Culture

Can these 3 Canadian innovations help save the world?

Meet the entrepreneurs whose businesses are aimed at improving the environment and what they’re offering you.

Meet the entrepreneurs whose businesses are aimed at improving the environment and what they’re offering you.

Climate change presents challenges that can sometimes feel overwhelming. We've talked about some of the personal and political choices that you can make to help the cause. Perhaps the bright people starting these new businesses — aimed at helping us all live in more sustainable ways — will be inspiring too.

On Feb. 22, 18 carefully vetted startups gathered at a Centre for Social Innovation location in Toronto to pitch their business ideas for the Agents of Change: Climate Solutions pitch event run by the Climate Ventures incubator.

A parade of innovative business ideas crossed the stage, from turning truck tires into sandals to repurposing fallen Toronto trees into gorgeous handmade furniture. Products included a sustainable fashion library as well as a new app that provides a gift-unwrapping experience on your phone (including personalized scavenger hunts!).

In the end, a panel of distinguished judges (Gaia's Den?) awarded a total of $20,000 to three winners. We interviewed them to find out how their startups will help build a more sustainable world.

2nd runner-up: Feedback, Ben Walters (CEO)

What's Feedback all about?

My company, Feedback, created a mobile app that uses time-specific promotions to help restaurants sell soon-to-be-wasted food. You can browse through over 300 restaurants offering promotions from 20 to 60 per cent off. The customer places their order directly on the app and shows up to the restaurant to collect their food in the allotted time window.

What environmental challenge are you addressing?

We're addressing the problem of food waste. Over 49.5 billion dollars worth of food is wasted in Canada alone each year, and that food ends up in landfills where it rots and produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas 30 times more harmful than CO2!  

Right now, we're focusing on the restaurant sector and working with our 300-plus restaurant partners to offer time-sensitive deals on food that would otherwise go to waste. Already, we've rescued over 45,000 meals from landfill.

We believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that through the use of dynamic pricing we can revolutionize the food industry — leveraging price to offload excess perishable inventory before it ends up in a landfill from restaurants, grocery chains and all food operators from all over the globe.

What is your product and how can we get it?

Our product is called the Feedback app, [and] it is available to download on Android and iOS.  

What's the most exciting thing about being an entrepreneur?

Getting to work with a team that is all laser-focused on the same goal. It creates a family dynamic that makes it so much fun to go to "work" every single day!


Runner-up: The Spent Goods Company, Dihan Chandra (managing director)

What's Spent Goods all about?

The Spent Goods Company works with companies to take their spent products and turn it into value. Right now, I'm working with breweries and taking the grains that they use to make beer, which usually ends up in landfill or [is] used as feed for animals. I work with them to save the grain and transform it into bread.

Also, we hope to use different byproducts that still have value and turn them into something creative. For example, we hope to start making textiles out of coffee grounds.

What environmental challenge are you addressing?

When food waste goes into landfill, it ends up decomposing and creating greenhouse gases.

What is your product and how can we get it?

Right now, our main product is bread, which we call beer bread sourdough. We also have a beer, Sourdough IPA, which is made from surplus bread. We also make Butter Beer Crisps and a Toasted Beer Bread. You can go to spentgoods.ca/retail, and we have our locations listed there.  

What's the most exciting thing about being an entrepreneur?

Being my own boss and having the flexibility to control my own time and do something that I purely love. It's a labour of love, and I'm just trying to ensure I can pay the rent with it.

Winner: Biopolynet, Alma Zangeneh (co-founder)

What's Biopolynet all about?

Biopolynet is a biotechnology-based company that can be used in many industries. Our technique, which employs our patented product BioNanoCoil, can make networks of anything we want in solids or in liquids. This can help to remove heavy metals from tailings ponds, to control dust, to treat wastewater and [can assist] in manure management in agriculture.

What environmental challenge are you addressing?

The pollution caused by tailings ponds in the oil sands is a major problem that Biopolynet can help address in Canada. But, actually, BioNanoCoils can be used across many industries. For example, we can also [use them to] control dust, which is useful in mining projects that create a lot of pollution, and we have worked in Middle Eastern countries to help keep roads and airports clear of moving sand. We can design a process specifically for each application.

What's your product and how can we get it?

Our product is mainly for industries like agriculture, mining and oil extraction. You can visit our website for possible applications.

What's the most exciting thing about being an entrepreneur?

It goes back to our research. We are scientists. When we arrived at Canada from Iran, we found that we could solve these problems here in Canada.


Clifton Mark is a former academic with more interests than make sense in academia. He writes about philosophy, psychology, politics, and pastimes. If it matters to you, his PhD is in political theory. Find him @Clifton_Mark on Twitter.