This is the second in a two-part series. View part one here.
Business is booming in the arena of “nature-based” companies, which includes ventures ranging from ecological restoration companies to ecotourism to sustainable commodity production. One study estimates that ecological restoration in the United States is a $25 billion-a-year industry that directly employs 126,000 people and supports 95,000 jobs indirectly — more jobs than logging, coal mining or iron and steel. Globally, a recent survey of businesses specializing in reforestation and tree-planting found that some companies are seeing revenues grow as much as tenfold each year.
Yet the startup ecosystem supporting the business model development, networking, and mentorship so important for early-stage companies is largely missing in the nature-based sector.
Meanwhile, if you’re an entrepreneur in the tech industry, there are literally hundreds of acceleration programs and thousands of investors to tap as you hone a business model and pursue growth.
“There’s a general gap in support for any business that’s not tech,” Luni Libes, a longtime entrepreneur and founder of the Seattle-based “conscious company accelerator” Fledge, told Ecosystem Marketplace. “There’s way more help, programs and funding if there is a software component to the business.”
That lack of investor support and access to business coaching and mentorship for “nature-based” businesses was the impetus for the ECOSTAR program, a resource hub that offers technical, financial and entrepreneurial support from experienced business people to nature-based companies throughout Europe. Earlier this year, it launched the Nature-Accelerator, the world’s first impact accelerator focused on companies specializing in the sustainable agriculture, forestry, eco-tourism, and circular and bioeconomy.
The Accelerator, in turn, spent the summer helping eight startups hone their business plans for cricket-based crackers, sustainable smallholder-produced Swahili honey, low-impact fuels made from discarded palm kernels, a new app for sharing green spaces, Agritech 4.0, furniture made from discarded wood, cryptocurrency tree-planting campaigns, and sustainable locally-produced cooking oil.
Each startup received EUR 30,000 in seed investments, support services, training, and mentorship. And this July, after eight weeks of intensive preparation, the entrepreneurs behind them were each given five minutes to make their pitch to investors, NGOs, government, and other companies.
Watch four startups’ pitches below, and see our earlier post for more pitches.
The startup: Oxyn
The vision: Oxyn is a blockchain infrastructure and cryptocurrency driven by environmental incentives that can be used in everyday life. We offer a fast, secure, and low-energy blockchain technology that enables us to handle payments between businesses, conscious consumers and environmental organizations.
Learn more: oxyn.io
The startup: Green Charcoal Uganda
The vision: Green Charcoal uses discarded palm kernels to extract the true value of an otherwise wasted resource. Our principal product comes from milling the husks themselves where we create a more efficient and heat-radiating briquette. We also source other abundant otherwise discarded agricultural waste like coffee husks, maize (Corn) cob and rice husks to make our briquette. The remaining nuts are milled to get cold pressed vegetable fats and palm kernel cake. We solve many problems with our circular economy approach to business, but our main focus is on solving the problem of fuel scarcity for local populations.
Learn more: greencharcoalug.com
The startup: iGreenGo
The vision: iGreengo is a platform for sharing and improving open green spaces and the environment while seeking to collaborate with the owners of these spaces. iGreengo understands the essential and individual needs of nature and green spaces for the general public, offering something unique, removing the chaos generated by the local mass tourism hotspots. iGreengo proposes an experiential or emotional tourism where tourists can immerse themselves in beautiful exclusive places.
Learn more: igreengo.eu
The startup: OBRI Tanzania
The vision: Modeled behind the concept of co-operative social enterprises, OBRI Tanzania is an edible oils processing company that works with sunflower growers in Tanzania to produce and supply quality, low-price African flavour cooking oils to consumers in Africa while conserving the environment.
Learn more: obritanzania.com
The Nature-Accelerator is hosted by Etifor Srl and the University of Padua’s Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry (TESAF), with seed investment from Fledge, a Seattle-based impact investor. The project is supported by the ECOSTAR alliance of businesses and universities, which include Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace, Forest Design, NEPCon, Ricardo Energy & Environment, the Polytechnic University of Madrid, the University of Manchester, and the Transilvania University of Brasov.