Expert article
Edit 08 December 2022
by Amaya Celaya Alvarez

SPIRE Start-Ups Mentoring Programme: building a culture of innovation

SPIRE Web Article 8 - Figure 1 - Mentor
Fig. 1: Mentor. Adobe Stock | #236287829
How do culture and creativity influence innovation in our cities? What is the role of technical and economic knowledge? Building a culture of innovation in urban settings nowadays means creating space for disruptive and creative proposals to take cities and their ecosystems to a new level of ecological consciousness, social awareness, and resilient-based sustainable development.

COVID-19 provoked an in-depth reordering of global and local priorities and a profound reflection and rethinking about the trajectories and directions the planet and its inhabitants have ahead. Such variables have dramatically changed our different contexts and have raised renewed imperatives about culture, creativity, and development.

SPIRE Web Article 8 - Figure 2 - Accelerator programme Fig. 2: SPIRE Start-ups DEMO DAY event. Source: SPIRE project.

To cultivate this new culture of innovation, we need consciousness, collaboration, and training: Consciousness, to perceive what could be disruptive and focus our attention on it; collaboration to facilitate an empathetic space for brainstorming, prototyping, and developing new ideas; and training to identify potential knowledge gaps and allow other ways of thinking: new solutions to old problems – or old solutions to the new ones -. 

Mentoring programmes are an excellent tool underpinned by the natural learning process, thanks to which inexperienced thinkers and potential entrepreneurs gain an understanding of a specific issue from experienced professionals enabling incremental innovation.

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SPIRE STARTUPS mentoring programme

The SPIRE STARTUPS  mentoring programme in Baia Mare proposes experimenting, testing, and implementing original, innovative, visionary projects for sustainable land use and Nature-Based Solutions (NBS). The programme aims to enable local, sustainable entrepreneurship by attracting talent from the local community, securing the creation, development, and implementation of the selected businesses' ideas and models, and promoting them at local, regional, national, and international levels .

SPIRE Web Article 8 - Figure 3 - Accelerator Programme AnnounceFig. 3: SPIRE STARTUPS mentoring programme. Announcement proposal. Source: SPIRE project 

The SPIRE project proposes the recovery and reuse of five heavy metal-polluted lands through phytoremediation techniques. They seek to transform the biomass from the decontamination process into new, usable, and valuable products for society. SPIRE will take advantage of the resulting biomass derived from nature-based solutions to stimulate local value chains within a circular performance scheme by launching and incubating new bio-based businesses focused on bioenergy and/or eco-materials and eco-products.

The mentoring programme process encompasses a series of steps:

  • Open Call and registration to the program: The consortium launches the SPIRE mentoring programme for startups. It attempts to stimulate circular and sustainable entrepreneurship (s) by attracting local talent, training, and coaching younger generations to enable new business model development (s) based on biomass value-chain. Eligible candidates are those people who are under 35. 10 applications were selected in 2021.
  • Pre-accelerator:  Mentoring 1st Stage. Workshop series (from April to October 2021) to discuss the concept of Nature Based Startups and analyze examples and best practices; to introduce and develop the Business Model Canvas rationale and specific training in public speaking. In parallel, the selected applicants were able to join individual mentoring sessions during the same period.
  • Demo day (Hybrid event): Select 3 projects for the mentoring second stage.

-Jury panel: Laviniu Chis (Regional Development Agency  North-West, LC Learning & Consulting Company), Ardelean Alina (REPOM LLC – Renewable Energy Production – Operation and Management), Razvan- Lucian Andronic  (Spiru Haret University) and Bodor Agota (Baia Mare municipality).

-Citizens´ vote: Launched on the project website, www.spire.city/voting (up to 3 votes for 3 different ideas after signing into the platform).

Vote 1
Fig. 4: SPIRE Start-ups Citizens´ vote platform. Source: SPIRE project

 

SPIRE STARTUPS proposals

The three start-ups selected after the demo-day will enter the Accelerator: Mentoring 2nd Stage and will use the facilities of SPIRE Hub & Makerspace (Ekolive, Treebio and Hemptechular):

EKOLIVE  - (Youtube Presentation)

Quality of pitch

Logic between elements

Relevance

Motivation

Maturity

Growth potential

Visual identity

Q&A

Table 1: SPIRE Start-ups Panel Appraisal – Ekolive -. Source: SPIRE project.

