Programme to benefit start-ups


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Start-ups that have invented new technologies or business models that address carbon emissions hugely impacting society have been invited to apply to the Circular Economy Accelerator programme.

Successful applicants will form the fourth batch of start-ups for the programme, which will take place in Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr region between December this year and February next year. Applications close on October 7.

 During the accelerator, start-ups will join multiple on-site intensive work sessions to further develop their business models. The start-ups will participate in expert workshops, customised coaching sessions, and networking events. Start-ups will also receive mentoring on how to scale their inventions.

The ventures will also get an opportunity to present their sustainable business models to the partners from the Circular Valley network, who include corporate partners, scientific partners, alumni, press, and potential investors who could help them turn ideas into paid-for products. They will also have opportunities to get to know the business landscape and the Rhine-Ruhr region’s protagonists.

Construction waste

“Giga-Impact is the focus of the next batch of the accelerator. Giga-Impact refers to material flows that are not measured in kilograms or individual tons, but which pose a problem for our planet on a scale of billions of tons (gigatons). This not only includes carbon dioxide, construction waste or wastewater but also other substances that enter the environment uncontrolled in small quantities and have giga impacts there, such as microplastics,” noted the project coordinator, Kirsten Grübel.

 Twice every year, Circular Valley selects start-ups with concrete ideas and inventions that help accomplish the vision of eliminating waste to participate in an intense three-month program or three onsite attendance blocks of two weeks.

Focus is on designing using waste, production technologies with minimised environmental impact, marking technologies, product passports, tracking and tracing, collection, separation of waste streams, waste logistics, reuse models, novel recycling technologies, novel service models, and digital enabling technologies.

 So far, more than 60 start-ups from around the world have been to the Rhine-Ruhr region to participate in the programme. Here, they have been assisted by coaches and speakers to further develop their business models and their communication skills. They have also met numerous representatives from industry, science, and politics who have become sponsors, partners, and investors.

“While other funding programmes are usually locally or regionally oriented, Circular Valley is internationally oriented. The start-ups come from Germany and Europe as well as from all other continents. They meet each other in a familiar environment and help each other thanks to the many different perspectives that come together in the Rhine-Ruhr region,” noted Dr Grübel.

He says the selected start-ups cover a large variety of topics such as the recycling of composite materials, for instance from solar cells or the carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics in wind turbine blades, battery recycling, building materials made from recycled wood, plastics, and clothing waste, everyday items made from recycled bio-based materials as well as various smart software solutions.

Linear economy

“Despite their wide range of topics, all start-ups share the belief that the currently prevailing linear economy, in which finite raw materials are mined to make products that are eventually discarded as waste, can have no future. With their various circular approaches, they all find practical ways of balancing economic growth and environmental protection,” Dr Grübel said.

Currently ongoing is the third phase of the Circular Economy Accelerator programme which kicked off in June this year. Two Kenyan start-ups, alongside 36 others from across the world, made it to this phase.

The two were Nyungu Africa, which makes safe, accessible, and affordable sanitary towels for women and girls using under-utilised agro-waste of pineapple leaves and corn husk fibers, and Lwanda Biotech, an environmental remediation social enterprise tackling the pollution problem by creating new plastic substitute materials and plastic recycling through the application of extrusion and 3D printing technology.