Sep 13, 2016
Tags: Energy, Agriculture, Waste, Mobility, Tech Entrepreneurship, Impact Investing,
No Wasted Opportunities: Factor[e] Presents Sistema Biobolsa
Factor[e] Ventures is excited to announce investment in a new portfolio company. Meet Alexander Eaton and Camilo Pagés – entrepreneurs with a cause. The pair founded Sistema Biobolsa, a growing firm on a mission to improve living conditions for small farmers around the world. “Globally, there are about 400 to 600 million small farmers who produce about 80 percent of the world’s food,” explains Eaton, “and these farmers are vital to the social fabric of rural communities.” In fact, more than a quarter of the earth’s population – fully 2 billion people by Eaton’s estimate – are dependent upon small farms. Unfortunately, small farmers also account for a huge portion of the world’s energy poor, as they often live in rural communities that the grid has not yet reached.
“Small scale farmers are vital to the social fabric of rural communities.”
Based in Mexico, Sistema Biobolsa manufactures a prefabricated, high-quality anaerobic digester designed specifically for small farmers. “It takes the organic waste from the farm and breaks it down to produce an organic fertilizer and a methane-rich biogas that can be used for cooking, heating and running motors,” Eaton explains. The benefits delivered at ‘ground level’ are immediate: families save money and gain independence by producing their own energy and fertilizer, health risks from smoke inhalation and water contamination are reduced, and crop yields are improved.
The principle is nothing new – digesters have been around for years, but mostly focused on industrial applications. Consequently, smaller units tended to be homemade affairs lacking quality construction and materials. So, Sistema Biobolsa decided to create something that was more reliable, efficient, and aesthetic, and that could be prefabricated and easily distributed.
“We really like their mentality that there’s no such thing as waste, there are only resources”
Eaton’s interest in waste to energy technology was piqued while working as a journalist covering the field of renewable energy. He returned to school for a degree in environmental engineering, all the while honing the design characteristics of his own upgraded digester. Shortly after, Eaton met Pagés, who was in the process of launching a business commercializing eco-technologies. “When I presented this idea to him…we joined forces and started from there.” The two opened what Eaton calls a “mini-factory” in 2011 with one other employee.
Since then, Sistema Biobolsa has grown in size by at least 50 percent each year, now boasting a staff of more than 20 full-time employees and another 30 part-time installers. “We’re the only manufacturer that also…provides long-term service, so our business model focuses on successful [customer experiences], not just getting a product out the door,” he says. That business model is what caught our attention at Factor[e]. “We really like their mentality that there’s no such thing as waste, there are only resources,” Factor[e] Chief Technology Officer Jason Prapas relates. They’ve taken a proven technology and productized it to make it more dependable, accessible, manufacturable, and attractive. And they haven’t neglected the importance of developing their suite of after-sales support services, a business model element that can make or break the introduction of a new product to market.
As the newest company to join our portfolio, Sistema Biobolsa is preparing to extend its reach. “We are eager to help them build up their after-market products – the appliances that leverage the creation of this energy stream,” Prapas says. “We’re also looking at strategic international expansion – searching all the corners of the earth for exciting opportunities.” The numbers tell the tale – to date the company has installed about 3,200 digesters, benefiting roughly 20,000 people. But Eaton says they’re just getting started. “Our goal is to reach about 60,000 units installed in the next 5 years, so a pretty significant expansion of activities.” That’s something Factor[e] is proud to support.