Enabling the circular economy

Recycling is the most critical step in achieving a sustainable, circular economy. Simply put: bringing products back to their building blocks is the way to prevent wasting valuable materials. Yet, while recycling has been gaining popularity over the years, there is still a lot of knowledge that is simply missing.

For Mesbah Sabur and Jordi de Vos, founders of Circularise, the problem is obvious – there is a communications barrier between product manufacturers, end users and recyclers – that prevents materials from being disposed of as efficiently as possible. The two have, thus, created a software platform that aims to break down that barrier and give people a space to collaborate.

Mesbah and Jordi first got to know the potential of the circular economy during their Master’s studies at the TU Delft. What caught their attention was the concept of ‘Critical Raw Materials’, which the European Commission describes as the raw materials that are crucial to Europe’s development and quality of life.

So how does Europe, as a large economy, make sure that it always has those raw materials at hand? – they asked themselves. One answer stood out: “By recycling the materials that we already have in our products,” Mesbah says.

While recycling has become a priority for state authorities across Europe, Mesbah and Jordi quickly managed to identify one major problem that persists throughout the entire value chain: the lack of communication. The organizations mining the materials don’t communicate with those manufacturing the products, who, in turn, don’t communicate with the ones responsible for recycling.

“Our goal is to solve these communication barriers in the value chain and enable a circular economy,” both Mesbah and Jordi explain.

To reach this goal, the two entrepreneurs decided to develop an online platform where relevant stakeholders would come together and have direct access to any information on raw materials they might need. While the initial idea was to establish a link between product manufacturers and recyclers, Mesbah and Jordi soon found out that was no easy task.

Talking to a variety of companies, they realized that brands are not necessarily interested in having a direct communication line with recyclers, mainly due to their reluctance to share IP-sensitive information.

With the help of YES!Delft’s LaunchLab program and the expertise of its mentors, Mesbah and Jordi kept on validating until they discovered how to provide a value-add to all stakeholders involved. While manufacturers may not be likely to communicate directly with recyclers, they are interested in getting information about their products – where and to whom they get sold, and how they’re being used. By purchasing the Circularise label that they can put on their products, brands are sure to get the data they are most interested in.

Users, in turn, get a unified customer experience across different brands and a digital passport for all their products – everything from interactive user manuals to warranty tracking.

Most importantly, though, manufacturers have access to a platform where they can log in details about the materials they use in their products, and lock that data in time, without sharing it with third parties. “We are building the system in blockchain combined with zero knowledge, so […] everyone in the value chain can communicate about products without having to share sensitive information.”

With a current team of three, Circularise is looking to hit several ambitious milestones over the next months: from finishing their consumer app to establishing a long-term blockchain strategy.

They’re already doing small-scale pilots with several consumer electronics brands and a recycling company from Italy, and they’re hoping those projects will be a stepping stone to ever-larger opportunities. On the list is also a second round of funding – as they’ve already secured a grant from EIT Raw Materials – that will help them grow their company infrastructure.

“Part of our strategy is not to have brands or recyclers directly invest in us, because we want to remain an independent party,” both founders emphasize.

For the time being, the team is focusing on consumer electronics as their main market, because “this is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe,” Jordi says. “It’s also the most complicated one, with devices becoming smaller and more complex,” Mesbah adds. The founders are certainly not shying away from challenge, yet a grand vision needs grand ambition, too.

June 2016 – Concluded ‘Ready to start up’ course
July 2016 – Founded company
– Received EIT Raw Materials grant
September 2016 – Joined YES!Delft’s LaunchLab program
January 2017 – Started first pilot project with a recycler in Italy
June 2017 – Joined YES!Delft’s Incubation program and signed first two customers

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