Start it @KBC, VITO, Agoria and Sirris join forces in a unique support project for the circular economy

An innovative circular model is not a standard R&D project: it requires a structured process approach that goes far beyond the product, and quickly tests and continually guides entrepreneurs. These are the most important findings of Expeditie Circulair, a unique collaboration between Start it @KBC, VITO, Agoria and Sirris, in response to the Open Call of Circular Flanders. The pilot project ran over a period of one year and is a crucial first step in setting up an ecosystem to support circular entrepreneurs and to advance the circular economy.

Together with climate activists, the business community has also swung into action to combat global warming. The circular economy will play a crucial role in this. Interest in circular entrepreneurship is increasing strongly, but the transition to an entirely circular business model is complex. There is often still a deep gap between the inspiration phase and the implementation phase.

Start it @KBC, VITO, Agoria and Sirris have joined forces to support companies in this circular transition. It is the first time that research centers and experts in the field of the circular economy and entrepreneurship have collaborated on this scale. Four companies joined Expeditie Circulair: More (a start-up within Start it @KBC that processes plasterer waste into interior products), ETAP (lighting), Out of Use (recycling of ICT and electrical / electronic waste) and HaTwee (powder coating).

“Expeditie Circulair has the ambition to realise sustainability impact and economic impact”, explains Jeroen Gillabel, project leader for VITO. “Our aim was to make the four companies real forerunners in their sector, by realising a tipping point in the acceleration of their circular business model. But the purpose of Expeditie Circulair exceeds the companies that participated in the experiment. We also want to structurally connect the supporters in the circular economy to gain more insight into the process-based approach of circular models so that we can offer companies with circular ambitions a broad and accessible network.”

Lessons for circular entrepreneurs

Expeditie Circulair provides a number of important lessons for circular companies. “It has become clear that the development of an innovative circular business model is not a standard R&D project”, says Dirk Lievens, who supervised the experiment for accelerator Start it @KBC. “It is crucial to quickly test the assumptions in the circular model, to quickly get in touch with customers and other stakeholders and to get an idea of the feasibility. You should not wait until the circular solution is finalised. A structured process approach provides guidance and the necessary overview. That process also goes beyond the product. Too many circular entrepreneurs are concentrating too much on the product, while a circular model also involves waste, transport, storage, emissions, etc.”

“More, a start-up from the Start it @KBC community is a good example of this. More recycles plasterer waste, and processes it into a type of plaster to make high-quality interior products. Expeditie Circulair showed that the environmental benefits of recycling were largely being undermined by the negative impact of transport. That is how we came up with an innovative solution: mini factories that immediately recycle the waste at the same location plasterers leave their waste behind."

First step to an effective ecosystem

For Start it @KBC, Expeditie Circulair is not an endpoint but a first step, Dirk Lievens emphasizes. “The project has clearly demonstrated that sharing knowledge, expertise and networks is effective. Start it @KBC has acted as such an ecosystem for start-ups and innovation for five years now. We are convinced that an effective ecosystem can also give circular entrepreneurs a huge boost.”

Start it @KBC joined Expeditie Circulair because, as the country’s largest accelerator, it has a great deal of experience and expertise in promoting and supporting innovative entrepreneurship. Also in the circular economy. Besides More, many other circular startups are part of the accelerator programme:

  • 72P.BE - 72P: technology company 72P.BE – 72P develops and licenses biological based binders and sustainable production processes. They want to provide an answer to the growing demand for affordable ecological materials.
  • Billie Cups: Billie Cups are recyclable and reusable cups. You pay a 1 euro guarantee for an environmentally friendly handy cup with a nice design.
  • Blue Power Synergy: This start-up develops affordable, sustainable energy systems, and specialises in energy production and storage based on wind and solar energy.
  • Boltenergy: energy platform Boltenergy offers green and local energy. You can choose who may produce your energy locally.
  • Carbonhex: Carbonhex is a hardware and software developer. Their hardware collects data from heat exchangers. Their software processes and analyses this data to propose an optimisation. This makes the user aware of his/her energy consumption, while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
  • City Seedlings: City Seedlings encourages the sustainable cultivation of your own flowers.
  • Condugo: The Condugo Energy Hub software centralises all energy data within companies. Thanks to the smart tools and customised reports, users throughout the organisation can quickly and easily extract the maximum added value.
  • COSH!: with this user-friendly app, users can shop sustainably. The app displays notifications that indicate how sustainable stores and brands are.
  • CovEvents: De green carpool app.
  • Foresightee: Foresightee prevents food waste by using smart software in the systems of retailers. Algorithms accurately predict future sales for the next two weeks.
  • Go as u.r: Go as u.r is an environmentally conscious and contemporary fashion line for girls with an active lifestyle.
  • Human Districts: This start-up finances, installs and maintains and monitors solar panels so that families do not have to make the investment themselves. The customer pays a fixed amount per month for this.
  • JuNoo: JJuNoo offers walls that can be placed quickly and dust-free, and can also be reused. 
  • Mic Mac Minuscule: Deze start-up fungeert als doorgeefluik tussen toekomstige ouders en ouders van kinderen die de luierfase zijn ontgroeid. Toekomstige ouders kunnen hier geboortelijsten samenstellen met tweedehands babyspullen.
  • More: More is one of the four business cases from Expeditie circulair. The company collects plaster waste from plasterers and processes it into stylish light fixtures.
  • Peerby: Peerby is a platform that allows neighbours to borrow DIY material and other things from each other. Via Peerby Go you can rent cheap equipment at a fair price.
  • Real Brides: Real Brides recycles wedding dresses for charity. It is a non-profit bridal shop that sells gifted wedding dresses. 60 % of the profit goes to women who support charities.
  • Recy-Call: The West-Flemish start-up Recy-Call collects depreciated telephones in Africa. These are then taken to recognised recycling companies in Europe so that all critical metal parts can be reused.
  • Resortecs: This start-up creates stitching that dissolves at high temperatures, making clothing and furniture fabrics easier to recycle. 
  • Smart Farmers:Smart Farmers builds vertical agricultural systems where crops are grown in an upward direction. These vegetables or herbs get nutrition through hydroponics and light via LED technology. Thanks to this technology, you save space, energy and resources.
  • Staenis: Staenis produces a leveling grate for screed, insulation screed, leveling granules and other fillers. The company is committed to making circular construction in Flanders a daily reality in the future. 
  • Startsome: Startsome encourages you to use your own reusable cup in coffee bars. When you collect enough points via a mobile app, you will be rewarded.
  • w.r.yuma: at w.r.yuma, sunglasses are made from discarded refrigerators, dashboards and plastic bottles.

Expeditie Circulair is part of the Open call 2017 “Circular city and business” of Circular Flanders. The project ran from 1/12/2017 to 31/11/2018, the results were published in the spring of 2019.