The Circularity Challenge: Finding novel solutions for a circular economy

BASF, Greentown Labs and Stanley Black & Decker select five startups to drive circular innovations for plastics, energy storage and digital solutions.

BASF and Greentown Labs have selected five startups for their Circularity Challenge, a six-month accelerator program designed to advance innovative solutions to enable a circular economy.

Greentown Labs, the largest cleantech startup incubator in North America, and BASF, one of the world’s leading chemical companies, recently conducted a six-month Circularity Challenge to seek innovative ideas from startup companies that could provide proof-of-concept solutions to disrupt the plastics, energy storage and recycling value chains to help enable a circular economy.

It began with BASF and Greentown Labs’ partnership in Boston, when Bernhard von Vacano, BASF Global Head of Scouting & Incubation, Advanced Materials & Systems Research, was looking to expand the company’s Northeast Research Alliance (NORA) with Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to drive innovation in the Boston ecosystem. 

At that time, Greentown Labs, which has strong ties to nearby colleges and a solid community partnership model, was building a chemistry lab to address a vital need for chemistry-related startups that often struggle with resources and infrastructure when they are spun out of universities.

BASF collaborated with these groups through NORA and wanted to explore a joint accelerator program with Greentown Labs as a new format for technology scouting and incubation in the quickly emerging field of circular economy.

Why a Circularity Challenge? 

A circular economy is much more than simply waste management. The idea aims to close cycles and use products and resources in the best way possible across the entire value chain – a shift away from the linear model of “take-make-dispose" to a system of closed loops powered by renewable energy.  By seeking startups, the circularity challenge would demonstrate that circular economy thinking requires collaboration between multiple stakeholders across all industries and supply chains.

Program History

While designing the program in late 2018 and early 2019, BASF defined the topic and scope, while Greentown Labs helped manage and run the program under its proven “Greentown Launch” accelerator format. Since BASF was already in discussions with Stanley Black & Decker, a longtime customer, about sustainable strategies, the company invited its customer to participate in the program.

Together, the three organizations launched the Circularity Challenge – a six-month accelerator program that enabled each company to mobilize the cleantech ecosystem to advance their sustainability goals, super-charge their external innovation strategies and foster meaningful partnerships with industry-disrupting startups.

“The Circularity Challenge helped these two large industry leaders who have commitments around circular economy find startups who are able to provide technologies that can be taken to scale,” said Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs. "We believe deeply in the impact innovations across the circular economy can have on our planet.”

The Greentown Labs Circularity Challenge revolved around plastics, batteries, and digital innovation. Close to 100 startups from more than 20 countries applied to take part in the Challenge. After a multi-stage selection process, five winners were selected and awarded $25,000 each in non-dilutive grant funding, along with the potential for a partnership and/or investment from BASF upon completion of the program.

The Finalists Showcase

In February 2020, Greentown Labs hosted a public showcase featuring the finalists. While the formal program ended this past March, pilot projects and conversations with all five startups continue between them, BASF and Stanley Black & Decker.

“Developing sustainable solutions to address global challenges is ingrained in our BASF strategy,” said Peter Eckes, President, Bioscience Research and Regional Research Representative North America, BASF. “By continuing to collaborate with these five startups, I am convinced that we will be able to further sustainable innovation in the circular economy related to plastics, battery materials and digital tools.”


The startups chosen to participate in the Circularity Challenge:







American Battery Metals Corp. — based in Nevada, the American-owned company is meeting global battery materials supply chain challenges with innovative, environmentally sustainable solutions. ABMC developed an in-house full recycling train for the recycling of lithium ion batteries.

Circularise — based in the Hague, Netherlands, Circularise is creating a blockchain transparency solution with a patent-pending “smart questioning” technology that guarantees proof of sustainability, circular economy and recycling practices for brands and manufacturers that aim for high-sustainability standards while avoiding greenwashing.

Corumat — a California-based materials science company on a mission to eliminate plastic waste. The company is focused on lightweight materials for compostable food packaging to enable the circular economy.

Interface Polymers — from Loughborough, England, the startup works on becoming the global leader in compatibility and surface functionality solutions for the polyolefin industry. The company makes die block polymers used in different plastics and polymers which enables them to be recycled.

Nexus Fuels — a Georgia, U.S.-based operational, commercially scaled 50-ton/day plant that converts waste plastics to feedstocks which can be converted back to virgin plastics through molecular recycling.

Learn more about the Circularity Challenge and its participants in this video:

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Published on April 27, 2020 by Anna Spiewak.

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