Moments after Marc Aoun, founder of Compost Baladi, had met the final round judges of the Arab Startup Competition back in March, we asked him how he felt about his experience participating in the competition and whether his pitch convinced the judges he had met earlier.
“It’s not just a competition, it’s a long and ongoing process. The Arab Startup Competition allows an entrepreneur to reanalyze their business and integrate all the knowledge acquired from the mentors. The cash prize is definitely a plus, but also connecting with people from around the region is also rewarding in and of itself,” Marc commented as his mind was still racing from the pitch he did in front of the panel of experts and investors.
Compost Baladi is among the numerous projects and initiatives that came as a result of the garbage crisis that hit Lebanon in 2015, which led to the overflowing of most of the country's streets with untreated waste that caused an increase in pests, allergens, toxic pollutants, and diseases.
During that period, waste management had quickly grown to be a matter of public debate and raised awareness of the urgency of the situation, which led to a series of protests and public outcries.
Several public health officials, advocates, and activists were trying to offer feasible solutions that have proven to work in other parts of the world, only to be faced with endless bureaucratic obstacles that were backed by an ongoing political gridlock. To make things worse, numerous ad hoc landfills and incinerators, that did not meet any health and safety standards, were built and had already started posing serious health risks for people living nearby. Looking at a report from the Ministry of Environment and UNDP (2017), there are 941 open dumps across Lebanon, more than 150 of which are burned on a weekly basis.
In the absence of a government-led systemic plan to alleviate the situation, solution-driven entrepreneurs and activists took matters in their hands.
Knowing that 63% of Beirut’s waste is organic, one of the solutions proposed was to adopt ‘small-scale composting’, which seemed to be the most feasible and effective way to reduce food waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
By definition, compost is simply decayed organic matter — meaning, anything that grows from the ground can return to the ground in the form of nutrient-rich fertilizer that helps gardens grow.
Compost Baladi SAL, the winner of the Social Entrepreneurship Track in the 12th edition of the Arab Startup Competition, is a Lebanese social enterprise specialized in the management of organic and non-organic waste fractions using appropriate technologies that are tailored to local, economic, social and environmental conditions.
The team behind the project aims to decentralize composting and waste management solutions, which, for the time being, are being controlled by corporations that have the assets, infrastructure, and manpower. Also, Compost Baladi offers university students and fresh graduates in relevant fields the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge in the emerging sector of waste management and composting.
Compost Baladi has been successful in democratizing composting, where any person can have their own compost in their apartment or garden.
We had a quick conversation with the team to know more about what they do and what their plans are for the future.
1. How would you describe your journey with Arab Startup Competition?
Being members of the Arab Startup Competition has been enlightening and has opened doors to Compost Baladi SAL. MITEF's Arab Startup Competition is much more than just the financial reward for the winners; it has grown to be a community in which all participants from the region benefit and learn from each other. The bootcamp in Amman introduced us to a new country in which we might have a potential market to grow. The mentors were always accessible when needed and their constructive feedback was truly eye-opening. At last, the judges - whether during the mentorship activities or not - were keen and enthusiastic to help. We continue to benefit from our journey at Arab Startup Competition.
2. Why did you apply to the Arab Startup Competition in the first place? Did it meet your expectations?
As a social enterprise startup looking to make its way in the local and regional market at this early stage, we saw that the Arab Startup Competition would be the right way to achieve that. Primarily, because it is done at a regional level; hence, the networking we would benefit from is uncountable and the mentors that are part of the program are known to be among the best. Our expectations were met.
3. What added value does MITEF Pan Arab bring to the MENA region?
MITEF Pan Arab brings together the entire Arab tech ecosystem. It is a cluster for networking in which Arab entrepreneurs meet each other and widen their circle of acquaintances. Most importantly, MITEF Pan Arab touches every Arab citizen in terms of all the jobs it has successfully created through the startups; more than 14,000 newly created job opportunities.
4. Pitch your business to a 5-year old child.
Compost Baladi turns smelly food garbage into something that looks and smells like nice garden soil.
5. How does your product/service fill a gap in the market?
Our products/services fill the micro, small and medium scale market segments of decentralized bio-waste recycling solutions.
6. What is your revenue model? Have you taken any previous funding? If yes, from who?
Our company relies currently on transactional, project and service revenue models. We did take previous funding, primarily from Fondation Diane (investment) and Agrytech (grant).
7. What challenges did you face starting up? (team building, convincing others with your idea, market readiness, legal barriers, etc.)
The biggest challenges we faced starting up were related to the registration of the company since Lebanon has not adopted yet the Social Enterprise business type, and convincing investors in the viability of our business.
8. What is Compost Baladi's next step after 1, 5, or 10 years?
Our major step in the next 10 years will be the expansion of international markets.
9. How will you use the prize money to advance your project?
The prize money will allow us to implement the container composter solution we need to service grocery stores (20,000 USD), to manufacture the Earth Cube composter and have it installed in Beirut (15,000 USD), have collection carts (5,000 USD), strengthen our marketing strategy (5,000 USD) and at last have our own laboratory tools (5,000 USD).