Five Promising Sustainability Startups to Watch
IE Business School alumni have launched environmentally-sensitivity startups. Here are five winners to keep an eye on.
Experts suggest the silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic has been the positive impact on the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions have plummeted across continents, wildlife has popped up in unusual places and governments have adopted measures to encourage foot and bicycle traffic.
Aspiring entrepreneurs had already identified the demand for environmentally conscious businesses and created innovative solutions. Many IE Business School alumni lead in these complex times, crafting business models based on the principles of developing sustainability or generating products and services facilitating zero waste.
From energy to transportation, here are five promising sustainable startups from IE Business School alumni to keep an eye on in 2020:
Ben Weber – Stor Energy
Weber and his partner Emilio de Jesus capitalized on newly available commercial energy storage abilities. They developed an agnostic device that breaks barriers for new types of energy storage–a smart energy agent that connects machine learning and blockchain to allow customers to unleash their home battery’s financial capabilities.
Stor Energy is also working in the Dominican Republic, “utilizing electric vehicles as a form of blackout protection and backup power, imagining the problem from a whole different perspective.”
Weber, who served as a nuclear machinist on board a nuclear powered submarine in the US Navy before coming to IE, said he developed his business acumen at IE, where he launched his startup in his last semester.
“I have been able to re-imagine age old problems with the structure of thinking I developed at IE. Currently Stor Energy is raising capital and solidifying our position in the Spanish/LATAM ecosystem, and our networks from IE have played a fundamental role.”
Martin Baart – Ecoligo
Alumnus Martin Baart (Global Executive MBA, 2017) co-founded ecoligo, which provides a fully financed solar-as-a-service solution for businesses in emerging markets. By managing financing, installation and maintenance of the systems, ecoligo enables businesses to access clean, affordable energy.
Ecoligo finances the solar projects through the crowdinvesting platform www.ecoligo.investments, offering fixed and attractive returns to private investors. The company has built a business-to-business (B2B) sales infrastructure via long-term power purchase or leasing contracts with their customers, who use electricity from ecoligo’s solar projects.
Headquartered in Berlin, the company started its operations in Ghana from the year 2017. Since then, ecoligo ventured to Kenya, Costa Rica and the latest addition was the opening of the Vietnam office in January 2020. Future expansion plans are in the works for Chile, Philippines, Rwanda and Uganda.
“Our vision is to pioneer the energy transition in emerging markets,” Baart said. “And we will not stop before that has happened!”
Baart said he and his partner Markus Schwaninger are now focused on the digitalization of their core business processes. He said they are building a cloud-based platform, integrating clients, partners and sales team to work jointly on fast project implementation.
“What is most meaningful to us is how much of an impact we have. We have so far signed 39 contracts, which mean 39 companies are benefiting from reduced energy expenses. Our projects are also saving already more than fifty thousand tons of CO2 emissions. That is what keeps us motivated!”
Benhard Niesner and Adrian Hilti – Busuu
Benhard Niesner and Adrian Hilti (IMBA, 2007) co-founded Busuu an online language learning platform in 2008 after their graduation from IE. Backed by McGraw-Hill Education and PROFounders Capital, Busuu has since grown to become a leading international edtech company and one of the world’s most popular language learning apps – with over 100 million users and more than 200 corporate clients.
Headquartered in London, Busuu opened a new office in Madrid and acquired the live tutoring platform Verbling, its first company acquisition, in January 2020. The addition of live tutoring further enhances Busuu’s robust offering of high-quality language courses, peer-to-peer learning and AI-powered features.
Most recently, Covid-19 confinement measures have driven a surge in demand for Busuu. Niesner said the company has seen up to a threefold increase in new users in countries like China and Italy, where the virus took hold months ago, compared with pre-virus levels. As the world started to go into lockdown, Busuu quickly launched Keep Kids Learning, an initiative to provide free online language classes for children out of school.
Niesner said one of the key lessons he learned at IE Business School was “to enjoy what you are doing and to never give up.”
Oleksandr (Alex) Bondarenko, Discoperi
Revolutionizing automated road safety, Alex Bondarenko (IMBA 2017) founded Discoperi, offering blockchain-based solutions for drivers’ safety improvement, accident prevention and automotive data monetization. Discoperi is currently operating in Kiev, Madrid, Warsaw and Amsterdam.
Last year, Microsoft Azure Marketplace listed Discoperi’s internally developed СITY AI, a set of neural networks and algorithms designed to help governments, municipalities, road management operators, parking operators and airport operators with optimization of their transportation infrastructure and lower congestion.
Bondarenko said his time at IE not only opened doors and helped him clarify his understanding of entrepreneurship, but gave him the tools to launch one successfully in a global environment.
“IE and its unique community helped me answer trillions of questions in my head on how to build and ramp up a company in the deep-tech world,” he said. “I learned how one shall navigate in a multicultural environment and what are the pros and cons on working with so many nationalities at an intense pace.”
Eslam Husein, Invygo
Nevertheless Eslam Husein (MBA 2018) and Pulkit Ganjoo (Business Analytics and Big Data 2017) the co-founders of Invygo offer sustainable transportation through their car subscription service app– the first of its kind in Dubai.
Based in the United Arab Emirates, Invygo is available in Saudi Arabia and plans to expand geographically across the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region.
Husein had extensive experience in the auto services industry, having worked as a consultant for automotive companies – CDK and Cox Automotive. He said he witnessed a fragmented value chain between customer and dealer expectations, and manufacturers. But it was during his MBA at IE when tasked to come up with a problem that needs solving in his entrepreneurship class that something clicked.
“There is a significant gap between today’s fast-moving economy, an uncertain world, and the traditional retail model car dealers are offering,” Husein said. “The time-consuming process between wanting and getting a car, the commitment to a specific vehicle no matter the change of the consumer needs, and the total cost of ownership on a depreciating asset.”
Husein said given that the International Organization of Motor Vehicles Manufacturers data show the UAE witnessed a 50 % drop in car sales since 2015 and Saudi Arabia car sales fell by 46% between 2014 and 2018, “consumers needed a more flexible, easy way to get a car based on their needs.”
“We will expand to any country that helps genuinely accomplish our mission of reinventing ownership through innovative ways to free people from long-term commitments.”