years before. I got involved, as I could see a real benefit to the product through my experience in construction. Beyond the block itself, I could see really practical solutions for people at home and overseas, anything from garden sheds to refugee camps and emergency accommodation. In many ways I was lucky finding the role, but I also genuinely believe it was the random career path that I took and the values I’ve learned along the way that led to this role being the right fit for me.

Today, I share insight into my journey of developing and marketing a product with a sustainability and social purpose, and the challenges and opportunities this has brought.


It’s really important to me, personally, that I see a ‘purpose’ behind anything I work for. In the case of QuickBlock, I could see the social and environmental benefits of the product, however I'm also hugely excited by the commercial potential. In earlier startups, I made the mistake of focussing too much on purpose and lost focus on making the business work first!

I looked at QuickBlock and thought, yeah it’s a cool product and I could see a lot of good we could do but I could also see a lot of commercial opportunities for it. Striking that balance is really important, particularly at an early stage.


My remit when I first joined QuickBlock was to develop our pitch, raise money and launch the product to market. In the beginning, I always started the pitch with the plastic waste hook and how we were a solution to that — I believed the sustainability angle is what set us apart.

However, when speaking to stakeholders and investors, the consistent feedback was that whilst the sustainability angle was all well and good, but they still needed to be convinced that this was a product that would solve problems (beyond plastic waste). The recycled and sustainable credentials are important but people are buying the product features (easy-to-use, rapid assembly, reusable etc).

Over the course of the next year, I honed our brand story — it was clearly very important to not just sell on sustainability and assume that people would ‘buy in’ on that message alone.

Sustainability can be a big reason for what makes you good, but it can’t be the sole attribute. My pitch now is that QuickBlock is fast, rapid to assemble and… it's sustainable.

Over the course of the next year, I honed our brand story — it was clearly very important to not just sell on sustainability and assume that people would ‘buy in’ on that message alone.


We recently secured the Circular Economy Award at the Scottish EDGE finals 2021, where we were awarded £80,000 — a massive achievement. I had previously pitched to Scottish EDGE with another business and had entered the competition about five times with no success. So on a personal note, going back with QuickBlock and winning really meant alot.

The fact we won this particular award is massive for us — it is a real badge of honour that out of the hundreds of businesses that applied, we were identified as being worthy of the Circular Economy Award. It will give us a platform to really amplify our product's sustainable credentials and starts a great conversation with the award sponsor, Zero Waste Scotland.

Beyond the award, it is great that we now have the money to spend on product development. We have the resource now to develop the QuickBlock Shelter — which will help support our mission of the product being useable by ‘anyone, anywhere’. This can support humanitarian aid and disaster situations to build complete shelters for people in dire need. We’ve had success recently with investors and with Scottish EDGE, but this has come after 18 months of knockbacks or “not now” from other funding bodies and competitions.

Even in a year where COVID disrupted everything, determination, persistence, and problem solving won in the end!

Even in a year where COVID disrupted everything, determination, persistence, and problem solving won in the end!


In terms of our journey as a sustainable business, it is a journey. It was really important that we got the product right first. Which we’ve achieved. It was technically difficult to develop a 100% recycled product with the structural qualities we need for our block, there was a huge amount of initial R&D to get the materials and manufacturing process right.

Our next step is to move the production closer to home and to manufacture here in Scotland. We’re looking at sustainability as not just the product but also the supply chain as a whole. Beyond that, there are areas that we’re not as strong as we would like to be — for example, we still ship our product to customers on trucks that use fossil fuels and our packaging could be more sustainable. We have to be realistic that we’re not the most sustainable company in the world but we are on a journey and there is some way to go.

I think it’s an important story for start-ups and business generally to think about moving to more sustainable business practices as they develop and to not feel that they can solve all the problems from day one.

As mentioned, I realised that QuickBlock had to work as a commercial business before we set off to achieve the lofty objective of changing the world. The product had to really work and our early work was on underpinning the commercial side of the product. In doing this successfully, we got the investment and funding that now helps us achieve our wider sustainability and social objectives.


We’re currently hiring four new team members and we’ll do so with our sustainable and social objectives in mind. It’s really exciting for me — I get to start with a completely blank sheet of paper.

In every interview, I’ve been able to communicate huge commercial opportunities but also been clear that we’re going to reach them in the right way, and for the right reasons. We’re in the early stages of building a team but the one thing I’m sure of is I want to get the right people with the right values.

The best teams I’ve been in have rallied around the product and technical side, but also in support of the ‘why’ and bigger purpose. You very quickly realise those that are excited about what it is we’re trying to do. The block on its own isn’t exciting enough, however they get excited by the vision to have a suite of solutions that solve big problems. Successful candidates will understand that QuickBlock could help build someone's garden shed, but equally could be a home for someone in dire need in a disaster situation.

It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to build a team with and get people behind our vision.

It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to build a team with and get people behind our vision.


We want QuickBlock to be as ubiquitous as the everyday brick and block – empowering anyone all over the world to build anything, anywhere.

It’s really important to be very clear on what you want to achieve and what motivates you (the lofty goals!). But it's also important to be realistic about how you achieve that.

I’ve always been driven by big goals and a higher purpose, but when I’ve failed, it is when I’ve lost focus on the less lofty goals I need to achieve to get there. I’m learning that I have to be patient in our development of QuickBlock, as the opportunity for our product is so wide-ranging, but if we continue to take small steps and hire the right people, we will reach those ambitious targets eventually. You can’t achieve it all on day one.


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