A First Look at ECOSTAR’s Nature-Based Startup Portfolio

Steve Zwick

23 May 2018 | When Alessandro Leonardi began his graduate degree in forestry a decade ago at the University of Padova in Italy, forestry students rarely came near a business school classroom – courses in business administration, finance, or marketing weren’t part of the curriculum. In 2011, after completing his degree, Leonardi and some fellow students decided to start their own environmental consulting firm, ETIFOR. They found themselves facing a steep learning curve.

“I really didn’t have any marketing or business knowledge when I started my company,” Leonardi says. “I had to acquire this information by myself. This took more time to develop my business and create an impact.”

Today, ETIFOR provides technology transfer services linking scientists with market players. But Leonardi’s passion project is an ambitious effort to help burgeoning entrepreneurs in the environmental sector.

Business is booming in the arena of “nature-based business,” 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.

If you’re an entrepreneur in the tech sector, 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.”

Enter the ECOSTAR Nature-Accelerator, a collaborative effort between ETIFOR,  Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace, mentor companies Forest Design, NEPCon, and Ricardo Energy & Environment, and the University of Padova, Polytechnic University of Madrid, University of Manchester, and Transilvania University of Brasov, and powered by Fledge.

This month, ECOSTAR selected a first cohort of eight startups to attend its inaugural acceleration program in Padova this summer. The startups will receive seed funding, an intensive mentorship and training program, and access to ECOSTAR’s global network of investors and mentors.

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The startups include:

Central Park Bees (Tanzania) 

Central Park Bees Limited is a social enterprise that partners with smallholder farmers and beekeepers to strengthen their income through sustainable beekeeping by giving them access to free beekeeping training, equipment loans, extension services and guaranteed markets that offer competitive prices for the honey and beeswax they produce.

Crické (United Kingdom)

Crické‪ is a food-innovation start-up based in London that produces and markets healthy,‬ eco-friendly and tasty insect-based food products. We combine traditional Mediterranean recipes with cricket powder – a great low-impact source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Green Charcoal (Uganda)

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.

iGreengo (Italy)

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.

iNergy AgTech (Romania)

iNergy AgTech brings the benefits of sustainability and innovative technology to grassroots level, for smart producers, cities and communities, making healthy food and nature available and accessible. We offer value through iNergy’s holistic approach and product mix, empowering everyone to take control and re-vitalise their crops, greenhouses and, even any kind of space. That means more productivity for growers, more nature and healthy food in urban areas. All with less input.

OBRI Tanzania (Tanzania)

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.

Oxyn (USA)

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.

Sintala Design (Spain)

Sintala Design creates products made of solid wood without cutting down trees. The Company works with wood that has been collected from fallen trees, prunings and remains of other manufacturing processes. Our finishes are highly ecological and respectful with the environment.

Learn more about ECOSTAR’s startup portfolio here.

Steve Zwick is a freelance writer and produces the Bionic Planet podcast. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, and prior to that he covered European business for Time Magazine and Fortune Magazine and produced the award-winning program Money Talks on Deutsche Welle Radio in Bonn, Germany.

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