Grounded Upcycling was founded a year ago around the goal of diverting organic waste from landfill by finding value in perceived “waste” streams. Founders Drew and Parker met in a Stern social entrepreneurship course taught by Professor Michael Pollack. This course allowed us to really dive deep and learn the food waste problem in the New York context. As we learned more, we narrowed our focus down to coffee ground waste produced by coffee shops in NYC.
Now, Grounded Upcycling works with coffee shops, like Think Coffee, to upcycle their coffee grounds into closed loop cosmetic products. We are producing 2 products, an exfoliating coffee soap bar and a coffee face mask, both of which use upcycled coffee grounds collected at our partnered shops.
In the beginning of the summer, we were selected to participate in the Leslie eLab Startup Sprint, a 2 week customer discovery accelerator, where we tested key assumptions and hypotheses around our business model. This program helped us frame how we would spend our time during Stern Venture Fellows. Since then, we have been concentrating our time towards increasing our diversion and collection rates as well as creating prototypes for new upcycled products. We have also been busy networking and connecting with key partners and experts in fields ranging from waste management, composting, material science, and chemistry.
Here are some of the milestones we’ve accomplished this summer:
NYC Food Waste Fair - Organized by the NYC Department of Sanitation, we were invited to represent Grounded at an expo fair focused on companies that innovate with waste. We sold over $400 worth of products at the fair, making it one of the most successful sales days in Grounded history. Among us were companies like: Toast Ale, White Moustache, Rise Products, Misfits Market, and Winnow.
Green Biz Circularity ‘19 (Minneapolis, MN) - A 3 day industry conference dedicated to the modern circular economy, we were immersed in a series of speakers and workshops and able to connect with many experts in sustainability, circularity, design, and waste. A highlight of this conference was a connection we made with waste legend Tom Szaky, the founder and CEO of TerraCycle and now Loop. Parker was also able to meet one of his all time heroes, Bill McDonough, the pioneer of Cradle to Cradle design and the application of upcycling in product design.
New Accounts - We are excited to announce 3 new wholesale accounts. First, we secured an account with Foster Supply Hospitality, a group of small hotels in the Western Catskills, who believe in simple fun, campfires, and s’mores as well as sustainability and protecting the world we live in. We also secured an account with the Wally Shop, an online, package-free, grocery delivery service dedicated to sustainability. The Wally Shop delivers to lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Most recently, we received a wholesale order from Alchemist’s Kitchen in the Lower East Side, a cosmetic and herbal shop committed to “building awareness around the impact of purchasing decisions on our planet and our bodies.” We are excited about these partnerships and you can look for our products at these venues, as well as on our website or at many Think Coffee locations. We also plan to list our products on both Etsy and Amazon soon.
We also have some really exciting news about our flagship cosmetic product, our exfoliating coffee soap bar. We are proud to say this product no longer contains palm oil or palm derivatives. As a social venture, this is important to us because “Palm oil production is said to have been responsible for about 8% of the world's deforestation between 1990 and 2008.” It is also free from other harmful chemicals like SLS and titanium dioxide. This is something we have been wanting to do for a long time, but have found very difficult due to the lack of suppliers of quality palm-free soap bases. We strongly believe impact should be guided by the whole picture. We feel it is necessary to consider the impact of the entire product throughout its whole lifecycle - just using one upcycled ingredient is not enough.
Here’s what we still want to accomplish over the remainder of the summer:
Fire log research and development - From early this summer, we knew we wanted to start testing new products that could use even more spent coffee grounds. One such product we are particularly keen on is heating briquettes/ coffee fire logs. For some inspiration, check out companies like Pine Mountain and Bio-Bean. We have created some early prototypes with good success, but need to continue refining our recipe before we can start producing.
Collection Pilot at Think Coffee - in conjunction to developing new products that use more coffee grounds, we are also engaging Think Coffee in the coming weeks about a broader collection pilot where we would collect even more of their spent coffee grounds. This will allow us to better test our collection at scale and learn where we can improve. We are meeting with our contact at Think Coffee next week to discuss the details.
Feasibility Study - Finally, we have been awarded funding to conduct a feasibility study around the redirection of coffee ground waste in NYC. Completing this study will shed light on other diversion strategies and how to implement them. Additionally, we hope to learn more about the chemical composition of coffee grounds and their potential end uses. We have connected with Planet Ark, a sustainable consulting company in Australia who conducted a similar feasibility study in 2016 within the Sydney context. We hope to use their expertise to guide us.
We are looking forward to accomplishing these goals, as well as continuing to connect with some of the awesome people we’ve met throughout the summer. Particularly, we have a call at the end of this week with Tom Szaky at Terracycle to discuss a potential partnership. As we reflect on the midway point of the Stern Venture Fellows program, we are proud of what we have accomplished so far, but still have a lot of work to do!
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Founders, Parker and Drew
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