Ekolive is a product already registered and patented by a company, reaching Technological Readiness Level 7. It offers a solution for phytoremediation based on bioleaching with the heterotrophic bacteria method. It minimizes the breakdown and ecological release of organic contaminants. A biofertilizer is produced to support phytoremediation and replace the potential use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The purpose of Ekolive product submission under the accelerator programme, is to test this product on the highly contaminated soils of Baia Mare.

Bioleaching by bacteria is an innovative and effective method of releasing metals and it has many advantages. The bacteria remove  toxic pollution in situ, including cyanides. The operation results in a secondary material: high-quality minerals used for fertilization to stimulate the vegetation in contaminated areas.
ekolive 2
Fig. 5: Ekolive. Source: https://ekolive.eu

Bioleaching by bacteria is an innovative and effective method of releasing metals and it has many advantages. The bacteria remove  toxic pollution in situ, including cyanides. The operation results in a secondary material: high-quality minerals used for fertilization to stimulate the vegetation in contaminated areas.

The product is 100% biological: the bacteria transform harmful minerals into other  biological and valuable materials. No chemicals are used. Ekolive, which is a start-up, was considered to be the most mature company unanimously by the jury.


TREEBIO - (Youtube Presentation)

Quality of pitch

Logic between elements

Relevance

Motivation

Maturity

Growth potential

Visual identity

Q&A

Table 2: SPIRE Start-ups Panel Appraisal – Treebio -. Source: SPIRE project 

TreeBio proposes a new material combining two kinds of waste: biomass and plastic. The new material would be used for 3D printing  (decorative objects and/or furniture). There are several references at the international level, but it has not been possible to find a national or local example. The Treebio initiative could play a valuable role within the SPIRE project scheme since the project could build robust linkages with potential recycling materials processes, an activity that the iLEU can enable.

 

SPIRE Web Article 8 - Figure 6 - TreebioFig. 6:  Excerpt from Treebio presentation.  Source: https://youtu.be/cHkf0JfrmAQ

The initiative was submitted by a local citizen and could be technically developed after validation.


HEMPTECHULAR - (Youtube Presentation)

Quality of pitch

Logic between elements

Relevance

Motivation

Maturity

Growth potential

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Q&A

Table 3: SPIRE Start-ups Panel Appraisal – Hemptechular-. Source: SPIRE project.

Hemptechular proposes to replace wood in the construction sector with hempcrete. The core idea of this proposal is the cultivation and transformation of hemp   into hempcrete, an alternative to wood for construction. The project is coherent with SPIRE's aim, although the legal pathway must be clarified. There are several references at the international level, but it has not been possible to find a national or local example.
Hemp
Fig. 7:  An actual example of Hempcrete in the market: The pieces are manufactured in 14.5x10.5 cm and three lengths: 30, 21., and 14.5 cm. After pressing, Hempcrete dries, protected from rain and sun, for a minimum of 28 days. https://www.ukhempcrete.com

From a scientific point of view, it is necessary to test the hempcrete obtained from heavy metal-polluted soils  and to ascertain its potential effect on public health. Hemptechular was submitted by a local resident. Due to legal limitations, this project has yet to be developed.


SUSTAINABLE VILLAGE  - (Youtube Presentation)

Quality of pitch

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Table 4:  SPIRE Start-ups Panel Appraisal – Sustainable Village-. Source: SPIRE project.

In 2022, the project Treebio left the programme, due to the difficulties in finding financial support to develop the prototype. The SPIRE STARTUPS mentoring programme has continued working with another project: Sustainable Village (The next contender on the list ranked by citizens and a jury.).

Sustainable Village aims to obtain clean energy from urban green waste. Those involved surveyed a rural administrative area to demonstrate the proposal's feasibility on a small scale. The survey analyzed the behaviour of the local citizens with regards to the use of/disposal of branches, showing that 70% of the wood is burned in private gardens, which is illegal in Romania. It causes environmental problems since this green waste is derived from activities such as pruning or agriculture on heavy metal-contaminated soils.

