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ASU, City of Phoenix Announce Circular Economy Incubator Ventures

The incubator is within RISN, which supports new-to-market ventures that focus on improvements in processing or utilization of waste for new products or energy.

Arizona State University (ASU) and the city of Phoenix have selected four waste prevention and diversion ventures to participate in their circular economy incubator.

The incubator is within the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) that supports new-to-market ventures that focus on improvements in processing or utilization of waste as a raw material for new products or energy.

“It’s a niche business accelerator for entrepreneurs in the early stages of waste-to-product innovations with the goal of helping move circular economy forward in the Phoenix area,” says Alicia Marseille, director of the RISN incubator at ASU based in Tempe, Ariz. “The RISN incubator offers ventures an opportunity to rapidly scale and transform your startup into a vehicle to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. [It] helps ventures test their concepts, build their company and scale to market.”

The following four ventures were selected as finalists to make up the cohort:

• FLI Right LLC, Co-founders Mark Hansen and Alice Murphy

FLI Right seeks to transform the future by building and leading an innovative coalition to develop, mature, demonstrate and transition technology solutions and services that directly impact the world's greatest challenges.

• rePurpose, Co-founders Peter Wang Hjemdahl, Svanika Balasubramanian and Aditya Siroya

Founded at and backed by the University of Pennsylvania, rePurpose is a social enterprise that envisions a circular economy where responsibility is shared ethically by recyclers, manufacturers and consumers.

• Scrappy & Scraps Pet Treats, Founder George Gebran

The company’s mission is to harvest eggshells from local restaurants and hotels and bake them into its treats. This helps the foodservice industry lower its environmental impact, in turn, benefitting the ecosystem. The shells are pasteurized and ground into a fine powder for maximum absorption and help build strong bones and teeth, among other benefits.

• Recyclops, Founder Ryan Smith

Recyclops brings recycling to areas where it isn’t traditionally available. The company has been successful in bringing recycling to these areas by innovating and leveraging technology. By hiring independent contractors with pickup trucks and using a tech-driven smart routing app, the company has been able to eliminate many of the logistical problems that kept recycling from happening in these areas.

The four ventures will come to ASU (Tempe and downtown Phoenix campuses) for a week-long immersive at the end of March to kick off their participation.

“We have a selection committee of experts from the public works and economic development teams at city of Phoenix as well as from ASU. Incubator staff are not part of the selection committee,” says Marseille. “The committee uses a pre-established grading matrix against each application to determine the best ventures to be brought into the program.”

Selected ventures are sent an offer letter via email to join and given a deadline to accept. There are no fees to apply or join the program. Once they accept, they participate in a two- to three-day immersion program in downtown Phoenix where they are onboarded by incubator staff and given hands-on technical assistance through a variety of workshops customized to fit the needs of the cohort.

After the immersion, ventures participate in the program virtually for three months and are paired with mentors and given specifics metrics to complete during their cohort term.

According to Brandie Barrett, deputy director for the city of Phoenix Public Works Department‒Government and Community Relations Division, the partnership between the city and RISN incubator creates a steady pipeline of entrepreneurs in the waste-to-product innovation space.

“As these ventures scale and grow in the RISN incubator, they become viable candidates for Reimagine Phoenix Initiative RFPs [request for proposals] designed to help the city reach its 40 percent diversion goal by the year 2020,” she says.

A Reimagine Phoenix RFP will seek entities to transform material from the waste and recycling streams into a product. If the city of Phoenix selects a bid from one of the RISN ventures as the winning proposal, these companies will establish a manufacturing operation on the RIC.

“Any venture that constructs a manufacturing or processing facility on the RIC will generate revenue for the city of Phoenix in the form of lease rates and may help the city avoid expenses related to landfilling material,” says Barrett. “The city’s transition toward a circular economy is fueled by the collaboration between the City of Phoenix Public Works Department and the RISN incubator.”

The RISN incubator is operated at ASU by the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Services and ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation.

RISN is a program of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Services at Arizona State University, in partnership with the city of Phoenix’s Reimagine Phoenix initiative. The program launched in January 2014 under former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. RISN advances integrated resource management through a global network of public and private partners using collaboration, research, innovation and application of technologies to create economic value, driving a sustainable circular economy.

“This agreement foresaw the need for a technology solutions incubator program to support development of economically viable technologies to improve waste diversion and support development of a circular economy,” says Barrett.

The RISN incubator launched in 2016 and has helped 13 companies raise $2.95 million in capital, more than $4.10 million in generated revenue, create 43 jobs and 43 internships, file three patents and launch 12 new products.

“It is anticipated that the RISN venture that won the Plastics #3-#7 Diversion Program Request for Proposal will have $5.5 million in capital investment, create 10 to 15 jobs, generate revenue for the city from a ground lease on the Resource Innovation Campus and produce savings for city operations,” says Barrett.

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