Impact Hub Amsterdam and consultancy firm Accenture Netherlands joined forces to co-create a Perfect Cities-themed edition of the Business Model Challenge (BMC), which helps social entrepreneurs develop a better business model. In this first collaboration, Impact Hub Amsterdam selected innovative startups focused on solutions to urban challenges while Accenture brought its its extensive business growth expertise to the table. 9 social entrepreneurs working on making the city greener, more climate-resilient and more sustainable took part in a programme that consisted of three full days of training, four masterclasses and personal coaching sessions.
Meet top 3 BMC finalist Linda Grotenbreg, founder of Riverfood, and Léon Evers, her Accenture coach.
Riverfood is a social enterprise working to make aquaponics mainstream. Growing vegetables by using the nutrients supplied by the waste of farmed fish may sound hard to accomplish, but it is as old as the Aztec civilisation and currency used on large scale in countries such as Australia.
It was 2015 when Riverfood’s founder, Linda Grotenbreg, read the book Aquaponics Gardening. She became enthusiastic and started experimenting right away. Linda saw the potential of this way of producing food. “The world’s running short of agricultural land. Technological innovations for farming will stagnate”, she says. “Aquaponics is a sustainable way to use land and water”.
Using unoccupied buildings to grow food
Aquaponics require only about 10 percent of the land area and 5 percent of the water needed for conventional agriculture. Thus, aquaponics is ideal for growing food in cities. “In my aquaponics system, it’s possible to build and stack multiple layers, which means you need less floor space”, Linda adds. Aquaponics could thus be a solution for putting unoccupied buildings to good use, preserving scarce agricultural land and tackling the unhealthy food.
From idealism to a profitable company
There are many places and purposes suitable for aquaponic systems: they could be used by restaurants, corporates, garden cooperatives, shopping centres and consumers. Linda had many exciting aquaponic applications in mind, but she found it hard to prioritise. That’s the reason why she joined the Business Model Challenge.
Another problem she experienced is the difficulty of running a start-up on her own. She thinks of herself as a hacker, capable of turning an idea into reality. But she also feels the need for complementary team members: a hipster to make sure the product is ‘cool’ and a hustler who makes it profitable. She is now looking for people to join the team. In the meantime, she received substantial support from Accenture consultant Léon Evers. “Léon is a wonderful sparring partner”, Grotenberg says. “He asks the right questions and pushes me to do things I had been postponing.”
Using consulting expertise to support a start up
“I help companies optimise their products and prepare to launch in new markets”, Léon says. “At the core, Riverfood is working on the same thing.” As a coach, Evers helps Grotenberg to get her priorities straight. “Linda’s focus is mainly on the product. To make Riverfood a success, she needs to shift her focus to the market”, says Evers.
Léon Evers became a Business Model Challenge mentor because he likes to share his experience and product optimisation knowledge. He also gets energised by passion social entrepreneurs have for their impact-driven start-ups: “Linda is really passionate, but also idealistic. She wants to make every part of the aquaponics-system sustainable, but the product also needs to have commercial value.”
Harvest time: making Riverfood grow
To make her company grow, Grotenberg needs to have conversations with different stakeholders. “It will help her to get to understand her target customer’s needs”, says Evers. “For instance, a restaurant owner would be interested in the yields of an aquaponic system, while the garden centre perhaps would be more interested how the system works.”
“By participating in the Business Model Challenge I learnt a lot about growing a company”, says Grotenberg. “Because I don’t have a team to rely on, I’m so happy with my mentor’s help. Léon gives me the encouragement I need.”