UNEP Start-Up Challenge Winners Show How Business Can Build Back Better From COVID-19

Photo-illustration: Unsplash (Quingbao Meng)

The 2020 winners of a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) start-up initiative are demonstrating business solutions that will help Asia build back better and greener after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nine entrepreneurs selected by the 2020 Asia-Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge are advancing green businesses in the categories of low-carbon energy, plastic waste prevention and low-carbon mobility. Each winner receives $10,000 in funding, in addition to training, business mentoring and technical analysis of their environmental impacts. Winners hail from Bhutan, China, India, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.

“COVID-19 has brought about an unprecedented halt to many human activities, including some that have wreaked significant damage on environmental systems in Asia,” said Dechen Tsering, UNEP’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “Lessons learned from the management of this crisis provide an opportunity to both revisit our relationship with nature and rebuild a more environmentally responsible economy. Entrepreneurs in Asia stand ready with innovative business solutions that work for economic recovery and the environment. The Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge will help them overcome systemic barriers that innovations usually face, with grants, partnerships, training and visibility.”

In support of entrepreneurs experiencing downtime during lockdown, UNEP will make the eight-week startup bootcamp online, and free to all interested entrepreneurs.

The winners of the 2020 Asia-Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge are:

Preventing plastic waste

Sissi Chao, China

Sissi’s start-up REMAKEHUB works with NGOs and fishing companies and fashion brands to collect discarded fishing nets and then transform them into high-performance renewable plastic products. Having already collaborated with WWF to create upcycled sunglasses and prototyping furniture, REMAKEHUB is fixing its gaze on the US$141 billion eyewear market and the US$100 billion furniture market.

Rikesh Gurung, Bhutan

As Founder of The Green Road, Rikesh is transforming plastic waste into roadbuilding material. As the first effort of its kind in Bhutan, they have already recovered 400 tonnes of waste plastic from landfills and industry and have used it to pave over 65 kilometers of road. With 20 per cent of Bhutan’s 8,800km road network requiring surfacing each year, the potential demand for plastic waste is substantial.

Linh Le, Vietnam

Linh’s reusable cup share system, AYA Cup, is taking aim at the 27 tons of plastic and Styrofoam generated by Vietnam’s food delivery and take-away industry every year. But her environmental efforts also aim to turn a profit – the single-use plastic industry in Vietnam is worth up to US$1.6 billion each year.

Low-carbon energy

Kaikai Yang, China

Kaikai’s Wattime Platform is connecting renewable energy producers and consumers in rural areas. Often local generation and consumption is unbalanced, but Wattime aims to create a more sustainable business for renewables on the back of blockchain and advanced metering infrastructure technologies.

Osama bin Shakeel, Pakistan

An electrical engineer by training, Osama’s startup ENENT has built a solid-state load balancer that can save households 20-25 per cent on their electricity bills with virtually no impact to the consumer. The result is not only a welcome financial saving for household owners in Pakistan – it’s beneficial for the environment, cutting the carbon footprint of one of the largest contributors to climate change – buildings.

Tuan Tran, Vietnam

Tuan’s start-up Airiot is targeting the hotel and homestay market in Vietnam, where guests tend to leave air conditioning on even when they’re not in the room. Airiot’s simple solution, already piloted in 500 rooms across Vietnam has shown a 25-40 per cent reduction in electricity usage each month – with associated carbon emissions reductions.

Low-carbon mobility

Pichayanun Benjaboonyapisut, Thailand

Pichayanun’s company CyFai is tapping into two things Thailand has in abundance: sun and scooters. CyFai started as a provider of shading solutions for parking lots. Now, they are working with technical partners to add solar panels and charging stations to the shading setup and finance e-bikes to low income customers. The ebikes can also be used as mobile batteries for household energy use. CyFai is tying it all together to create an environmentally friendly alternative for the 83 per cent of Thai households that use a scooter.

Ajay Singh, India

Ajay’s Nimray Network is bringing electric mobility full circle, connecting electric vehicles to clean energy production. As more and more electric vehicles are adopted around the world, Ajay is working to achieve the up to 95 per cent reduction in carbon emissions that occurs when the vehicles are charged by renewable energy.

Earth Choohut, Thailand

Earth’s ETRAN was founded on the idea to develop an electric motorbike for public transportation. Now with two models, the PROM and the KRAF, ETRAN is working to edge out the 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide produced annually by electrifying Thailand’s 22 million motorcycles. Greenhouse gas reduction isn’t Earth’s only goal – ETRAN’s two-wheelers are now over 40 per cent bioplastics as well.

This is an initiative funded by the Ministry of Environment Japan, as part of the One Planet network (the network of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10 YFP)). Partners include the Asia Pacific Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production, Massive Earth Foundation, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Mitsui Chemicals International, and GCL Power.

Source: UNEP