Activating London’s circular economy innovation journey

The London Waste and Recycling Board partnered with us to co-design and deliver the Circular London Accelerator programme – the UK’s first circular economy-focused start-up accelerator.

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Shard London

Client: London Waste and Recycling Board

Service: Circular economy start-up accelerator

Outcomes:

  • £2.6m of venture capital and grant funding generated for the start-up cohort – of which £1.8m is directly attributable to support received from the Accelerator
  • £1.2-2m of further funding in the pipeline following completion of the Accelerator
  • 14 pilots or trials secured

What was the challenge?

The London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) is dedicated to ensuring that London’s businesses, local government and communities continually improve their waste and resource management, helping London waste less and re-use, repair and recycle more.

Circular solutions are key to LWARB’s remit, as a funder of circular economy entrepreneurship, however it was seeking new opportunities to accelerate the circular economy through cutting-edge innovation. 

Despite the wide range of accelerators and incubators in London, none had a dedicated circular economy focus. LWARB spotted a gap to support circular entrepreneurs by fostering, facilitating and scaling technological solutions to address London’s waste challenges, as well as those of other megacities, over the long term. This led to a dialogue with the Carbon Trust to create a new Circular London Accelerator given our expertise in circular economy and start-up incubation and acceleration. 

“The Carbon Trust provided a unique set of skills in start-up incubation and a strong network of corporate relationships that were relevant for co-creating and delivering the Circular London Accelerator, as well as sharing our values and commitment to circular economy innovation,” said Wayne Hubbard, Chief Executive at LWARB. 

“If cities are the engine rooms of the circular economy, start-ups are the spark. Start-up businesses are making an essential contribution to London’s transition to become a circular city, and this Accelerator was designed as part of LWARB’s strategy to provide support and finance to circular economy businesses from start-up to maturity,” added Hubbard. 

How did we help?

The first Circular London Accelerator was jointly designed and delivered by a core LWARB-Carbon Trust team, as well as drawing on a wider set of colleagues from within both organisations.

It was decided that the focus for the pilot programme’s first cohort of start-ups would be the built environment sector. The rationale for a single sector focus was to provide synergies in terms of market engagement and potential cross-cohort collaboration. The built environment was also one of five key focus areas for LWARB, as defined within the organisation’s London’s Circular Economy Route Map, and it was a sector in which there were already strong, established relationships with interested corporates.

The bespoke programme of technical and commercial support offered by the Accelerator included: technology and business model development; go-to-market strategies and business development; intensive mentoring and coaching; and raising investment.

Through scouting and awareness raising that was targeted at innovators with an existing minimum viable product, the Accelerator received 40 applications for its tailored six-month growth and commercialisation programme. A rigorous selection process resulted in a cohort of six companies being selected for participation in the free programme. These included business propositions in bio-based materials, advanced data analytics for construction and sustainable building design.

Creating ‘market pull’ was key to the Accelerator, so corporate construction partners were invited to identify specific industry challenges requiring innovative solutions. Through the course of the Accelerator – from design to execution – over 20 corporates were engaged. Ultimately, six construction-related companies became formal programme partners: BAM Construction, The Berkeley Group, Galliford Try, The London Legacy Development Corporation, Laing O’Rourke and Wilmott Dixon. The partners committed to actively supporting the commercialisation journey of the start-ups via mentoring, market validation, and pilot opportunities.

What were the benefits?

The pilot Circular London Accelerator provided a high impact programme for its first cohort of start-ups. As well as advancing their propositions, the programme facilitated highly productive relationships with major construction brands. In total, the cohort conducted 14 implementation pilots for their innovations, three of which were secured during the Accelerator itself – with a major international airport, a global architecture firm, plus a world-renowned music venue. A number of corporates have also followed up with several of the companies, contacting them to procure or conduct trials. 

Feedback from the start-ups that participated has been excellent with comments such as: ‘The support provided to us was transformational’ and ‘This accelerator programme was the best one we have been on’. 

Ultimately, the Circular London Accelerator has equipped six promising start-ups with the knowledge, resources, tools and connections they need for success. Additionally, it has generated valuable experience and assets for LWARB to incorporate into its broader business support programmes, strengthening relationships with corporate partners, which are relevant for the organisation’s future development and for its mission to deliver high-impact circular economy outcomes.

“Circular solutions and business models are critical to decarbonising our economy, while also delivering wider social and environmental benefits. The accelerator model enabled new approaches to industrial collaboration, while helping promising start-ups gain commercial traction,” said Aleyn Smith-Gillespie, Associate Director at the Carbon Trust.

With the Mayor of London seeking to make London a world circular economy leader, there is a clear opportunity to move from awareness to action and the Accelerator has played a part in that.