In Austin, another person’s trash could become entrepreneurs’ treasure

2:05 p.m Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 Local

From fabric scraps, oyster shells, concrete anchor straps and wine bottles, teams of entrepreneurs will create something useful out of something used during Austin’s third annual [Re]Verse Pitch Competition, which kicks off this month.

Two prizes will be awarded for the most innovative ideas, with prize money totaling $20,000.

Eight local businesses and nonprofits will share their raw materials with the teams at the start of the competition on Jan. 17. In addition to oyster shells, the competitors can also choose from materials such as spent grain from a distillery; vinyl record defects and trimmings; denim and cotton pant tops; and pressboard office furniture.

“We started with the idea that there are businesses throughout town that have a regular stream of byproducts – materials that are created (that) they don’t have a use for, and it’s also stuff that’s not readily recyclable,” Austin recycling economic development program manager Natalie Betts said.

“We have so many people in Austin who are creative and entrepreneurial and want to make a difference in the community,” Betts said. “We have the components of a recipe for success in letting the community know that the materials are available and could be put to a higher, better use.”

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Competitors will have several weeks to develop their idea, with the help of mentors, before the finalists are selected. Those finalists will make their pitches before a panel of judges on March 7.

The competition is a collaboration between Austin, the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development and the UT Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship.

Last year’s competition winners pitched GrubTubs, repurposing food scraps from the Central Texas Food Bank deemed unfit for human consumption by feeding them to grubs (fly larvae) and then feeding those grubs to chickens, reducing animal feed costs for local farmers.

In 2015, the competition winners created Brewnola, a granola snack made from spent grains from Hops and Grain Brewery.

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This year, the prize pool has doubled from $10,000 to $20,000. New award categories have been added, and now an existing business that can demonstrate it is able to make use of one of the byproducts will also win an award.

“We had a couple small businesses in the past participate and say, ‘I could use that material’ or ‘I would like to see if I can make that work within my business,’” Betts said. “It’s a different place they’re coming from, so we created a separate award category for those businesses … so this would be a prize for them to adapt their business around waste material.”

Winners will also receive free consulting services from Assemble and “educational opportunities” from the city of Austin Small Business Program.

Austin Resource Recovery’s ultimate recycling goal is to reach zero waste by 2040. A third-party study conducted by CB&I in 2015 and presented by the Zero Waste Advisory Council in May 2016 found that more than 80 percent of material being thrown in the trash and sent to a landfill or being incinerated could have been reused, recycled or composted.

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