StoriesInnovation8 June 20225 min

How sustainable startups are shaping the future

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Circular entrepreneurship on the rise

A 2020 survey by Vlaanderen Circulair and VITO shows that Flanders sees the potential of the circular economy. Companies, institutions and non-profits realise that the circular economy not only benefits the environment and the climate, but also creates new employment opportunities. They also make our economy less dependent on imported raw materials, something that is all the more relevant in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and the war in Ukraine.

By 2030, Flanders wants to increase the share of its circular economy to 40 percent. “Startups play an important role in this. The Flemish efforts to recycle and to reuse materials will be doubled by 2030,” Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation Hilde Crevits (CD&V) promised during a roundtable discussion at our Connect X event in May 2022.

During this roundtable hosted together with VITO and Circulair Vlaanderen, we zoomed in on the stumbling blocks and opportunities of circular entrepreneurship with experts from the sector. One of the biggest points the participants made was that circular saves money. Startups don’t have legacy systems to shed like many larger companies, and it can save them on raw materials. Consumers are also drawn to quality products made in a circular way.

A survey of more than 100 startups shows that circular entrepreneurship remains a challenge for most startups. The Connect X panelists agreed that we need a level playing field to ensure fair competition. That includes legislation and taxation systems that help both startups and bigger players compete with existing business models. One thing is clear, concluded Brigitte Mouligneau of Vlaanderen Circulair: “The success of a circular economy is a 'both/and/and' story. Networking, awareness raising and the right government support are all necessary to make circular entrepreneurship a success”.

Sustainability as a guiding value

Our startup coach Dirk Lievens noticed a clear evolution in recent years in the number of start-ups that focus on sustainability: “Nine years ago, these were mainly IT companies, today at least one in three startups is a sustainable initiative,” he said. Many startups now include sustainability as part of their core mission, using it as a baseline for how they do business and communicating it as a value to partners and customers.

COVID-19 has made us all more aware of the massive resources and complications involved in shipping things around the world. All the more reason to go local and keep supply chains close to home. When quality products or materials can be sourced locally, it’s all the better for companies, and can be a source of pride towards customers.

And customers truly care about sustainability, more than ever. An Accenture study found that nearly two-thirds of consumers globally prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs, and are ditching those that don’t. With consumer awareness of issues like ocean plastic and global warming growing, sustainability has become a main priority, and there’s no faking it: a backlash against “greenwashing” is ensuring that companies really have to walk the talk.

"There are endless possibilities for companies big and small to join forces for the benefit of their businesses, our economy and the planet."

Start it @KBC startups are making an impact

Global challenges need everyone to get on board to contribute their expertise. Open social innovation takes the principles of open innovation, where information is freely shared between multiple stakeholders, and applies it to the most pressing issues facing our world. It’s a meta version of the principle of “putting our heads together”. And two (or more) heads is always better than one, right? To drive this innovation power, corporates, startups and social entrepreneurs are joining forces to create new solutions.

Start it @KBC startups are right at the forefront. Last year 14% of our new startups were explicitly focused on ecological and sustainable solutions, from carbon accounting solution Carbon+Alt+Delete to plastic packing free personal care products by MORO Essentials. Startups that don’t focus on selling sustainable products, still take sustainability into account in their production process or in their business model. We look forward to welcoming the next group of startups shaping the future as part of our next pitch wave starting soon.

Momentum is building for sustainability, with more and more companies focused on integrating it into their mission or the way they operate. At Start it @KBC we believe in the power of innovation to find ingenious new solutions and make sustainability an integral part of the way we do business. There are endless possibilities for companies big and small to join forces for the benefit of their businesses, our economy and the planet.

Do you want to be a force for good in the world, or know a company with an ingenious sustainable solution? Apply to our next pitch wave and we could help you accelerate your impact!