INTESA Sanpaolo hosted their 101st Start Up Initiative last week, and chose the circular economy to mark the occasion. With the help of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Italian banking group ran the event at their London hub.
Budding businesses were given a chance to pitch their ideas to an audience of committed equity investors, impact investors, corporates and important players of the European innovation ecosystem. These included a panel of circular economy leaders, as well as a keynote speech from Ian Nolan from Circularity Capital, a private equity firm which caters to businesses that embrace circularity.
Eight businesses pitched their plans for the transition to a regenerative economy, with products, materials and recycling technologies from the construction, packaging, textiles and automotive industries. These included solutions for a variety of waste products, from tyres to citrus peel.
December 2016 saw the first circular economy startup event of this type, and it was deemed so successful that less than 6 months later Intesa have hosted it again.
Some of the impressive pitches centred around the plastics industry. Israel-based Tipa pitched their compostable plastic packaging which aims to have ‘the same end-of-life organic waste has’ whilst not compromising the integrity of its contents. The idea is that the plastic is unwrapped and degrades like an orange peel. With packaging innovation high on the agenda throughout May, startups of this type captured the attention of the investor audience.
On the subject of orange peel, another noteworthy pitch came from Orange Fiber, winners of an H&M Global Change Award in 2015, who create textiles using fibres from citrus waste. The idea came from Adriana Santanocito, who wrote her thesis on the possibility of creating a fabric from the by-products of citrus juice. Now the company prevents these fibres from being wasted, and instead uses them to create quality fabrics for the fashion industry.
Black Bear Carbon presented an intriguing solution to the massive wastage associated with the tyre industry. They take used tyres and recycle them to create what they describe as ‘the world’s highest quality ‘upcycled’ Carbon Black’. Carbon black is a by-product of the combustion of heavy petroleum products, and is used to line tyres. Black Bear create carbon black from their recycling process and it can be used in the tyre industry as an alternative to other carbon black – created in a non-regenerative fashion. It can also be used for plastics and inks, as well as technical rubber.
Arguably the stars of the show were Evrnu, who create a regenerative fibre made from post-consumer cotton textile waste. Their product aims to tackle the fact that textile waste is increasing – with 14 million tonnes created in the US alone annually. Couple that waste with the concerns about resource security, and it becomes clear that a change is needed. Evrnu’s technology can convert solid textile waste into a liquid which can be transformed into a fibre used in the manufacture of new cotton clothes. They estimate that this removes 98% of the water consumption from the creation of cotton fibres.
With so many high-quality pitches and so many investors, it’s likely that some of these businesses will receive a well-earned financial boost. This is an encouraging sign, and is likely to have convinced Intesa Sanpaolo to host the SUI under a circular economy banner again. But more than that, the investments will constitute another step towards widespread implementation of circular principles.
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