What role do incubators play in the clean economy?

Eggs incubating at a hatchery
Eggs incubating at a hatchery.

When it comes to ocean plastic pollution, the challenge is clear: We need to quickly scale up business solutions to support waste and recycling. The construction of strong value chains and waste management systems that support a circular economy is critical.

But in South and Southeast Asia — where this type of intervention is desperately needed — bankable ventures, projects and initiatives are in short supply. While amazing entrepreneurs exist in the waste management sector, many could benefit from experience, knowledge and resources to develop their businesses into investable entities. 

They need to be incubated.

Specifically, they need technical assistance and supportive ecosystems to ensure their success. The good news is that critical incubation programs are rapidly developing.

In Indonesia, for example, the Surabaya Ocean Plastic Prevention Accelerator (OPPA) uses a community-sourced approach that engages networks of stakeholders to link innovators with advisers and resources that increase startup connections and growth, through network-centered innovation. The project brings together a range of stakeholders, including local government, private sector partners such as the Packaging and Recycling Alliance for Indonesia (PRAISE), academic institutions, global brands and owners of large-scale recycling plants such as Veolia.

At WeWork India coworking spaces in Gurugram and Delhi, the WeWork Labs program has gathered promising early-stage startups focused on solving oceans plastics. The program provides them with space, community and programming to help them fulfill their destiny. Providing holistic, long-term support for startups throughout their journey, WeWorks Labs believes in humanizing the startup process, encouraging inclusivity and diversity, and connecting people to one another.

In both of these examples, tailored technical and financial resources will enhance a pipeline of fundable projects for all investors. We envision a new waste management project led by a local municipality could benefit from the shared knowledge of techniques established elsewhere; an NGO project in development could take advantage of technical assistance to establish management systems. Once the project or organization has matured, principals can apply for funding or investment without assistance. As new ventures prove viability, their economic model matures and their risk profile decreases. 

Analysis shows that a 45 percent reduction in plastic leakage is possible by improving waste management and recycling in five countries in South and Southeast Asia. With this in mind, the Incubator Network by Circulate Capital and SecondMuse, launched this week at the G7 Oceans Partnership Summit in Halifax, will establish an multi-million dollar initiative to build ecosystems of waste management and recycling innovators, with a primary focus on Indonesia and India, and a secondary focus on Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

With the right resources, existing incubator initiatives can rapidly scale the number of innovators in the sector, building out their capacity and providing acceleration support for those innovations. Our immediate focus is on Indonesia, the second-largest contributor to marine plastic in the world. System-changing opportunities exist to innovate up and down Indonesia’s waste and recycling value chain.

And that’s just the start.