Small firms, big ideas: the con­tenders for glory at Euro­pean green busi­ness awards

Irish Independent - Business Week - - BUSINESSWEEK -

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

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