Circular Valley
Newsletter 2/2023
Next round of our accelerator program
Circular Valley® seeks startups for funding program with special finale
The Circular Valley® initiative is launching the next round of its accelerator program for startups. International founders, whose solutions have the potential to avoid emissions on a large scale are invited to apply. One thing successful applicants can already look forward to: a big stage with many hundreds of listeners.
The aim is clear, the number of opportunities to reach the objective has increased: Circular Valley® wants to decisively advance the transformation from a linear to a circular economy. To this end, it once again supports startups from around the world. The next batch of the Accelerator Program, this time focusing on nine topics, will start in September. Applications are now open and will be accepted until August 11th. All startups must bring one thing to the table: an idea that can prevent emissions in the order of billions of tons.

The successful applicants will travel to the wider Rhine-Ruhr region in the fall. Top-class coaches and mentors will work with them in Circular Valley®, as will the initiative's partners from business, science, politics and civil society. The program's highlight is the DemoDay on November 16th. On this day, the startups can look forward to a particularly large audience. For the first time, the DemoDay will be part of the Circular Valley® Forum. At the Forum, more than 1000 decision-makers will come together to discuss topics related to the circular economy.

The next round of the funding program will be its fifth batch. Over the past two years, founders of more than 70 startups from five different continents have already been supported by Circular Valley®, allowing startups to partner with major companies and academic institutions and to significantly advance their business models.

Those who want to join the circular of Circular Valley® alumni startups should work on one of the following nine topics:
Circular Economy Topics in core industries and their products
  • 1
    Building Materials
    full range of building materials, both renewable and non-renewable, particular focus on composite materials, tracking and tracing of materials and re-use/recycling of CO2- and resource-intense materials, reducing building material consumption
  • 2
    Capital Good
    full range of capital goods in all industries, from renewable energy assets to airplanes and CT scans, particular focus on those with a high footprint and difficult to re-capture components
  • 3
    Consumer Goods
    broad coverage of all consumer goods, both single-use and durables, and the specific question of how to reclaim resources for further use at the same level, avoiding downcycling, incl. automotive for end-consumer use
  • 4
    all agriculture-related circularity topics, from avoiding negative environmental impacts in food production to losses in the value chain and the use of by-products or waste
  • 5
    all water-related circularity topics, from gaining water in the first place (incl. desalination) to transportation, use and re-using and recycling water
Cross-industry overarching topics
  • 1
    Alternative feedstock
    Which substances can be used to replace previously used resources in such a way that the environment is less polluted? Founders with answers to this question can be a part of the next batch. Particular focus lies on bio-based substances and biotechnology production pathways
  • 2
    Value Chain Orchestration
    all methods and innovations to reduce or eliminate environmental impacts along the value chain, from improved packaging and transportation options to reverse logistics for recyclables starting at the consumer level
  • 3
    sorting and recycling methods for all types of materials, regardless of the industry they are used in, at best in same quality
  • 4
    specific focus on one material that currently has a huge environmental impact if used inappropriately, broad focus from single-use plastics in packaging to high-performance polymers
For more information on the Accelerator program and the application process visit https://circular-valley.org/#batch

Save the date
United Nations represented at the next Circular Valley® Forum
On November 16th, more than 1000 decision-makers will come together for the second time at the Historische Stadthalle in Wuppertal, Germany, to discuss the circular economy and how the necessary transformation can be advanced.
The organizers of the Circular Valley® Forum have now revealed first details: Guests, speakers, and panel participants expected to attend the conference include Nanette Braun, Head of Campaign Communications at the United Nations, North-Rhine Westphalia Deputy Minister President Mona Neubaur and State Environment Minister Oliver Krischer, as well as Christian Kullmann, Chairman of the Executive Board of Evonik, and District President Thomas Schürmann.
While Circular Valley® startups already took part in many important discussions at the first Forum, this year they will get their own stage. The DemoDay of the accelerator program's fifth batch will take place during the Circular Valley® Forum. Forum guests will hence have the opportunity to get to know around 20 international ideas for the circular economy in person. What all startups share: Their business models and technologies can prevent emissions on a scale of billions of tons (Giga-Impact).

Other German circular economy initiatives will also have their own platform at the Forum. They will present their focus points in the Historische Stadthalle and further expand the spectrum of exchange opportunities for guests.

United Nations
Photo: Adobe Stock, nmann77
More information on the Circular Valley Forum can be found here beginning of July.

