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The EIT Climate KIC’s Journey Summer School hosts hundreds of international students to build start-ups that address the challenges of climate change and adaptation and mitigation. After a three- to five-week-long summer school, the students pitch their start-up ideas to a jury of experts. The pitches and questions reveal that building a sustainable business is a great challenge.

I attended the finals of the Journey in Budapest and interviewed three start-ups: TraiBu, Jetpack, and Ecovision to find out about their potential difficulties and solutions.

TraiBu is a sustainable travel platform that would help its customers find the least carbon intensive options for exploring the world. Jetpack addresses the issue of recycling on aircraft decks. Last but not least; Ecovision uses virtual reality technologies for climate change communication.

The problems they identified included the issues of behaviour change, green washing, as well as pricing. Regardless of the diverse profile of these young start-ups, the common solution to potential threats was applying systems thinking, and hence looking at the issue from a long-term perspective. Of course to spice up the solutions team members were not afraid to go for creative solutions.

KIC Journey participants from 2017 during the final Pitch in Riga. Picture By: Mostafa Darwish/Climate Tracker

Let’s hear the stories of the three entrepreneurs:

Changing mind-sets:

TraiBu is a sustainable travel platform that gamifies low-carbon travel. The online platform helps travellers find the least carbon intensive ways of travelling. Moreover, to motivate people it also awards its users with points that later on can be turned into credits for the travel system.

I asked Carmen Huidobro, one of the team members, to tell me about some of the challenges they faced during the ideation and the execution of their start-up idea. Carmen said:

“The main challenge is that you are not selling a concrete product, but you are trying to change behaviour or create a new market. Therefore, you have to convince people why it is important to invest in sustainability. Because climate change is not tangible for most people. Therefore it is a key challenge to explain why it is important to invest in the future.”

In fact, the idea of a sustainable Sky- or rather “land scanner” is challenging to sell due to decreasing airfares. However, it is something absolutely necessary to help travelers find the best deals for low-carbon voyages. The team believes that gamification, finding investors and identifying and collaborating with partners, through whom the message of their idea can be brought to the fore, will help the team in the mind-set shaping of jetsetters.

The team of Traibu. Picture by Dorka Bauer

Avoiding green washing:

The next person I spoke to was Katherine Morrison from the Ecovision team. Ecovision is a B2B concept that uses virtual reality for advertising sustainable products. One of the criteria of the Journey is to make sure that your business has a potential “climate impact”, meaning that your products helps the customers save carbon emissions. I was curious how Ecovision’s product would resolve this issue, since the manufacturing of the glasses is quite resource intensive:

“You have to make sure that you only advertise for companies that are really sustainable, in order to make sure that you are not advertising for some terrible company, that doesn’t care about the environment at all.

She explained how companies can avoid green washing by not working with companies that are sustainable only on the surface. They would, however, make sure to reach out to large companies that are making significant efforts, which would help Ecovision to get out to large audiences.

The team of Ecovision presenting their Start-Up plans. Picture by Dorka Bauer.

Pricing:

Last but not least, I interviewed Jonathan from the Best Pitch Winner Team, Jetpack. Jetpack designs and sells sustainable food packaging for economic flights. Using biodegradable materials are an easy way of reducing the impact of airplane food packaging. Based on his interviews with airlines, Jonathan added that the pricing of sustainable alternatives could be an obstacle:

“That industry is such a profit driven industry, so one or two cents more that would still work but even 5 cents more nobody would buy the product, because they only care about the environment if it’s cheap.”

The team of Jetpack. Picture by Dorka Bauer

Although several companies already showed strong interest in the services of Jetpack, the start-up will have to make sure that the prices of their products can compete with those of conventional packing.

 

Involving the business sector to solve the issues of climate change is a great strategy. The teams of the Journey are now off on a long-road to establishing start-ups that will bring real solutions to the world. Of course it is not an easy job. Key challenges are changing mind-sets, avoiding green washing, as well as having competitive prices. For sure, the new graduates of the Journey are fresh experts to resolve these problems and create viable and sustainable business for all.

Now its up to you,

Join the Journey next year and build your own Start-up!

Dorka Bauer

About Dorka Bauer

Dorka has been involved in the Climate Change Movement since 2014. She has worked for several International Organisations such as the Regional Environmental Center and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. Currently, she is the Communications Manager of the Climate KIC Alumni Association, and the Central Eastern European Regional Manger for Climate Tracker. Enjoys vegetarian cooking and planing low-carbon travels.