Two ventures focussed on sustainability to meet the UN’s global goals emerged this week from a three-month accelerator programme, backed by senior figures in tech for good, sustainability and investment. Julian Blake reports.
Startups using technology to cut plastic consumption and make farm food procurement more efficient emerged this week from a London global goals accelerator backed by experts in sustainable innovation.
Panda Packaging, replacing single-use plastic, and Agronomex, helping farm producers cut food waste, have spent the last three months on the programme, run by London-based tech for good operator Bethnal Green Ventures.
Panda was founded in 2017 by partners Maliha Rana and Jack Milligan after witnessing plastic waste on deep-sea diving expeditions. They turned to bamboo, an ancient material, and are now applying tech innovation to scale local production of household products like cups and straws (pictured).
“We decided we had to do everything we could to stem the source of this problem,” explained Milligan. “Natural and reusable alternatives to single use plastics were a logical, value-adding solution. We have combined software and hardware to provide an end-to-end service allowing you to seamlessly customise and order packaging products that arrive within days of you ordering.
Gillespie said Panda was “a great example of a business combining ancient and modern techniques, using bamboo straws and utensils and coconut bowls as a timeless intervention into the world of pointless single use plastic.”
Agronomex, led by chief executive Pascale Martin (pictured, below), addresses the challenge of food waste at the farm gate, estimated at 1.3m tonnes a year in the UK alone, with transactions largely paper based. Its SaaS platform offers an online B2B fruit and vegetables marketplace.
“By creating a digital platform, Agronomex promises to facilitate sales at better prices for both farmers and food purchasers and processors, avoiding waste through a more frictionless exchange,” explained Gillespie.
Both ventures are focussed in helping to achieve the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals – aka the global goals. Over three years have passed since 193 countries committed to the goals, including an end to extreme poverty, inequality, injustice and the threat of climate change, by 2030.
A UN-backed report last year pointed to tech’s ability to address global goal challenges quickly and at scale. 2030Vision said digital solutions could add $2.1trn to tech business revenue worldwide by 2030.
As well as investment of £20,000, each global goals accelerator venture has had the support offered to all startups that go through the main BGV accelerator programme, including access to mentors, funding and business networks.
The teams will also receive three months of desk space at BGV’s east London base at Toynbee Hall. They become part of the wider BGV community of 200 tech-for-good founders and have lifelong access to learning, coaching and connections with more than 90 mentors.
Both ventures are now seeking follow-on funding. “Everyone is keen to progress and fulfil both businesses significant potential,” Gillespie said.
“Andy and I are both hands-on investors and love to help the businesses we invest in in every way we can, so we won’t be going anywhere,” Gillespie, a co-founder at Futerra, added. “It’s very much a ‘fellowship’ model where we will continue to collaborate with and support the businesses as they fundraise and grow into the future.”
Gillespie said many innovators wanted to make an impact in the sustainable living space, but faced similar challenges. “Rapid routes to market and scalability are key,” he said. “You need a strong but simple brand proposition and the ability to cope with burgeoning market demand. There’s competition, but the potential markets are so big you need to grow from zero to hero very quickly. That’s exciting but challenging. And how growth businesses navigate this tricky territory is critical.”
He said the accelerator’s organisers would reconvene in early 2019, adding it was “highly likely we will repeat the accelerator in some way, shape or form, either as another cohort, or with individual companies as part of a diverse cohort. There’s real strength in having a mix of businesses so we may experiment with the format, but the commitment is definitely there.”
Wales added that the pair were also looking at backing a further BGV venture, focused on value chain software for agriculture in target African markets.
DigitalAgenda’s 2019 Impact Awards, open for entries til 21 December, celebrates the best of tech for good across 12 categories – including sustainable living. Find out more.