Limited natural resources force us to keep on looking for new opportunities and their sustainable use, which also brings many opportunities and challenges for new entrepreneurial stories. We talked with Nina Meglič, National Coordinator of SRIP – Circular Economy, about this issue and the opportunities that the circular economy is bringing.
Have a look at the interview below, and at Podim you will also have the opportunity to learn more about the circular economy and the work of our partner SRIP – Circular Economy – Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Štajerska region of Slovenia.
Nature’s resources are limited and we are increasingly aware of this. What opportunities does this bring for companies?
The so-called green transition, or transition to a circular economy, brings not only environmental and social benefits, but also economic ones. It is estimated that the net economic benefits will amount to €1.8 billion by 2030, in Europe alone. This means that closing the material loop, which is at the heart of the circular economy, creates new business opportunities in terms of higher value-added products, processes and services. At the same time, of course, we need to ensure new human resources profiles and the development of so-called green competences.
What is the role of SRIP – Circular Economy in this area? What is your mission?
The role of SRIP – Circular Economy is to create an ecosystem in Slovenia that connects the economy, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, but increasingly also start-ups and scale-ups, development and educational institutions, NGOs, business support organisations, with the aim of creating new value chains based on the principles of the closed material flow economy. SRIP was established by the State in order to realise the objectives of the Slovenian Smart Specialisation Strategy, so we act as a development partner of the State in a way that we transfer the information and needs from the field, from practice, to the State representatives. In other words, in SRIP we co-create conditions and provide services for our members in order to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in Slovenia.
How do you assess the development of the circular economy in the CEE region? Where do you see the most untapped opportunities?
I believe that Europe as a whole, with the European Union at the forefront, is a global pioneer in this field, and this is being translated into ever more ambitious legislation. The CEE region is following Northern Europe in terms of its development capacity, with, of course, some countries such as Germany and Austria leading the way. I believe that more could be done if public-private partnerships worked more effectively, if there were more investments in science and technology, less corruption and a more cooperative spirit.
What challenges do startups and companies face in the transition to a circular economy?
The biggest challenge at the moment, in my opinion and according to experience, is the lack of adequate human resources, development funds and venture capital, as well as the “leaky” legislation. In addition, there are the high prices of raw materials, energy, interrupted supply chains, the consequences of the pandemics, the emphasis on digital transformation, etc. Since this is an area in which something new happens every day, it should be a strategic decision for companies to dedicate a minimum of one employee to it, which very few can afford to do.
Can you share any success stories with us?
There are already many good practices in Slovenia, both at the level of companies, NGOs and cities or local communities. However, as we are the only SRIP (9 were founded) in the Eastern Cohesion Region with its headquarters in Maribor, we are especially proud of the good practices of our members, who are also close to us in terms of location. I would like to highlight the small, high-tech company IOS, which, as a result of a major European project, has set up a pilot device for the processing of waste textiles in Maribor. As you know, textiles are a highly problematic source of waste, as well as production itself being very wasteful of natural resources. Therefore, breakthrough technologies such as this and similar ones will shape our future.
This pilot device or the processes at the device are being upgraded to recycle also other polymer wastes, such as plastic and paper packaging. We are working towards establishing a Validation Centre for Industry in the region for obtaining secondary raw materials from synthetic and natural wastes, with this pilot device as a technology hub.
What kind of startups, scaleups, companies, researchers are you looking for at Podim? Who would you like to meet in the Deal Room?
At Podim, we want to meet start-ups that offer environmentally friendly products and services and whose business model is fundamentally circular, be it in the areas of emissions reduction, waste recovery, eco-design, digital and circular. We are also very interested in the position of investors on green, circular technologies, as we have a number of members who are looking for capital to scale up existing technologies.
What can you offer to startups, companies, researchers?
Our services focus on supporting the transformation and establishment of a circular business model, human resources development, project preparation, marketing, advocacy and networking with relevant development partners in Slovenia and internationally, as well as the organisation of knowledge transfer events.
Could you give any advice to companies, startups entering the circular economy market?
The circular economy is even more effective when it comes to collaboration and networking, because the nature of circular business models is such that it is impossible to succeed if you are not actively engaged in the whole innovation ecosystem. Therefore, it is very important to be open for new partnerships along the whole value chain and with types of organisations that we might not think of first when building a business, e.g. NGOs.
Do you have any other messages you would like to pass on to Podimo participants?
The message I would like to send to PODIM participants is that every contribution, no matter how big, to a greener way of living and doing business is important to leaving the next generations with as healthy a planet as possible.