We are all becoming more and more aware of our impact on the world, yet when it comes to business, profit often takes precedence. But if you can form a business that makes profit and helps the environment – then you’re onto a winner.
This year, Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF) is encouraging applications from eligible companies that address the challenges and opportunities relating to climate change. “It’s really exciting to see more environmentally focused businesses coming through,” says Aisling Kirwan, co-founder and Director of Operations at Positive Carbon, a recent recipient of funding through the CSF. “If you can bring together a business model while answering environmental concerns, it’s a win-win. And people are becoming more aware of the consequences of their actions and their impact on the world around them.”
Positive Carbon is a great example of a business looking to have a positive impact on the environment with a product that saves money for their customers. Aimed at the hotel market, Positive Carbon manufactures a solution to reduce food waste in as simple a way as possible.
“From research, we found that hotels were the biggest wasters of food by far,” Aisling explains. “From talking to chefs and getting feedback from general managers, we came up with a solution that we thought would work the best in a busy kitchen, with the aim of halving food waste. A hotel, on average, spends €200,000 a year on food that ends up in the bin; if we can halve this, we can help the hotel save money while reducing the environmental impact of the waste.
“Our solution is a fully automated food waste monitoring system. A weighing scales fits under any bin in any kitchen and sitting alongside that is a camera that looks directly into the bin. When waste is thrown into the bin, the scales weighs it while the camera takes a picture for identification. All of that information is collected and displayed for the client, so they can see exactly what is being thrown away. For instance, the information might reveal that 13 kilos of chicken was thrown away today – this clearly needs addressing. Avoidable food waste accounts for 66% of the waste in hotels, and with functions, that number shoots up to 87% – it’s an absolutely massive amount of waste, both food and money.
“The United Nations has said that if we can reduce food waste, this is the single most effective thing we can do to reduce CO2 – and it’s such a quick and easy and achievable fix.” says Kirwan.
CSF applications – a demanding, but rewarding process
With a background in the food waste industry working with innovative companies such as FoodCloud, Aisling and her co-founder Mark Kirwan first applied to Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme to see if their solution to reduce food waste could become a viable business; Positive Carbon then opened for business in May 2020.
“The CSF felt like the logical next step for us,” says Aisling.
“We used the funds mostly for product development, to bring out a new version of the product, and then to upscale manufacturing as we are bringing onboard a number of new hotels over the next few months.”
“I’m also taking part in the Innovate programme as part of that, the three-month accelerator programme for women entrepreneurs delivered by Dublin Business Innovation Centre in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, which has been really great. It’s good to be in an environment where you can talk about any issues or thrash out solutions.”
Like many other CSF recipients, Aisling says the application process was a rewarding exercise. “I definitely wouldn’t say it was easy! There are a lot of different stages to it, but it was also very enjoyable. It made us really think what we were trying to achieve in our business, get that down on paper and then be able to pitch our plan to a panel as well – and to be confident enough to answer questions. It’s definitely a demanding process but you get a lot out of it as well.”
Covid – time to prepare
Launching a new business during the Covid-19 pandemic certainly brings its challenges but for Positive Carbon it also gave them time to prepare. “With Covid-19 limiting hotel business, we’ve had the chance to sit down with general managers for a chat about our product,” says Aisling. “People are so generous with their time; it’s nerve-wracking to call up someone out of the blue but people are happy to talk to you and give you really valuable advice and feedback.”
Aisling says that the reaction from the industry has been positive – and no wonder, as this product has the potential to save businesses a massive amount of money, something that the beleaguered hotel industry will welcome. “After such a difficult year, hotels are excited to try new things. Food waste is such an unnecessary cost – and it’s not just the cost of the food itself, it’s the cost of the staff time in prepping, cooking and storing the food. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that when you take in all the factors involved in food waste, the true cost is €5,000 a ton.”
Looking to the future, the team at Positive Carbon is gearing up for a busy year. “We have our first product live in the Grand Hotel in Malahide; once everything is back open, that will be fully operational. We also have four independent hotels and a hotel group interested in starting in the next couple of weeks. So we’ll be busy!
“We’ve come a long way in the last few months, and that’s with the support of Enterprise Ireland and the CSF.” says Kirwan.
Apply for Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund – find the application form and eligibility criteria here.