The Cop26 summit thrust climate change into the limelight, with promises of transitioning to greener energy, net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to “just” 1.5C.
But European entrepreneurs are already ahead of the game when it comes to sustainability startups. As of March, there were already more than 800 climate tech companies in Europe, with green energy alone attracting more than £300bn in investment.
Clearly there’s a lot of opportunity out there for early-stage founders. One organisation committed to supporting startups to deliver sustainable change is the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). As an EU body, EIT brings together business, universities and research labs to provide funding, entrepreneurship education and acceleration services to startups.
Its latest initiative, EIT Community Booster, provides business growth support worth €50k to 20 startups and scaleups creating sustainable change in climate, food, manufacturing, city design and overall wellbeing. The programme has been launched to support the European Commission’s New European Bauhaus vision, which aims to translate the European Green Deal into tangible solutions, changing how we live in the future.
As of March, there were already more than 800 climate tech companies in Europe, with green energy alone attracting more than £300bn in investment
“We have an ecosystem with eight knowledge and innovation communities made up of more than 60 hubs and 3,000 partners across Europe all focused on the great societal challenges of our time. We want to find good ideas and translate them into businesses, continuously bringing products to market and accelerating innovation,” says EIT director Martin Kern.
So what kind of ideas made it through the wringer? Here are five startups — with EIT support — who are changing the way we’ll live in the future.
Upfarming — Portugal
By 2050, it's predicted almost 80% of all food will be consumed in cities. But with urban space at a premium and conventional agriculture using unsustainable amounts of fossil fuels, what will the future of farming look like?
For Lisbon-based Upfarming, it will look like small-scale vertical farms, housed in the heart of urban areas. Its “farming-as-a-service” solution gives organisations and communities the chance to buy rotating, vertical farms where they can grow their own food from seed. The outcome reduces food miles to food metres, ensuring maximum nutritional value from the harvested crops.
Upfarming has already piloted its vertical farm in Lisbon, running a “sky-to-table” community project in the Alvalade district that grows four tonnes of crops a year.
Robin Food — Belgium
Covid-19 brought a unique challenge for the food industry. As jobs were lost and families struggled to make ends meet, food aid organisations and charities saw a surge in demand. At the same time, the impact of lockdowns and damage to supply chains saw surplus food waste at an all-time high.
By 2050, almost 80% of all food will be consumed in cities
Enter Belgian startup Robin Food. It takes surplus food from manufacturers and turns it into new products aimed at socially vulnerable people. Launched in April 2020, its first product was a soup made from surplus vegetables that Belgian farmers couldn’t find a market for. Since then, it’s also launched a tomato sauce and an apple juice — all made from food destined for the scrap heap.
OndoSense — Germany
German tech startup OndoSense creates smart sensors that improve safety and sustainability in manufacturing processes — a key consideration as automation continues to revolutionise the industry. Research by McKinsey shows that nearly half of all time spent in manufacturing jobs involved manual or physical labour. By 2030, this is expected to fall to 35%.
OndoSense’s sensor solution technology reduces the chance of collisions between automated vehicles, robots and human workers. It can also be used to improve the efficiency of automated technology, allowing for ultra-precise measurements of raw materials, reducing waste.
Founded in 2018, the startup has already participated in several EIT technology competitions and recently raised €1.5m.
Rooom — Germany
We’ve all got used to video conferencing and digital events by now, but German-based Rooom hopes to take digital meetings to a whole new level. The startup’s experienceCloud platform allows businesses to create immersive virtual showrooms, 3D product presentations and virtual events across both desktop and mobile software.
Research by McKinsey shows that nearly half of all time spent in manufacturing jobs involved manual or physical labour. By 2030, this is expected to fall to 35%.
Customers can create their own digital events using Rooom’s self-service platform, dispensing with the need for expensive digital agencies. Expect to see metaverse-style functionality soon too — the startup recently announced a $7m raise allowing it to integrate 3D gamification into its virtual events.
And that name? It’s not a typo — the three Os represent the three dimensions of space.
VePa — Germany
Founded in Munich earlier this year, VePa is rethinking car parking to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. Its vertical parking system allows 12 cars to park in the space normally reserved for just two, with plans to integrate charging hubs for electric vehicles.
It is also considering how vertical parking towers can act as mobility hubs, potentially partnering with shared mobility companies to allow customers to park their fuel-based vehicles and switch to scooters, bikes and electric cars.
How to apply to EIT Community Booster
Applications are now open for EIT Community Booster programme, with ideas revolving around the New European Bauhaus concept of “beautiful, inclusive, sustainable” living. Startups will need to apply to programmes in one of EIT’s five main community hubs — EIT Digital, EIT Climate-KIC, EIT Food, EIT Manufacturing and EIT Urban Mobility.
As well as the €50k prize, startups will get access to EIT’s community of researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and businesses, as well as mentoring, fundraising training and coaching.
“The EIT Community Booster programmes are designed collaboratively by five of our innovation communities. It’s a joint effort and we’re pooling the resources, knowledge and capacity they have. The winners won’t just get the money — they’ll also be connected to the EIT community, which is just as valuable,” says Kern.
Applications are open until December 17 through the EIT Community Booster website.