Business delegations
The world visiting Circular Valley®
Visitors from different countries and continents are a familiar sight at Circular Valley® - but in the second quarter of this year they were particularly special. The visitors were not yet the startups of the upcoming batch of the accelerator, but rather representatives from Singapore, Sweden and Brussels. Circular Valley® initiator Carsten Gerhardt welcomed them to Germany's wider Rhine-Ruhr region.
The business delegation from Asia had been invited by the foreign trade association NRW-Global Business. The guests from the Southeast Asian city state were particularly interested in the topic of waste avoidance in Circular Valley®. During their visit, they discussed the packaging solutions that the startups had presented and previously further developed in the accelerator.

The largest Swedish university network for the topic of the circular economy brought together scientists from Scandinavia with the partner companies of Circular Valley®. Representatives from Vorwerk, Remondis and Evonik, as well as from the State Ministry of Economics and the Wuppertal Institut, shared their views on the progress and challenges of the transformation.

Anna Cavazzini is Chair of the Internal Market Committee in the European Parliament and visited Wuppertal together with Green MEP Alexandra Geese to learn more about Circular Valley®. With fellow Greens from the city and the region, intensive discussion revolved around, among other things, what private households can do to promote the circular economy, without overburden themselves. The ideas of Circular Valley® on the subject of reverse logistics provided both important and practical impulses.

Success stories
Great successes for Circular Valley startups
The young companies that have come to the wider Rhine-Ruhr region from all around the world usually keep in touch with Circular Valley® after their time in the program is over to report on their progress. Among others, the following success stories have reached Circular Valley®:
  • Invitation to United Nations Summit
    The UN General Assembly declared June 27th to be the Day of Very Small, Small and Medium Enterprises - and invited Paolo Licata to speak at the associated summit. In New York, the CEO and co-founder of CO2NVERT will share his perspectives on how sustainable startups can promote resilience in the reconstruction phase after crises. CO2NVERT was part of the fourth batch in Circular Valley®. The startup has developed a method to replace current ethanol production practices. Its solution captures the CO2 that would usually be released into the atmosphere and combines it with green hydrogen to create sustainable ethanol.
  • Prize and partners for Transfairbag
    Plastic-free shipping envelopes could soon be found in mailboxes – across our continent. Circular Innotech GmbH - Transfairbag, participant in Batch 2 of the Circular Economy Accelerator Program, announced in June that it has taken the next important step towards its aim: "We have gained a strong cooperation partner for our Transfairbag envelope, with whom we will enter the European market this year". Around two months earlier, the founders had won first place in the decarbonization category of a startup competition with their idea for envelopes without bubble wrap.
  • Eco-softfibre wins award
    Bernd Wacker and Wolfgang Coutandin from eco-softfibre have been awarded the Startup Prize of the State of Saxony. One special aspect of this success: the winners were voted for in an online and live vote during the gala by the public. Eco-softfibre participated in the third accelerator batch in Circular Valley®. The company produces recyclable and biodegradable bio-foams. This year, it wants to set up a production facility for 100 tons of foam per year.
  • Business magazine advertises CyFract
    The German "Brand eins" magazine has one category that is of particular importance for startups. The self-explanatory name of the category is "Protoyp - Idea seeks money". In May, the magazine dedicated this section to a startup that had previously been in Circular Valley®: CyFract. The readers of "Brand eins" thus learned how founder Tayyar Bayrakci is taking a major step forward with the smallest of particles. Until now, a lot of energy is required to remove microparticles from water and many common filter systems have weaknesses. With Cyfract's solution, water is rotated in such a way that the tiny particles are separated, reducing the usual energy need.

NRW.Global Business
How the circular economy is developing in the US
Change of perspective for the Managing Director of Circular Economy Accelerator GmbH: end of March, Andreas Mucke and a North-Rhine Westphalian delegation traveled to the US.
During the trip, organized by NRW.Global Business, Mucke spoke about Circular Valley® and learned about the progress the US is making in the field. His impression: the Inflation Reduction Act, often seen as an attack on the European economy, is acting as a spark for sustainable and circular business models. "The financial stimulus programs (Inflation Reduction Act in the US), should remind us that we also need to financially support our innovation in Europe, in order to bring it to the market here," reported Mucke, who received a lot of positive feedback on his presentation about Circular Valley®.
My discussion partners immediately understood the link to Silicon Valley and encouraged us to continue on our path.

Andreas Mucke,
Managing Director of the Circular Economy Accelerator
The delegation from North Rhine-Westphalia witnessed the progress being made in the US through many examples: at a company that produces displays for supermarkets from recycled plastic, at a large law firm in Chicago that advocates for environmental rights, and at the headquarters of 3M in Minnesota, a company transforming its products and production methods towards greater sustainability.