 

Fig. 11:  Excerpt from Sustainable Village presentation.  Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0drxsKgUIZw

Fig. 8:  Excerpt from Sustainable Village presentation.  Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0drxsKgUIZw

Sustainable Village is a service-based business from a holistic and integrated approach. The project aims to resolve the illegal and environmental problem of the burning or disposing of wood by collecting the branches. It also provides an environmentally respectful and cheaper thermal energy resource for heating public buildings.

Sustainable Village is a non-profit organization that has to involve multiple stakeholders, including local government, to make the project feasible.

SPIRE STARTUPS way forward

SPÎRE Web Article 8 - Figure 9 - SPIRE STARTUPS Timeline

Fig. 9:  SPIRE STARTUPS Timeline. Source: SPIRE project.

In the following project stages, personalized SPIRE STARTUPS mentoring sessions will be provided, with particular attention to all the necessary resources and activities to support the prototype development for new biomaterials. Despite the need for more financial support for prototyping (a valuable lesson learned from this experience), the accelerator Mentoring 2nd Stage will provide know-how on internationalization, IP certification, marketing, and other management-related content.

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Fig. 10:  Design Sprint dimensions. Source: https://design-sprint.com/google-ventures-design-sprint/

In complementarity with the SPIRE STARTUPS mentoring program, several courses on bio-based materials and nature-based by-products will be conducted at the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca - North University Centre of Baia Mare-Faculty of Science in collaboration with the Association of Maramures Entrepreneurs. These courses will combine knowledge from biological sciences, economic disciplines, and industrial expertise to enable new bio-based materials, products, or services beyond construction techniques The final goal is to launch a SPIRE bio-challenge, structured using the design-sprint method,  a five-day working process for empathizing, defining, and deciding on new ideas to solve significant issues through prototyping and testing ideas with customers.

The experience and lessons gained through the SPIRE START-UPS programmes ensure a very valuable retrofit for the entire SPIRE project.

Celaya Alvarez A. (2022). Baia Mare community in action. Available at: https://uia-initiative.eu/en/news/baia-mare-community-action

Celaya Alvarez A. (2020) Creating new social and economic value: Restoring the urban ecosystem. Available at: https://uia-initiative.eu/en/news/creating-new-social-and-economic-value-restoring-urban-ecosystem

Celaya Alvarez A. (2020) Urban soil decontamination for citizens’ health. Available at: https://uia-initiative.eu/en/news/urban-soil-decontamination-citizens-health

EC, Research and Innovation. (2020) Nature-Based Solutions. Available at: https://research-and-innovation.ec.europa.eu/research-area/environment/nature-based-solutions_en

EC (2014), HORIZON 2020 – WORK PROGRAMME 2014-2015. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/wp/2014_2015/annexes/h2020-wp1415-annex-g-trl_en.pdf

EC (2012), Eurostat Statistic explained – Glossary – Innovation -. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Glossary:Innovation

Ekolive (2022), Ekolive. Available at: https://ekolive.eu

Google (2022) Design Sprint Methodology. Available at: https://designsprintkit.withgoogle.com/methodology/overview

Matyus Eniko, Vajda Borglárka (2021), Requirements of the mentoring programme (SPIRE-  Deliverable D 6.4.1.)

Matyus Eniko, Vajda Borglárka (2021), Report on the results of the 1st stage of the open call and selection process (SPIRE- Deliverable D 6.4.2.)

Matyus Eniko (2021), 1st Mentoring Phase and Business Model Canvases Development (SPIRE Deliverable 6.4.3)

Matyus Eniko (2021), Report on the final stage of the open call and on the selected start-ups (SPIRE Deliverable 6.4.4.)

Sorin Pop, Carmen GhIse, Ciprian Ghise, Ana Maria Pop,  Sorana Rotta, Alexandru Roja, Sabina Leopa, Dorin Miclaus, Pietro Elisei, (2020). SPIRE Baia Mare: White paper ILEU. Available at: http://spire.city/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/iLEU-whitepaper-_10.pdf

SPIRE project (2020). Available at: http://spire.city / https://uia-initiative.eu/en/uia-cities/baia-mare

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