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Startups Shine in SB Innovation Open, 'Shark Tank' for Retailers

Cocoa founder and CEO Adam Brent | Image credit: Sustainable Brands

Startups that positively impact people, planet and profit often bring the most exciting innovations to the sustainability space. Once again, Sustainable Brands did its part this week at SB’18 Vancouver to highlight the latest emerging companies addressing intractable issues  inspiring audiences and building connections with established brands.  

Shark Tank: Circular Economy Innovations for Retail

First, in a Tuesday afternoon “Shark Tank,” startups pitched their solutions to retailers.

In the session, Adam Siegel from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) hosted three circular innovators that pitched to judges Brenna Zimmer of TJX, Chelsey Evans of Nordstrom and Mark Yannet of Spectrum Brands:

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  • Ecologic Brands makes packaging out of recycled paper and plastic. Founder Julie Corbett realized that while brands were producing lots of innovation at the product level, there weren’t enough good new options in packaging. Ecologic makes bottles out of 100 percent recycled cardboard and newspaper with an inner liner made from recycled plastic. While reducing waste and CO2, the best part is that brands such as Seventh Generation and Organic Valley, which have adopted the packaging, have seen big boosts in sales. “When consumers are given alternatives – especially when it comes to packaging  they chose the better option,” Corbett said.
  • The Renewal Workshop  a 2016 SBIO finalist  partners with apparel brands to restore the value in previously owned items, explained co-founder Jeff Denby. They operate a renewal facility, partnering with brands to create a new category called “renewed apparel,” collecting product and sustainability data for all products they have renewed along the way. Through multiple sales channels, including their own site and branded microsites and pop-up stores, they offer brands a chance to share profits from resale without having to operate reverse logistics or renewal themselves. So far, they’ve diverted 42,000 lbs of waste and “the retail opportunity here for brands is massive,” Denby said.
  • Curb My Clutter facilitates a system for collecting stuff sitting in the home, explained Bob Anderson, CEO. Immense amounts of clothing and electronics are going straight into landfills because people aren’t willing to take that extra step of dropping them off for donation. Curb My Clutter tackles this problem through a software package that is licensed to a community. Individuals can request a pickup via text message. They send in photos of their goods, which offers buyers transparency into what they are getting, fetching a higher price. Photos offer partner brands insights into items being given away, while municipalities win by driving material out of landfills, and by getting a revenue share on materials that are sold.

Sharks attacked the audience members with pointed questions, and Siegel challenged the retailers in the room to think about how these solutions would work for them. Unlike a “real” shark tank competition, all three companies were winners in this fun session.

2018 SB Innovation Open


UBQ COO Gil Felus

Also on Tuesday, the 7th annual Sustainable Brands Innovation Open (SBIO) — SB’s annual startup competition, co-sponsored by Makersite and RISN Incubator — saw 11 semi-finalistsnarrowed down to four finalists, which competed in the SBIO finals on Wednesday. From their four-minute pitches during the final plenary, an esteemed panel of judges picked the overall 2018 Winner, and the audience picked the People’s Choice Winner through a live vote.

The finalists included:

  • Cocoa, which transforms organic waste from things such as chocolate bars, chocolate cakes and candy into high-quality humus compost, which it sells to conventional farmers for fertilizer. Cocoa Compost reduces landfill waste and air, soil and water pollution while increasing crop yields and farmer profits. Founder and CEO Adam Brent and his team have so far composted over 5,000 tons of organic waste.
  • UBQ, which has developed an advanced, patented waste-conversion technology to produce sustainable bio-based materials. It diverts low-grade plastic waste from landfills while providing an efficient long-term regenerative material resource to support the circular economy. As COO Gil Felus explained, “We’re the company that turns plastic trash into plastic trash cans.”
Renewlogy founder and CEO Priyanka Bakaya

The grand prize was presented to Renewlogy. Through its chemical recycling process, the company  founded at MIT  gives ‘waste’ materials another life. Using both large-scale and now small-scale systems that can easily be deployed around the world, Renewlogy turns plastic waste into industrial waxes, 3D-printer filament, fuels and chemicals. Founder and CEO Priyanka Bakayaasserts that “we can increase plastic recycling rate from less than 10 percent to over 30 percent in the next decade.”

Aquacycl founder and CEO Orianna Bretschger‏

Meanwhile, People’s Choice winner Aquacycl's onsite wastewater treatment technology provides savings of 50 to 95 percent for industrial wastewater applications. Aquacycl’s wastewater systems power themselves using patented microbial fuel cells, developed by founder and CEO Orianna Bretschger‏ and her partners in their lab over the past 13 years. The company reduces primary sludge and organic carbon while producing direct electricity  and no methane  in a small, modular footprint. It has been backed by the Roddenberry Foundation, aka the “Star Trek Family,” and is seeking to close its seed funding round.

Mia Overall is a sustainable business consultant, founder of Overall Strategies, based in New York City. She has advised global companies around the world on their sustainability strategies, initiatives, reports, and helped them drive sustainability through supply chains,… [Read more about Mia Overall]

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