Could Venice be the world capital of sustainability? It is certainly possible because an ambitious dream can become reality. But dreams, without goals, remain only regrets, which is why VeniSIA – Venice Sustainability Innovation Accelerator, the sustainable innovation accelerator of Ca’ Foscari University Venice, was born.
These very days SIF 2022 is taking place, hosting the VeniSIA Days to gather the community of innovators around the theme of Deep Tech: a new wave of innovation, after the industrial revolution in the fields of chemistry, materials, electricity, and communications, from large corporate research labs and, therefore, from digital and biotech start-ups. The opportunity to rethink the foundations of business, to solve humanity’s biggest problems, a new approach that companies will have to take to develop innovative and disruptive solutions to major sustainability challenges.
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The call that turns Venice into an accelerator
The VeniSIA website welcomes its visitors with an evocative payoff: “it is not making an accelerator in Venice, but making Venice an accelerator.” The problems of Venice are the reproduction, on a smaller scale, of the problems of our time. So it is meaningful and important to start from here, to work out solutions to combat climate change that can be exported around the world.
VeniSIA-supported by Joule, Eni’s school for business, as the main partner, will work alongside Ca’ Foscari University throughout the project’s journey-is aimed at creating the conditions for developing business ideas, taking care of Venice’s structural fragility, making it more attractive to young talent, and perfecting new ideas for combating climate change. VeniSIA focuses on a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), developing a range of solutions to support and facilitate the emergence of new startups.
VeniSIA’s second “Call for Startups and Ideas” closed recently, aimed at identifying innovative Italian and international startups, which will have the opportunity to carry out a Co-Innovation project, together with partner companies, with the goal of offering ideas and technological solutions for environmental sustainability. The call proved to be a success, attracting nearly 4,000 projects from as many startups, from more than 60 countries around the world; triple the number from the first edition in 2021.
Seven challenges were identified for the 2022 program:
Innovative and sustainable materials;
Solutions to increase stakeholder engagement and social acceptance of renewable energy installations;
Applications of Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, and IoT technologies;
Sustainable Supply Chains;
Circular Economy and Waste Management;
Smart Cities and Communities.
The program aspires to attract more than 40 innovators, who will work together with partners on the acceleration of ideas and solutions. All startups selected from the call will have access to the scaleup program offered by VeniSIA. A prize of 20 thousand euros is provided for the finalist startups only.
Pushing the innovators’ ideas is Joule, Eni’s school for Eni enterprise. A strong link to Venice and the Veneto region, an interweaving of work and innovation, and an industrial history that looks to a sustainable future, with Eni’s local biorefinery, the first in the world converted from a traditional refinery, thanks to a proprietary patent. Eni’s Venice biorefinery produces HVO, hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is added to diesel fuel to meet European and national regulatory requirements, stipulating that a share of fuels be made up of feedstocks from renewable sources.
Success stories: Carborem
Among the successful cases selected in the program is certainly Carborem – Recovery of Energy and Materials, a startup engaged in the design and construction of innovative industrial plants for the treatment of sewage sludge, digestates, and organic waste, such as the organic fraction of municipal solid waste, agro-food waste.
Carborem is one of the winning startups of the first VeniSIA call in 2021, thanks to the project to create and bring to market small-scale plants for the treatment of organic waste, which improve the energy efficiency of the existing plant, increasing biogas production. The 2021 edition resulted in the profiling of more than 1,300 startups from 28 countries around the world, of which 239 made it through to the second round of selection, then narrowed further to the 30 deemed the best.
Carborem was selected by Joule, Eni’s school for enterprise, in December 2021, proof of concept began with Eni Rewind, a 3-month experience with support from Eni’s R&D department. The program concluded with Demo Day in April 2022.
“A very useful and selective experience,” Michele Gubert, CFO of Carborem, tells us. The technology developed by our research group at the University of Trento makes it possible to activate an innovative process of valorization of wet organic waste called hydrothermal conversion (acronym HTC). During HTC, the waste is transformed into a liquid that can be used for biogas/biomethane production. Another product of the process is a highly dehydratable solid material, hydrochar, which can be used as a biofuel for energy production or as a soil conditioner.”
This is a very valid idea, on which a team of engineers and university researchers worked, who, thanks to the pathway taken at VeniSIA, had the opportunity to refine the project: “The week of work at VeniSIA is intense and formative, the technical guidance of the professors was very valuable for our growth. After winning the acceleration track, we opened working tables with world-class partners such as Eni, for the dual HTC and HTL application. The guidance of Eni’s engineers was crucial to focus on our project, and Joule helped us to structure it, according to very demanding and challenging standards. We engaged in VeniSIA for several months, in training activities, the pace of classes was fast, but we consolidated the basis to face the market.”
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First published in StartupItalia, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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