Resource Recycling News

Entrepreneur explains his recycling market contest

A half-million dollars is up for grabs as part of a recycling market development competition launched in New York City. The entrepreneur behind the effort recently provided more details on the initiative.

Chris Graff

Chris Graff earlier this month launched the NYC Curb-To-Market Challenge (CTMC), offering $100,000 in cash and $400,000 in equity for a business plan to create a domestic manufacturer using the Big Apple’s recyclables, particularly those with smaller end markets.

“Our aim with the NYC Curb-To-Market Challenge is to have the greatest impact possible,” Graff told Resource Recycling. “With this goal in mind, we encourage applicants to explore materials that currently have smaller secondary markets.”

CTMC is a project of Brooktrout Partners, a company Graff owns and uses for impact investing as part of his social entrepreneurship mission, he said. “Incidentally, Brooktrout Partners is named for one of my favorite fish, the wily brook trout, an upstream swimmer known as a scrappy little fighter,” he said.

Applications will be accepted through June 1, 2019, and the winner will be announced on July 1. In addition to receiving financial support, the winning startup will be advised by Graff and have access to a network of other advisers and angel investors.

Graff recently answered questions from Resource Recycling via an email exchange.

What’s your manufacturing background and how did you get started in the industry?

Graff: I’ve been involved in manufacturing pretty much my whole life. I grew up in Elkhart County, Ind., which is known for having the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Over the course of my career, I have participated in several dozen startups, most of which have been in manufacturing and have spanned many product categories, including furniture, trailers, RV parts, adhesives, solid surface kitchen and bath components and specialty vehicles, among others.

Some of the peaks of my career include founding and subsequently selling the “Inc. 500” ambulance manufacturer SJC Industries [Inc. Magazine names 500 of the fast-growing privately held U.S. companies annually], founding and subsequently selling modular home builder Pinnacle Building Systems, and being a member of the startup team of the “Inc. 500” business Terra Group and assisting in the sale of their green energy systems division, Lucid Energy Technologies.

How can you afford to single-handedly bankroll such a large competition and prize?

I’ve been very fortunate and have done alright when selling several businesses.

How does this Curb-To-Market Challenge fit in with boosting domestic demand for recycled materials post-China’s National Sword?

China’s decision has left us with a large domestic supply of recycled materials but an inadequate demand for those materials. The NYC Curb-To-Market Challenge directly addresses this lack of demand both by funding a business plan that depends on recycled materials and by encouraging people around the country to consider recycled materials as a viable supply stream for manufacturing.

What happens if the applications reflect interesting ideas but can’t realistically be scaled up to viable businesses in a reasonable period of time?

At the end of the day, we are looking to grow a business. No matter how interesting an idea is, if we cannot realistically scale it into a viable business, we will not be able to create the positive impact we are aiming to have.

Will this challenge focus on materials that are high volume but have limited recycling markets (mixed paper, 3-7 plastics, glass, e-plastics, etc.)?

While we do not exclusively focus on high-volume materials that have limited recycling markets, we certainly encourage applicants to find ways to employ these materials in their product designs. The goal of the challenge is to have the biggest positive impact that we can in this space, and expanding one of these limited recycling markets would definitely help us accomplish that goal.

How do organics fit into the CTMC?

While organic waste is an abundant resource in need of solutions, the NYC Curb-To-Market Challenge is looking for a manufacturing solution. Since there are limited applications for organics in traditional manufacturing, our challenge is focusing solely on non-organic waste.

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