Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For scaling a sustainable solution for affordable housing

Looking to widen the reach of his modular housing startup Project Etopia, Joseph Daniels recently took in a £19 million investment from one of Britain’s richest families. But such posh business connections don’t tell the full story. Daniels, who grew up with an abusive father and a mother who struggled with mental illness, was homeless on and off beginning at age 15. He later realized he wasn’t alone: Roughly 200,000 people were homeless in England last year, according to the nonprofit Crisis, and a 2019 report estimated 8.4 million in the country live in unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable homes, per the U.K. National Housing Federation.

Daniels’ direct experience with the shortage of affordable housing—along with an interest in the environmental impact of traditional construction projects—led him to look to modular housing as a solution. He had already taught himself the fundamentals of architecture, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering before traveling to China to learn more about making home-building both scalable and affordable. 

After investing in a factory in Cheshire, U.K., Daniels began producing mineral-board-faced, foam-filled structural panels at the plant and then speedily assembling them on-site. The modular approach dramatically slashes both time and materials waste: For a 47-home project, the team built four structures in nine days, rather than the typical months a traditional approach might demand. 

The design is eco-friendly to boot, Daniels has said, as he wants Project Etopia to be driven by United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

“Our houses improve environment and society while helping people. After all, housing is ultimately a human commodity. What people need to see is that there’s a pathway to somewhere new.”

Daniels isn’t stopping at the U.K. border. In 2019, Project Etopia finished a pilot to build a home in Windhoek, Namibia—and the team did it in a scant three hours. In keeping with the organization’s sustainability focus, the structure is designed to generate up to 20 kilowatt hours of energy each day, though it requires only 3 to power its internal lighting, ventilation and hot water systems. 

That push also includes the organization’s plans for its North American debut this year, with a pilot in Gloversville, New York. And by 2024, Daniels plans to build roughly 6,000 homes a year as his group expands its panel production to two additional U.K. factories. 

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