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Challenges for sustainable startups – according to 3 GITR finalists

The Netherlands’ edition of the startup competition Get In The Ring recently organized a special cleantech edition for sustainable businesses. Three startups – African Clean Energy, CocoPallet and RotterZwam – have been chosen to go to the finals in November. What are their main challenges?

African Clean Energy (ACE) is a solar biomass cooking stove, CocoPallet creates low cost pallets from coconut husks and RotterZwam is growing mushrooms on Rotterdam coffee grounds. As winners of a ‘cleantech’ edition, the ‘tech’ part isn’t really present. ‘Sustainable’ is the more appropriate term here.

However, a special spot for cleantech (or sustainable) startups is probably needed. According to the three finalists, the current state of sustainable startups tells them they could use every bit of support.

Lack in capital

Judith Walker from ACE is very clear on what the biggest challenge is for sustainable startups. “I’m pretty sure it’s always working capital. There are some great grants and investors out there but there is still a distinct lack in quick and safe working capital loans. With long due diligence processes the way they are now, it requires a lot of hard work and patience to get funding.”

Michiel Vos from CocoPallet says it’s making a product price competitive compared to non-sustainable alternatives. “But once that’s fixed, you have an excellent mix for growth.”

For ACE that’s also what’s needed. “We need to make sure that even those that are not able to afford the ACE have access to it.”

Beyond ideals

For RotterZwam the biggest challenge for a sustainable startup is the startup itself. Sometimes, and especially in RotterZwam’s case, it isn’t clear in what niche the startup operates. Is it a plantation? Is it a knowledge hub? Is it a retailer? “We see a lot of possible spin-offs already from our concept. We want to grow mushrooms, but also give workshops and sell consumer goods. But the real trick is to focus”, says Siemen Cox.

Also, the startup must go beyond ideals: “Secretly, we like the concepting part of our business the most. But we need to think sales as well – without that we can’t survive.”

The Get in the Ring Dutch national finals are on November 20th.

Frontpage image: RotterZwam

Lorenz van Gool
Lorenz is co-editor-in-chief of StartupJuncture. As a freelance editor and journalist, he writes about startups, innovation and (e)-business. Loves to report from conferences. Really likes cleantech and journalism startups. You can ask him anything about dinosaurs. Twitter: @lorenzroman

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