The evening the delegation spent at the University of Minneapolis/St. Paul left a very special impression. The students are not only actively engaged in climate and resource protection, but also regularly make professional field trips to Germany to promote closer exchange. Even a Republican senator from Minnesota's Congress demonstrated respect and clearly supported the students' climate and resource protection activities.

Circular Valley manages cluster in battery project
The partners of the Transformation HUB Battery Value Chain (TraWeBa) have started the research phase of the project.

Battery recycling is one of the topics Circular Valley® is addressing in the Battery Value Chain Transformation Hub
Photo: Trifonov_Evgeniy via Canva.com
During the next weeks, companies in the automotive and supplier industries, as well as companies indirectly involved in the supply chain, will be surveyed on the state of the art in technology and research. Those involved in the project will determine where the focus in Germany lies and what deficits the industry perceives. The results of this research will produce a map that will form the basis for TraWeBa's further work. The cross-national consortium intends to develop a concept to enable knowledge and technology transfer along the battery value chain.
Circular Valley® plays an important twofold role in the project. It takes care of cluster management and contributes its expertise on the topic of battery recycling. Other partners in the hub are: the Automotive Cluster of Eastern Germany, the Automotive Agency of Lower Saxony, the Initiative for Innovation and Location in Saarland, and four Fraunhofer Institutes.
More information can be found here.

Financial support
KNIPEX supports the people behind the ideas
The internationally operating pliers manufacturer and Circular Valley® partner KNIPEX has increased its commitment to circular economy startups with another important and beautiful idea. The company became familiar with some of the people behind the startups during their company visits to KNIPEX and during Circular Valley®'s DemoDays. Here, the company realized that the startups sometimes found and develop their companies under challenging conditions. This is exactly where KNIPEX intends to help.

Together with Circular Valley®, the company has identified four startups that it will support with a grant of 5,000 euros each - to give the founders a chance to catch a breath or make important investments in their projects.

Ralf Putsch, Managing Director of KNIPEX

Connecting the dots
Political parties deepen their circular economy knowledge
The fact that Circular Valley® is becoming a global hotspot for the circular economy is by now known on all political levels. At various meetings, political parties have been learning about the knowledge the initiative has gathered over the past two years and what connections have formed around the globe.
For example, both the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) faction in the Regional Council and the Economic Council of the Christian Democrats from the Bergisches Land region invited representatives from Circular Valley® to learn more about the transformation of the local economy and the best ideas worldwide.
Together with startups, many members of the state parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) took part in a workshop at Circular Valley®. After two and a half hours of intensive exchange on delivery services and their associated packaging the parliamentarians said they would have preferred to stay even longer. Greens from state and European politics invited project coordinator Clara Hennings to their roundtable discussion entitled "Digital, sustainable and circular - how do we shape the future of industry in NRW?" and learned about the work of Circular Valley®.

Partner Talk
Inspired by Solutions
The road to a circular economy is a marathon. But it is possible to succeed in running it.
Once again, this became evident at the Circular Valley® Partner Talk on June 1st, where more than 30 high-ranking representatives of partner companies met to share insights into best practice examples from their companies. Those that have already taken successful steps toward the circular economy presented their respective solutions and thereby inspired others. Additionally, representatives from science and politics contributed expertise from their respective fields.
The Partner Talk is a periodic series of meetings tailored specifically to representatives of our partner companies and institutions. It provides an environment for them to openly discuss problems and share solutions in a confidential setting.
The next Partner Talk will take place August 31st, 7 p.m.

Partnership with Flanders
Network meeting in Brussels
The fact that Circular Valley® is located on the axis between Berlin and Brussels was once again a convenient experience in June.
At the Parliamentary Evening of the Rhineland Metropolitan Region in the Belgian capital, Andreas Mucke, Managing Director of Circular Economy Accelerator GmbH, was a sought-after discussion partner. After all, the hosts had invited representatives from politics, business and associations to discussions on the evening's theme of the energy transition and renewable energies. "Our partnership with Flanders shows that we think and work across borders: Here in Brussels, we have now established and deepened contacts with other EU players," Mucke said after the network meeting.

Minister of Economics encourages change and new beginnings
As the former seat of the state parliament, the Ständehaus in Düsseldorf has an important history - and in May it turned into an important place for the future: Around 450 guests from politics and business, companies and associations met there at the invitation of North-Rhine Westphalian Economics Minister Mona Neubaur - including Circular Valley® initiator Carsten Gerhardt and Managing Director of the Circular Economy Accelerator Andreas Mucke.
In her speech, the Deputy Prime Minister encouraged the participants to actively shape the upheavals of our time: "Change is not fate, but an invitation to shape - and in times of climate crisis simply without alternative. Only those who are open to change can survive as entrepreneurs and thus secure prosperity. After all, innovations and the people who drive them forward are the basis of our prosperity. And change is best achieved together. By politics, business and people working together to shape a climate-neutral, competitive, livable future in North Rhine-Westphalia," said Neubaur. Neubaur is patroness of Circular Valley® and highlighted the important role of the circular economy.
Only those who are open to change can survive as entrepreneurs and thus secure prosperity.

