Small firms, big ideas: the contenders for glory at European green business awards
From a clothes-swap service to stop you splashing out on something you’ll only wear once, to a size-calculating onesie which cuts down on ecommerce returns and 3-D printing a cheap irrigation system – three innovative Irish firms are vying for €10,000 and further investment through the Climate Launchpad competition, writes Paul Melia
IT was a trip to India and seeing the ‘dark side’ of the fashion industry which prompted Dubliner Aisling Byrne to co-found The Nu Wardrobe, an online platform which allows fashionistas to share and swap clothes. By paying a service fee ranging from €2 to €5, users can borrow an outfit, instead of buying an item which may be only worn once and which may have been produced in a country with lax environmental and labour standards.
The company is one of three Irish finalists in a European-wide initiative called the Climate Launchpad, a green business ideas competition which is aimed at finding good ideas to help reduce harm on the environment.
The competition is funded by Climate-KIC, which is managed by Sustainable Nation Ireland, based in the IFSC. A not-for-profit, Sustainable Nation was established by government to promote Ireland as a hub for sustainable business.
The three Irish firms travel to the grand final in Cyprus next month, where a top prize of €10,000 is on offer, along with the opportunity to meet investors.
Byrne says thenuwardrobe.com can currently be used by university students, but she hopes to expand the idea globally.
“Myself (and co-founder Ali Kelly) had spent time in India where we could the dark side of fashion. When we got back we wanted to engage in sustainable way, but it’s very expensive.
“We started by running a swap shop in Dublin where people could swap their clothes, instead of buying new pieces.
“We did a trial for the Trinity Ball and 300 people signed up. It was an indication that people didn’t want to spend money on something they’d only wear once.”
Nu Wardrobe launches in nine universities on Monday.
By year-end, Aisling hopes to have 4,000 subscribers, and Cyprus could provide a valuable link-up with investors.
“I think what we’ll need to move outside of Ireland and the UK is to secure €50,000, to build the native technology and prove the product works, and then €750,000 to build it out,” she says.
The eventual winners of the Climate Launchpad will get access to funding, top-level corporate mentoring and a fast-track to scaling the business across Europe and beyond.
The Irish finalists were whittled down from a list of 13, with ideas proposed ranging from an online platform allowing farmers to trade their fruit and vegetables directly with consumers (socialfeedia.ie) to plans to extract electricity from tidal currents ( Wateramp).
In the past, proposals have come from companies keen to produce edible insects and insurance companies which reward you for taking the bus.
The second finalist going to Cyprus is Size/U, which aims to produce a “giant onesie” which contains embedded sensors which allows your body size to be accurately measured. While you might believe you’re a slim fit, the technology will be able to inform the retailer of your exact measurements. It’s aimed at reducing the amount of clothing being sent back to online retailers.
“It costs around €100 to return an item of clothing between shipping, handling, cleaning and returning the item to the shelf,” Paddy Healy says.
“My co-founder Eoin Matthews came to me with the problem that in the online retail sectors there’s a massive amount of returns.
“Size/U is a wearable product, essentially a giant onesie, which has embedded sensors and measures the human body.
“It measures whatever we deem fit, and for online shopping it could be your waist, chest or arm length.” The firm has developed a ‘sock’ prototype, and said it would need up to €50,000 to develop a full body onesie.
Aideen O’Hora from Sustainable Nation Ireland, says the competition is aimed at startups and those with a good idea who need help bringing it to market. “It’s for somebody who has an idea which could be at the back of an envelope, or a bit more fleshed out, but they need a bit of help,” she said.
“The ideas are quite broad and span the whole climate innovation spectrum. They’ve had terrific support from our entrepreneur in residence, and external resources including the National College of Art and Design which came in for a session on product design.
“You find that entrepreneurs can have a terrific idea, but can’t take it forward. We’re giving them business skills to help develop the idea and their team.”
The third finalist going to Cyprus is AquaRoot Ireland, founded by Vincent Farrelly, which aims to reduce water consumption and chemical use in food production. His system mimics a tree root network and uses 3D printing where an expandable foam forms a network of pipes.
“With standard irrigation systems, you have to put plants near the pipes,” he says. “With Aquaroot, the farmer can print about a hectare of land in about an hour using a cylinder attached to the back of a tractor.
“It’s like an expandable foam which expands to 50 times its size. You put seed in the pipe, and flow nutrient water through it and the plant grows.
“We expect to use about 40pc less water and chemicals, and there’s savings in time as well. It could also be applied in arid regions.”
It will last for one growing season, and because it’s biodegradable, it will naturally break up or be ploughed back into the land.
He expects to launch the project in September next year, and plans to focus on crops grown in greenhouses.
While no Irish firm has won the European finals, many have gone on to secure investment and grow their business.
Sustainable Nation also continues to provide support after the event.
Aisling Byrne, Nu Wardrobe; Paddy Healy, Size/U and Vincent Farrelly, AquaRoot, who will go forward to the Climate Launchpad European finals in Cyprus. Photo: Orla Murray.; (left) a computer representation of the size-calculating onesie produced by Size/U