“As a start-up, we always have to focus… it's a constant fight not to go too wide too fast.”

Stakeholders can only do their bit for sustainability if they first understand the issues at stake. That's the rationale behind Reverse Resources, a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform aimed at tracking and tracing textile production waste, and encouraging brands to buy leftover materials to produce new garments. Founded by Ann Runnel in 2014, the start-up recently scooped €200,000 of funding as runner-up in Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge 2018 edition. Here, Ann talks about the impact of the start-up pitch competition, and what 2019 has in store.

15 Shredded cutting scraps to make recycled yarns
Shredded cutting scraps to make recycled yarns

Congratulations again on placing runner-up! Tell us what’s been happening at Reverse Resources since September, 2018?
As soon as we got the award we launched the software platform in reality. Before, we were in a long-term phase of not being able to move forward because of funding issues: we did have a prototype, but we’d proven our first approach to not really work. Basic investment in the early phases is critical for any start up, but it's especially difficult in the fashion industry because there’s no tradition of start-ups, especially in the field of technical IT solutions - it's generally either design, production, or materials. After Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge we managed to turn our ideas around, and put our theories into practice. We started a pilot in Bangladesh with garment factories and recyclers to test the software platform, which was very successful. We’ve also expanded the team with a marketing specialist and CTO, both of whom have been amazing additions. It gave us a really fast boost.

What was behind that funding struggle do you think?
When we started three-and-a-half years ago, I'd say we were ahead of the market. Investors normally don’t want to invest in projects that they see are too early; they want you to be at the right place at the right time. But when we’re talking about things like environmental impact, you cannot just wait until the market wakes up, we had to help speed up the market to get there! So compared to start-ups in other fields, it's been a lot more about pitching different stakeholders what's actually happening [with regard to textile waste] and what can be done: explaining to them that they have this problem, and we have a solution.

What’s in store for Reverse Resources this year?
In addition to the ongoing program in Bangladesh, we’re about to launch a pilot in Sri Lanka where we’ll trace volumes of scraps from two or three factories in order to show brands the amount of waste they're generating, and the amount traced to recycling. We’ve also identified other side effects of our project. For example, in addition to just measuring how much waste and where it's going, we found out that our platform also creates data that can be used for certifications and auditing. I have a feeling we will be able to be of real value for the Global Recycled Standards certification function. We’re getting lots of interest from India, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Turkey. The question is: which way to go? Eventually the platform has to be a network of countries and organisations. But as a start-up, we always have to focus… it's a constant fight not to go too wide too fast.

Why was Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge a good fit for Reverse Resources?
Most acceleration programs are very hesitant to actually put money into projects. This is what's really exceptional about this award: the money is significant, and it’s really helpful. Also the partnership that they have with [multi-vertical start-up accelerator] Rockstart. The methods they apply to help us are super-efficient, the program has really given us a lot of value.

What advice would you offer anyone thinking of entering Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge in 2019?
If you’ve been told no once, keep trying - I think this was the third time we applied! If you don't succeed, it doesn't mean you have a bad project. It could just be that the audience isn't ready, or the competition is particularly strong. Don't give up!

Aside from the financial injection, what was the biggest takeaway for you?
For me personally, delivering our pitch was a really great experience. I've always had really bad stage fright, and the mentors and coaches who helped us prepare were fantastic. Their tips and ideas will stay with me. More broadly, I would say the whole program digs into precisely what your needs are, and how to help you in the exact situation you're in. Sometimes, these acceleration programs can feel more about marketing. With Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge, that’s absolutely not the case!

12 a lady doing bookkeeping to track fabric volumes used in cuttingA lady doing bookkeeping to track fabric volumes used in cutting