Mona Neubaur,
North-Rhine Westphalia Economics Minister
"After all, innovations and the people who drive them forward are the basis of our prosperity. And change is best achieved together. By politics, business and people working together to shape a climate-neutral, competitive, livable future in North Rhine-Westphalia," said Neubaur. Neubaur is patroness of Circular Valley® and highlighted the important role of the circular economy.

The transformation from a linear to a circular economy is of great importance for North Rhine-Westphalia. Circular Valley® is both a network and a platform for this - and is taking precisely the initiative that the Minister had called for in her speech. That is why the black-green state government explicitly mentioned the project as a positive example in its coalition agreement.

Conferences for Startups
New and familiar faces at ruhrSUMMIT
On June 13th, one of the most important startup conferences in Germany was held in Bochum: the ruhrSUMMIT. Of course, the Circular Valley® team was also present - just like a whole range of startups from the Circular Economy Accelerator program.
It is well-known that the Ruhr region has a rich industrial tradition. And this tradition was evident at the ruhrSUMMIT - thanks to the unique industrial venue of Jahrhunderthalle Bochum. However, the Ruhr region is also well positioned to face the present and the future, in which economic and environmental goals have to be seen together. This became evident during the event when startups, established companies and investors exchanged ideas and experiences.

Many of the startups presented ideas related to sustainability and the circular economy. And six of them had previously participated in Circular Valley®'s Accelerator program. Collectively, they represented a wide range of fields in which circular solutions are already successfully possible: PolyCare (building materials), Space Era Germany (architecture), Rhinopaq (packaging for e-commerce), Circularity (textiles), Plastic Fischer (plastic waste collection in rivers) and Green Ocean (wastewater treatment).
The latter three were also among the 20 startups selected to participate in the event's pitch competition. And successfully so: Green Ocean and Plastic Fischer ended up in second and third place, which is both a sign of the quality of their business models and an indication of their ability to present those optimally on stage.

Beyond that, the ruhrSUMMIT was a success for Circular Valley®: Not only was there a keynote by Managing Director Andreas Mucke and a panel discussion moderated by him, in which Kaif Ali (Space Era Germany), Robert Kapferer (Circularity), Isabel Faller (PolyCare) and Karsten Hirsch (Plastic Fischer) also took part. Many new contacts and exciting conversations took place at the booth. And finally, Mona Neubaur, Deputy Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia and patron of Circular Valley®, did not miss the opportunity to stop by the Circular Valley® booth.

JEC World 2023
Circular Valley represents North Rhine-Westphalia in Paris
At the end of April, the world's leading trade fair for composite materials was held in Paris: JEC World 2023. And Circular Valley® was part of it.
Composite materials often have intriguing properties: they can provide great strength and rigidity and yet are usually lighter than other materials like steel or aluminum. They are therefore particularly popular in the automotive, aerospace and wind power industries, as the weight reduction can also increase energy efficiency. But there is one problem: The recycling of composites is a complex challenge, because they consist of various interconnected materials. Efficient recycling usually requires separating these materials by type. This is why, traditionally, the industry has not focused on the recyclability of materials. But that means there is a lot of potential for improvement. Companies are increasingly addressing the question of how stability and lightness can be combined with recyclability.
This became evident at JEC World 2023, where Circular Valley® had a joint exhibition pavilion with NRW.Global Business and Kunststoffland NRW, as well as representatives of 17 North Rhine-Westphalia companies. Jan Turek from the Circular Valley® team knows: " The circular economy has gained traction in the industry. Many startups are involved in recycling materials, developing recyclable composites or alternative raw materials." Turek also served as the state representative for North Rhine-Westphalia in Paris and, during his address at the show, he emphasized that North Rhine-Westphalia now places emphasis on promoting sustainability along with economic growth. He elaborated on the central role played by the circular economy and explained why the wider Rhine-Ruhr region is particularly well-positioned to become the Silicon Valley of the circular economy. After the trade fair, he concluded: "It was a great cooperation with NRW.Global.Business and all the other participants at the stand. It was great to talk to so many people who are interested in sustainability issues and consider Circular Valley® to be a great opportunity. Once again, this shows that we are on the right track."