Startups We’re Watching: Sustainability

Startups We’re Watching: Sustainability

26th April 2021 by Michaela Salomon

When investing, your capital is at risk.


Tackling the climate change challenge is no easy feat, but from food waste innovators to sustainability SaaS providers, there are a number of startups creating technologies that have the power not only to reduce our negative impact on the planet, but to reverse it.

Here are a few of the sustainable startups we’re keeping a close eye on this month.

Early-stage investing has always represented a zeitgeist of consumer sentiment as early startup and scaleup backers are looking to back businesses that solve today’s problems with tomorrow’s solutions. Climate change is one of the largest existential threats to the human race and our planet’s existence, and whilst the current outlook is bleak, one positive is that some of technology’s most visionary entrepreneurs are dedicating their lives to reducing, and potentially reversing our impact on the planet. Additionally, mission-driven investors are queuing up to back them, to receive tangible social return as well as financial return on their investments. We have seen this trend from Seedrs investors over the past five years with portfolio companies like tickr, allplants and Nova Innovation solving for where we put our money, the impact of our food supply and how we consume energy, respectively. 

Many solutions have arisen, from promising developments in Carbon capture (C-Capture), to carbon offsetting (Ecologi), but one of my favourite startups in this space is food waste company TooGoodToGo. Our food consumption habits are a major contributor to climate change and food waste is a major part of this. TooGoodToGo combats food waste by connecting cafes, restaurants and shops with consumers via their app, so that excess food can be sold at discounted prices after peak hours, rather than being thrown away. To date, they’ve connected with over 75k businesses to save over 70 million meals from being thrown away, serving over 36 million customers in the process. To fuel this rapid growth they have raised over $45 million to date, but with big global expansion plans I’d expect them to need to bring in further fresh capital beyond this.

Sustainability-focused businesses have seen an explosion in growth over the last few years as exciting companies continue to develop innovative, clean products and technologies to protect our planet. The need for these purpose-driven businesses is clear, particularly now as we come out of lockdown and our day to day impact on the planet is brought sharply back into focus. 

Alongside governments, large corporates and entrepreneurs, investors have been key in driving this sustainability investment movement with large amounts of private, retail investors and VC’s across Europe and the US, racing to back the next big sustainable venture. As a cycling enthusiast, I have recently been looking for a brand that combines performance with sustainability at its core. Bring on Presca Sportswear

Presca Sportswear is the world’s first sportswear company making climate-positive cycling, running and triathlon kits. By wearing Presca you are making a positive environmental difference, as every item of clothing is made from 100% recycled materials and is fully recyclable itself. With a recent UK surge in cycling induced by the pandemic, Presca is excellently positioned to take advantage of a growing market whilst tapping into a growing conscious consumer and investor market in the UK and abroad. We are looking forward to hopefully working with Rob Webbon (CEO) and the team at Presca Sportswear in the future.

Over the past year, as we all spent more time at home, the products we use on a daily basis and their impact on the planet have really come into focus. A recent Deloitte report confirmed that it is in frequent, essential purchases like groceries, household items and personal care, that consumers now say they most often consider sustainability. It’s for this reason we have seen a huge uptake on the Seedrs platform for brands like The Cheeky Panda and &Sisters. A key finding that came out of the Deloitte report, however, was that whilst consumers want to do more, they want the brands that they buy from to take the lead; 64% of consumers want brands to reduce packaging, 50% want information on how to recycle, and 46% need clarity on the sourcing of the products. Consumers don’t want to bear the burden of living sustainably; having to split apart packaging, wash out bottles, and decipher confusing labels to recycle properly and effectively.

It’s exactly for this reason that Dr Liv Ahn and Aaron Koshy founded Planera. Planera is developing sustainable materials that outperform single use plastics, starting with their first product, the world’s first, and only, certified flushable and biodegradable sanitary pads. In 2019 the business secured around £500k pre-seed investment from Ada Ventures, Vectr Ventures, and angel investors. Planera is still in its R&D phase, but has recently moved to new premises to keep up with rapid growth. When Planera opened their waitlist in 2020, they had 2.5k sign-ups in less than 72 hours.

Those who menstruate use on average 11,000 sanitary products in their lifetime, undoubtedly having a huge impact on the planet through the products they use. Planera are changing this. They say that modern essentials should not cost the earth – and I couldn’t agree more.

According to Edelman’s 2019 Trust barometer, 76% of the general population agrees that business leaders should take a lead on issues concerning the environment and society as a whole.

In the UK, we’re witnessing a rise of new startups being founded trying to solve fundamental sustainability problems – from renewable energy solutions such as Ripple, to companies such as DryGro that create low-cost production methods for growing a protein ingredient to replace soybean meal in animal feed. However, according to the World Economic Forum, SMEs that don’t directly operate in the sustainability industry often lack the necessary financing to become sustainable. Thankfully, there are now startups that help to tackle this problem. A new powerful trend in the industry is Sustainability as a Service – providers that give other businesses the tools to become more sustainable through software solutions that are inexpensive and easily integrated.

Verdn was founded in February 2020 by Christopher Mjelde and Rory McMeekin, with the aim to build a product that could have a positive impact on the environment and, at the same time,  help businesses increase their customer engagement rate. Verdn is a Software as a Service (SaaS) startup that allows e-commerce companies to increase customer engagement by attaching environmental pledges to products they sell online. When customers pay online to purchase goods, they can pledge a certain amount of money to world-leading NGOs. They can also track their impacts with regular updates sent via email. 

In just over a year, Verdn has managed to launch their product, participate in the King’s20 accelerator program, sign 40 customers, partner with Shopify and achieve a 5-star rating on the Shopify App Store, all without the need for external capital. Currently, they offer three great NGO options; tree planting with Eden Reforestation Projects, Ocean Plastic Cleanup through Empower and COVID-19 Relief through the World Health Organization.

Verdn is a prime example of how Sustainability as a Service can help SMEs to positively impact the world through technology, with minimum time and money required.

The European Commission recently advised all European urban areas to start implementing Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs), in order to help tackle the challenges of traffic congestion, parking, noise and air pollution in the cities. For the European automotive sector, sustainable and environmentally-friendly solutions have been one of the core focus areas in recent years. However, not only politicians and corporations are active in the space, there is a growing number of agile startups pioneering sustainable solutions in the mobility sector.

The ambitious Podbike team from Stavanger, Norway have built an innovative vehicle that challenges mobility as we know it. Their first product, FRIKAR, is a first-of-its-kind compact and efficient four-wheeled e-bike with full weather protection. Velomobiles like FRIKAR are one of the most sustainable means of personal transportation based on energy consumption at production level and through usage. According to Podbike co-founders Hassel Sørensen (also CTO) and Anne-Lise Heggland (CEO), the team is mainly driven by the fight against climate change. By focusing on ethical and sustainable production processes, Podbike is able to bring a stylish, safe and efficient means of personal transportation to market, without compromising on the health of the planet. The first 10 test vehicles have been on the road since late 2019 and deliveries of the final version will begin in late spring 2021. In 2020, Podbike was awarded the EU’s Seal of Excellence and has already received 3,000 pre-orders. We’ll be watching this space closely in the coming months.

Michaela Salomon

Michaela Salomon

Campaign Support Team

Digital Agency Kent