Cleantech Open at the Forefront of Social Entrepreneurialism

Posted by Emily Lundberg on

Category: National

Why make the effort? Because the Cleantech Open accelerator’s broad cross-sector approach to innovation promotes cross-pollination with a wide range of business models, scientific principles put to work, all at various points in the supply chain—jostling, cooperating, competing, and invariably informing one another. Indeed, throughout its history, the accelerator has supported the rise of an invaluable new branch of cleantech: green social entrepreneurialism. While clean technologists consider the techno-social implications of resource depletion, social entrepreneurs pioneer innovative and systemic approaches to meeting the needs of the marginalized, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised.
The six CTO alumni companies highlighted—Saathi, change: Water Labs, Drinkwell, Re-Nuble, Bloc Power, and Sanergy—seek to address the needs of the historically disenfranchised while also providing positive environmental benefits in conserved resources and/or reduced pollution and disease. In each case, the social entrepreneurs made neighborhoods or whole regions/countries an integral part of their business model.
Saathi (CTO, 2017) began in 2015, when its four co-founders, Kristin Kagetsu, Tarun Bothra, Amrita Saigal, and Grace Kane—graduates of MIT, Harvard and Nirma University—came together on a mission to create fully eco-friendly, compostable sanitary napkins using locally sourced banana fiber from the state of Gujarat, where Saathi is based. @SaathiPads
change: Water Labs (CTO, 2017) produces portable evaporative toilets requiring no electricity and plumbing. Eighty percent of disease around the world is attributable to poor sanitation. The lack of access to safe sanitation is linked to poverty and limited opportunity, especially victimizing women and girls. Today, the startup is working to provide water-less toilets to refugee camps. @changeWATERLabs

Drinkwell (CTO, 2014) is a market-leading water technology company operating in India and Bangladesh that removes contaminants from water using a gravity-fed process that reduces energy costs and wasted water. For Drinkwell’s Founder Minhaj Chowdhury, the worldwide clean water crisis is personal. His grandfather passed away as a result of consuming arsenic-contaminated water while living in Bangladesh. @drinkwellco 
Re-Nuble (CTO, 2013) sought to address inequities found in low income communities often burdened by the waste management facilities that create negative environmental and health externalities. Moreover, Re-Nuble’s founder Tinia Pina recognized the problem that each year, New York City produces 1.5 million tons of food waste and spends $180 million exporting it to landfills. So, every day in the South Bronx, Re-Nuble converts 1,200 pounds of local food waste into 275 gallons of certified-organic liquid fertilizer and plant boosters. (Avoiding chemical fertilizers that infiltrate waterways, endangering fish and wildlife.) @Re_Nuble
Bloc Power (CTO, 2013) is a NYC-based startup hired by governments and nonprofits to retrofit homes and schools in underserved communities to lower heating and power costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bloc Power also finances projects with private investment. The projects create green jobs in these communities and investors' returns come from the savings on lower energy bills. Long before founding BlocPower, Donnel Baird saw the need for a way retrofit old buildings so tenants didn't have to use their ovens to stay warm. Indeed, that's what his Guyanese-immigrant parents did in the family's Bedford-Stuyvesant one-bedroom apartment three decades ago. @BlocPower 

Sanergy (CTO, 2011) is franchising toilets to urban slums in Nairobi, then collecting the raw sanitation waste for conversion into fertilizer and insect-based animal feed. The idea took shape in 2009 at MIT, when David Auerbach, Lindsay Stradley, and Ani Vallabhaneni were tasked with developing a solution to a poverty challenge facing 1 billion people or more around the world. Harnessing their experiences working in the developing world and in growing cities, they developed a full value chain approach to addressing the sanitation crisis, offering a sustainable solution for urban slums. With that project, Sanergy was born. @Sanergy 
The question Sanergy is facing todayis one many of these green social entrepreneurs come up against in their stories of #CTOAlumniSuccess: What to do when reaching economies of scale? Now that you are generating revenue, do you seek new markets/neighborhoods or diversify your product line and saturate your current market/neighborhood?

Can green social entrepreneurialism be franchised?
To support more social entrepreneurs facing the franchise or diversify question, tell a green entrepreneur to apply to Cleantech Open today! Send them this link:

  • By Emily Lundberg on in National

Updated on October 30, 2019 4:50 PM