Starting Up the Circular Economy

What if you could identify and quantify waste even before it was created? Would this be revolutionary? One person’s waste is another person’s treasure, so the biowaste created by an industrial farm could be the biofuel that a production company needs. And being able to predict how much biowaste is available at the farm at any given time means you can begin creating a secure supply chain.

That is the ethos behind the circular economy. It’s also the idea behind iNex, one of eight startups recently invited to the SAP.iO Foundry Paris program’s greentech and sustainable enterprise cohort.

According to the Circularity Gap Report 2019, only nine percent of the minerals, metals, biomass, and fossil fuels that enter the economy are reused annually. The report calculates that 62 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — excluding those from land use and forestry — are released during extraction, processing, and manufacturing of goods, and 38 percent are emitted in the delivery and use of products and services.

“One of the biggest challenges to establishing circular economy practices is helping businesses find exactly the resources they need, when they need it, within a reasonable distance to their sites,” says Olivier Gambari, CEO of Paris-based iNex Circular, which took up the challenge and created a solution that provides detailed waste prediction profiles and enables customers to source difficult-to-find resources.

The solution from iNex combines open-source data, data captured through consulting work in the recycling industry, and algorithms that predict waste before it is produced. For example, when combined with other relevant data, knowing how many beds a hotel chain has provides clues about how much biowaste the chain will produce and where.

“Providing a marketplace approach for waste recycling, where sellers and buyers find each other easily, has never been more important,” says Gambari. “Together, iNex Circular and SAP Ariba could open up countless business opportunities.”

Batteries: Electrifying Issue

Founded by Patrick Peter, Circunomics is another startup in the Paris cohort that has captured attention at SAP. Circunomics provides an open marketplace for used battery components, and its inspiration came from China and South Korea, where batteries aren’t considered waste, but valuable objects.

According to the World Economic Forum, less than 20 percent of e-waste worldwide, including batteries, is currently recycled.  However, tracking battery usage is complex and therefore establishing an efficient process for data handling, material trading, and recycling processes is the first step to creating a circular battery economy.

“We give each battery its own digital certificate so we can digitally manage their entire life cycle,” says Peter. “Our vision is zero waste enabled by data, and we plan to do it by developing our solution on SAP Cloud Platform.”

Avoiding Pitfalls of Collaboration in a Circular Economy

As a solution manager within Global Waste and Environmental Services at SAP, building startup partnerships is something with which Raik Kulinna is tasked. In addition to his role as innovation technology lead in solution management for Utility and Waste Management, he scouts for startups with solid business models and a vision that maps onto the company’s.

Of working together with startups, Kulinna says, “We can focus on our key differentiators: our ecosystem, our architecture, our design, and on engineering robust standards. Startups bring niche expertise in new innovative solutions and help us fill product whitespaces with relatively little risk. Complementing our capabilities is a particularly crucial approach for our customers in the circular economy and for decarbonization in general.”

Opportunities like these drive the efforts of SAP.iO Foundries and the Startup Engagement team.

“Startups and corporations can face many hurdles when they begin to work together,” according to Christian Boos, head of the Startup Engagement team at SAP. Cultures may clash, finding the right contacts within the corporation to drive customer engagements can be hard, and corporate requirements can distract startups from developing products and eventually limiting their growth.

“Our job is to minimize those barriers,” Alexandra Gorman, head of SAP.iO Foundries in EMEA, says. “We do it by scouting for startups with products that fill whitespaces in SAP’s product portfolio and connecting them with SAP’s customers to create more business value and a better customer experience. Since our main goal is to assist in bringing the latest, most valuable innovation to our customers, we’re constantly collecting feedback on their most pressing challenges.“