Innovation Challenge Brings Members and Startups Together to Address Climate Change

The Global Cement and Concrete Association’s initiative is designed to speed new technologies to reduce its industry’s carbon footprint.

For a second year, a leading industry association has launched an innovation challenge that connects startups with member companies to address climate change.

The Innovandi Open Challenge, run by the Global Cement and Concrete Association, is part of the association’s strategic goal of net-zero emissions from concrete by 2050. According to GCCA Cement Director and Head of Innovation Claude Loréa, concrete accounts for 7 percent of global CO2 emissions.

“Innovation is a priority of our sector to achieve the net-zero target,” Loréa said. “There are a certain number of what I call known levers and technologies that we are trying to push further. We can’t afford not to work on all options to foster innovation.”

It’s a safe space for members to discuss and collaborate on these issues.

Claude Loréa, GCCA

In this year’s challenge, startups are invited to submit proposals for developing new ingredients for low-carbon concrete. After submissions are received by the May 15 deadline, GCCA will share the proposals with member companies to assess which will receive further support. The process can be highly selective: Lorea said that during the previous Open Challenge, which focused on carbon-capture technologies, more than 100 startups submitted proposals, 25 were invited to pitch to member companies, and six were finally selected for further support. 

Loréa said that the benefit of the program is that it can help startups bridge what she called the “valley of death”—the gap between having an innovative idea and support to develop it. “People may have an idea, but then who picks up that idea to take it to the next step?” she said. “This is where you need an accelerator program to support startups and support innovators to get through that difficult phase.”

The Open Challenge isn’t a mentorship program in the sense that the relationships aren’t one-to-one, Loréa said. Rather, GCCA helps organize consortiums of member companies that can best address each startup’s needs, whether that is a particular research facility, expertise, or other resources. 

“We only form a consortium when we have three or more members interested,” Loréa said. “Otherwise, there is no reason for GCCA to spend time managing a consortium if there’s only one company and one startup. They don’t need us.”

Loréa added that the arrangement benefits its member companies, which may have their own climate research efforts but might develop solutions more efficiently in collaboration. “The thinking is that instead of each company running its own accelerator program, let’s do this together—we can have a broader reach and do bigger things than when each is working by themselves,” she said. “It’s a safe space for members to discuss and collaborate on these issues.”

Although member companies may enjoy benefits from the collaboration, Loréa said the emphasis of the challenge is addressing GCCA’s net-zero goal. “This is more for the benefit of the mission than to our own benefit,” she said. “I hope the main beneficiaries of this are the climate-change agenda and the startups, providing them with what they need to take their technologies to the next level.”

(Sakorn Sukkasemsakorn/iStock)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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