Plant-e | Marjolein Helder

““People simply didn’t – and often still don’t – believe it,” Marjolein Helder explains, “and can you blame them? Plants producing electricity seems ridiculous, yet that is exactly what we’re doing.” The technology was developed and patented in 2007 by Wageningen University in the Netherlands. In 2008 Helder started her PhD and founded Plant-e shortly after in 2009. Since graduating in 2012, she’s devoted her time fully to Plant-e, which is now owner of the patent.

“No, that is not how it works!” Helder laughed when asked if Plant-e would allow you to plug your phone charger into some sort of device in the ground, which would then somehow be connected to a plant.

Of course that’s not how it works.

Eben Bayer grew up on a maple farm in Vermont (USA). To fire up the boiler, they’d use wood chips, which is how Bayer first learned about mycelium or “nature’s glue”. Heaps of wood chips would – as you can imagine – start to sprout mushrooms when left exposed to the elements, and when it was time to move the wood chips into the boiler, chunks would stick to together due to the mycelium in the mushrooms. At the time, Bayer probably didn’t think he would ever use this knowledge to transform the packaging industry, but that is exactly what happened.

During his college years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Albany, New York, Bayer teamed up with Gaven McIntyre for an assignment where they needed to come up with a patentable idea. Their professor, Burt Swersey, was unimpressed by their initial thoughts, telling them they weren’t ambitious enough. That’s when Bayer remembered about mycelium.

Shiply | Robert Matthams

How many times have you bought something for one specific purpose only to let it collect dust for all eternity afterwards? How many times has it happened that you needed a drill, but didn’t want to buy one and after a failed attempt to borrow one from a friend, you either gave up on the project or improvised with a far inferior object? Sound familiar?

Enter Peerby. Peerby allows you to use everything you need without buying it and throwing it away later, without cluttering your storage space, and with the added bonus that you get to know your neighbours.

Shiply | Robert Matthams

In his student days at the University of Manchester – “back when I still had spare time” – Robert Matthams ordered a pool table. While chatting with the delivery man he was introduced to the term “empty running”. Trucks full of packages leave their stations in the morning and return empty at night. The empty return is called “empty running” and is a common and costly phenomenon in the shipping industry.

“Empty running”

This encounter planted the seed for Shiply, which Matthams founded in 2008. The idea was to diminish the number of empty runs and, as such, make the shipping industry more efficient and sustainable. Matthams didn’t know much about programming and had to buy books so he could build the first version of Shiply’s platform himself. “Financially, the first year was very challenging. Low rent was a lifesaver,” says Matthams.

Qurrent | Igor Kluin

“As entrepreneur I was too early, but as an idealist I was right on time,” says Igor Kluin, founder of Qurrent. This company, founded in 2005, allows neighbours to share their sustainably generated energy with each other through the “Q-box”.

The Q-box combines the energy generated by personal solar panels or micro wind turbines and regulates the energy needs and costs accordingly among the participating neighbours. This could ultimately cancel out the need for large overarching energy companies.

Back in 2003, Kluin was intrigued by the energy challenges our society would soon face. “A lot of people had no idea, and even if they did, they didn’t know what they could do about it,” he remembers.