Innovation & Enterprise


Entrepreneur profile: Samuel Abel, co-founder of Eden Greenspace

UCL alumnus Samuel Abel shares the ups and downs of co-founding a successful startup during and after his master’s degree, with specialist support from UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

Samuel Abel, co-founder of Eden Greenspace

11 June 2024

Samuel Abel (MA Philosophy 2023) and Ryan Cooper have set up Eden Greenspace, a platform which allows businesses and individuals to support environmental projects all over the world. From tree planting in Madagascar, to wildflower rewilding in the UK.

Each project has been vetted and certified to ensure it’s a project worth funding, and that every pound spent is going towards making a tangible difference to saving the planet.

Eden Greenspace is now working with several big businesses to support their sustainability efforts, as well as selling bracelets which individuals can buy to plant ten trees with each one.

Sam and Ryan have been supported to grow their startup as part of the Hatchery incubator programme at BaseKX, UCL's dedicated entrepreneurship hub in King's Cross, managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

Less greenwashing, more evidence-based action

The whole idea for Eden Greenspace began taking shape in our minds during the pandemic when we could see the impact of the lockdowns on nature.

Myself and Ryan both felt strongly about the fact that nature was coming back all around us, while society was receding. But once the pandemic subsided and normal life resumed, it seemed like once again the planet was being forgotten.

Eden Greenspace was really born out of that frustration. We wanted to do something tangible to help nature come back for good.

Greenwashing is a big problem in this space, too. So it was really important to us that every project we support, from tree planting in Nepal to ocean plastic removal in the UK, has been through a rigorous selection process. As well as needing to meet one of the three planetary crises set out by the UN Environment programme (nature action, pollution action or climate action), myself and Sam visit the sites personally.

We also make sure that every pound we spend on projects can be quantified in terms of numbers of trees planted, grams of plastic removed from the ocean, or metres squared rewilded and so on. In short, we want to make real environmental action easy and accessible for ordinary people, including people who might never usually support environmental causes.

Specialist support with growing the business

Having already been part of an incubator in Durham as an undergraduate, I already knew that kind of help existed and we wanted to tap into it at UCL to develop our idea further.

So we applied for the Hatchery incubator programme, which is run by UCL Innovation & Enterprise at BaseKX, UCL’s dedicated entrepreneurship hub in King’s Cross. We had to submit a video interview and do a pitch, and we were fortunate to get accepted. 

I honestly think the Hatchery is one of the best things about UCL. To have a space that you can access as a new business, where you don’t need to be hugely established yet, and there’s no equity taken, that’s really quite something.

As well as the supportive staff, you’re surrounded by all of these other driven, passionate people who are creating exciting things and solving pressing problems with their startups. There are tons of networking events, and having the relationship with UCL means it’s quite easy for us to get students in part time to help us with different aspects of the business. That kind of thing is invaluable when you don’t have much money early on.

Facing challenges head on

I think in order to start a business, you have to almost have blind faith in what you’re doing. It’s fine to have concerns, of course, but you have to 100% believe you can overcome them.

One of the most important challenges to get sorted early on is market fit. Which is really fancy jargon for making sure you’re solving a problem, or finding a better way to approach an existing solution.

And then secondly, you need to actually do it. I think people often have this idea that if you have a great idea, you’re going to be successful. But of course that’s not true. Many people have great ideas. Very few put them into practice.

Overall I think you have to get used to failing and not giving up. We’ve changed our model several times to get to where we are now.

Growing our impact and reach

For us our most obvious gauge of success is the tangible impact the projects we support are having. We’ve now planted 22,321 trees worldwide. We’ve removed 2,489kg of plastic from oceans. We’ve helped rewild over 25,000mof land.

We’re also supporting several large businesses now with their sustainability work, so getting those first half dozen big clients has been a big deal for us. We’re working with estate agents Winkworths, for example, as well as a luxury interior designer called Ochre.

We’ve already achieved a lot, and there’s no way we could have got this far without the support we’ve had from UCL Innovation & Enterprise and their Hatchery incubator programme.

The next phase will be to get even more businesses on board, while also adding more projects to our site. In particular, we want to get more wetlands projects and more landscape restoration, because those are the ones that are really essential for climate mitigation.

Believing in what you’re doing

If I could sum up the feeling of running your own business, I would say it’s unlike anything else. It’s challenging in all the ways I’ve mentioned. But if done properly, growing something of your own is incredibly fulfilling. It’s about building a team towards a specific goal and creating a purpose for a group of people, in our case to help restore the planet, and that’s quite an amazing feeling.

If you’re thinking of going down this path, I think you’ve got to decide what you want out of life. Do you want a career? That suits a lot of people. Or do you want to be self determining? That’s what running your own thing is all about. But overall, you’ve got to really, really want to do whatever it is you’re doing. Not just for the money, but to realise a goal or dream, to believe in it and then make it happen.

For both myself and Ryan, our mission is a really strong driver for us. We need to make it easier for people to help the planet. That thought propels us to keep doing what we’re doing, with the support of all these great people around us at UCL, so that we can truly make this business as impactful as possible.