Tech accelerators help nonprofits fast-track technology aimed at solving environmental challenges
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When Hawaii’s last sugar mill closed in 2016, ending forever the islands’ long, storied sugar industry, it stranded some 200,000 acres of depleted, or “distressed,” agricultural land, and idled farmers. Seeing all that fallowed agricultural land, in a state with high food and fuel costs, got Naveen Sikka to thinking that there had to be way to reuse the land and also help solve the broader problem of rising food demand on a planet with limited resources.
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And so, Sikka founded TerViva and set out to identify, learn how to cultivate, and ultimately bring to market a new crop that could thrive on depleted land and serve as an alternative protein source or as a biofuel.
Sikka found that crop. It’s pongamia, a tree with lima-bean sized seeds that produce 10 times the amount of oil and three times the amount of protein meal per acre as soy. Hawaiian farmers and growers in Florida, who’ve lost tens of thousands of acres to citrus greening disease, are finding a use for the tree—so much so, that today TerViva is it an “inflection point,” says Will Kush, manager of processing and markets. “We have so much demand for our trees, that our biggest challenge is scaling up as fast as we can.”
Last month TerViva raised $20 million in Series D funding to help it meet that challenge, bringing the total amount of funds raised to $40 million.
Kush says that TerViva wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of Elemental Excelerator, a tech accelerator. “They provided not just capital but introductions and mentoring guidance on how to operate in the Hawaiian business ecosystem,” he says.
Founded in 2012 to help Hawaii meet its ambitious renewable energy goals, Elemental Excelerator helps companies at the growth stage to scale up their innovations. To date, 89 percent of the companies accepted into its program are still in business or have been acquired by a larger company, and they’ve collectively raised $550 million in follow on funding.
Elemental’s strong track record caught the eye of Conservation International, a global environmental organization, which recently formed a formal partnership with the tech accelerator to help scale up innovations solutions to global water, agriculture and biodiversity concerns.
Conservation International is in fact the fourth large, global environmental organization to partner with a tech accelerator in the past two years, following in the footsteps of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Ocean Conservancy and WWF. In this fascinating new trend, global environmental organizations are seeking to …read more