Your Handy Guide To Working In Envirotech

What I've learned co-founding a circular economy startup as a 20-something and how you can get involved

Nick is a long-time Rippler and all-time legend, you might know him from his days at Global Voices or chucked him a sneaky follow at @thebeercraftreview. He was selected as one of our Emerging Civic Leaders in 2021 his career has zigzagged beautifully from hotels and hospitality, to international affairs, to circular economy startups.

What even is envirotech and should I consider it?

Environmental technologies, also known as envirotech, have exploded over the past few years and there are incredible inventions and ideas coming from all kinds of places. There are hardware technologies, like solar panels and flightless taxis, and there are software technologies, like blockchain and apps. There are many startups innovating and stepping up to the challenges of climate change, and other environmental challenges, and it is a fantastic and exciting space to be a part of.

How I went from hospo to running an enviro-tech startup:

I am the Co-Founder of IQ Energy Australia, a Melbourne based startup, which holds the IP license for the Asia-Pacific region for the Canadian IQ Energy technology. We are a technology provider company that deploys modular and containerised turnkey units that convert various waste streams into resources. In addition to this we are also developing a renewable energy unit which efficiently turns heat into power. Our aim is to accelerate the region’s evolving Circular Economy by addressing local issues with local solutions.

Innovating in the circular economy and 4 things you should know:

Globally the idea of a Circular Economy has taken off, simply put it is the idea of waste never being wasted and instead being reused at their highest value. The best place to read about the Circular Economy further is on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website as they are pioneers on the topic. I thought I would share with you five points I have come to realise about starting, or even just working, in the envirotech space and I am very happy to answer any questions out there, just reach out!

♻️ Building a Circular Economy is about reshaping the business as usual (BAU) framework from take-make-waste to reusing resources over and over

My time working in hotels on Command- it’s all about the career zigzag

1. Learn the basics of building a strong business foundation

For me there has been a lot of learning around how to build a business in general, even before adding the environment lens to it, especially as I have come from a hospitality and not for profit background!

There are many useful resources on the Victoria Government website around building HR policies and procedures, there are accelerator programs or bootcamps, like Boomerang Labs and The Incubation Network, who are very helpful in terms of building slide decks and understanding how to present yourself/telling your story and there are many articles and short courses online that can help you in building the core foundation of your business, such as risk, legal and marketing. Having the business foundations right means the envirotech business you are working with, or founding, can flourish into action without having the worry of needing to build all the business components later when you are busy in project discussions.

The following step is to build your go to market strategy, there are many resources to help with this, but my top tip is to narrow this down to a specific target market and do not let your target customers get too wide. The key is to figure out what the problem/pain point that your technology can solve for customers and not just focus on the benefits of the technology you are pitching.

🔥 My tip: avoid getting too caught up in the envirotalk, this is a very loud space with many naysayers and tyre kickers and you could sit on 24/7 webinars, however the important thing is to keep pushing towards action.

2. Know the sector language!

Survivability, spadeable, people centric, turnkey, plug and play, net zero, ACCU, thermoneutral, intermittent vs. continuous power, % dry solids, emerging contaminants, etc.

These may look like random words, but they are all key terms my startup uses to either frame a conversation or pitch or they are the key words that a specific sector wants to hear. Doing some research to know the terminology when entering any sector is important because it can help strengthen your discussion. For example if you are pitching to the defence industry, they want to hear words like ‘survivability’ to highlight the resilience and strength of your unit in difficult terrain, however if you are pitching to a wastewater plant about their biosolids (sewage sludge) and converting these to resources, they want to hear the product produced is spadeable (easy to handle with a spade) and what % dry solids (moisture vs. solid within the wet waste) can be achieved.

You won’t know all the terminology straight away and many of them crop up in conversation and it is best to write them down and research what it means later but using some of these terms in different sectors can really help in establishing your credibility within a conversation.

IQ Energy site tour I did to an industrial composting facility

3. Always prep for these hard questions!

Mentors, investors, government and business stakeholders always ask these two questions:

  • Does your solution scale?

They want to know can your solution address the significant problems that are out there and will it make economic sense in doing so. Government is often interested in creating jobs and scaling up manufacturing, they want repeatability of your solution and businesses want to know how your units can scale up to meet the bigger problem. Think about the large cities around the world and how much sewage the populations of these cities create infinitely, solutions are needed to scale up to meet this large demand, and although small solutions can have their place, there needs to be options that can rapidly grow to address challenges we are facing as a community.

  • Is your solution financially viable?

In short is this solution set up to make money as a business or is this just a charity. Being a business does not mean you cannot reinvest the money into other social impact projects or hold yourself even further accountable by being a B Corp, but the solution needs to make financial sense in order for it to be a stable long-term solution and not be reliant on government or community handouts.

Other questions you may be asked is to explain your pricing strategy or highlight some of the issues you have had along the journey and being honest about this always helps in building the business relationship and can help your reputation.

🔥 My Tip: I also recommend coming to every meeting you attend with at least three to five questions ready to go, this makes you look professional and helps with the conversation, people are busy and it is important you make them feel like you have valued your time with them.  

4. Build a community

Building a Circular Economy is about reshaping the business as usual (BAU) framework from take-make-waste to reusing resources over and over. With this is the need to work together to achieve something beyond economic gain and to have a significant impact on climate change. Many of the solutions are looking wider to a full system thinking approach, for example not just thinking about food waste going into a bin that goes to compost and that is the end of it, but could that food waste be avoided in the first place, what happens with the compost, will farmers actually take it and put any value on it and is there benefit for their soil if they do. The key to this is collaboration and knowledge sharing.

🥗 My Tip: There are many envirotech communities, like Climate Salad and Acehub, and learning platforms or business chambers that you can go along to in order to build these community connections, like UNSSC and AMCHAM.

Myself (2nd from the left) and the Global Voices team at the 2019 OECD Forum in Paris

5. Understand that complexity always leads to learning opportunities

There are also no silver bullets for the environment and many issues are more and more complicated as you dive into them further. Each country has different and unique challenges and it is important to listen to other countries in our region to know what their needs are and potentially how they can help us.

Being part of global envirotech communities can be a great way to see some of the fantastic ideas out there, but also to understand what the big problems are, for example Philippines has many islands with high transport costs between them which makes recycling wine bottles difficult. With a startup you generally do not have a big team, so being part of these communities can be a great way to have a broader understanding of the challenges and opportunities and to also have that team community you may be missing from a larger workplace.

💚 A final tip…network, network, network. There are so many people who are happy to chat over LinkedIn or to have a quick video call or coffee if you just ask, they may have one, two or who knows how many points which may be gold advice for you and completely change how you are thinking.

So, I highly recommend reaching out and chatting with people in this space if it interests you and just prep a few questions before you do, even chatting with fellow Ripplers has led to some great thinking points for me!

Those are a few quick tips to have a think about if you want to develop or work with an envirotech startup. I highly recommend it as it is a load of fun, and you meet the best people. I am always happy to talk envirotech, Circular Economy or even startups in general so please feel free to reach out!

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Your Handy Guide To Working In Envirotech

5 things I’ve learned co-founding a circular economy startup as a 20-something and my top tips for getting involved in the envirotech space

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