Some of the top NYU startups participate in the NYU Summer Launchpad accelerator program. In this series, we will introduce you to one team a week so that you can get to know the 2020 cohort.
This blog post was written by Parker Reposa (Gallatin '20), founder and CEO of Grounded Upcycling.
About the company
Grounded Upcycling is all about changing how we think about “waste.” With the mission of turning “waste” into food by collecting and upcycling spent coffee grounds from coffee shops, the business is trying to illustrate that what we throw away is not always garbage.
Grounded Upcycling, uses the evolutionary power of fungi to recycle organic materials. As one of the companies in this year’s Summer Launchpad (SLP) program, the team is working on developing an at home mushroom mini farm that allows customers to grow fresh, gourmet mushrooms using an upcycled coffee growth medium. This product reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill while empowering people to learn more about mushrooms and growing their own food at home.
This blog post is all about the importance of having an “upcycler’s mind”, an exciting and accessible approach to reimagine how we use organic materials, or what we usually think of as “waste.” This “upcycling mindset” attempts to go beyond composting, shifting our perception of “waste” as a burden (or a task to manage and control) and instead unlocking the hidden potential of a given material stream. We hope to inspire and encourage budding entrepreneurs and individuals looking to engage more with Circular Economy and Urban Agriculture as well as the young people that need to radically shift the way we source, consume, and recirculate all of our stuff in the present and future.
A bit about the founder, Parker Reposa
Earlier in my life, I was an avid surf and nature photographer. This work really opened my eyes around the impact we have on natural ecosystems. Growing up near the ocean, I saw the rampant increase in algal blooms caused by an influx in nitrogen fertilizers and toxic runoff. This was my early call to action to dedicate a significant amount of my time and energy towards restorative actions for planet earth.
When I moved to NYC about 3 years ago, I really got sucked into the world of urban composting, urban agriculture, and the intersection of the two. The city is like a giant urban mine for creative upcyclers. I was really shocked by the lack of infrastructure around recycling, composting, and end of life management in NYC in general. So when I started taking social entrepreneurship courses at NYU and applying these new tools to problems that I already cared deeply about, it was kind of like all the puzzle pieces I had been working with for so long finally came together into my first business idea: Grounded Upcycling.
What is the idea?
Grounded Upcycling is an early stage company on a mission to creatively upcycle organic “waste.” A few years ago we started out by turning spent coffee grounds into a line of sustainable cosmetic products. These early days of the company allowed us to develop great relationships with local coffee shops and cafes all around NYC. We had no money, we were really scrappy, and we had a lot of fun hauling boatloads of coffee grounds all over town and storing it in our apartments. While that aspect of our work hasn’t changed much, the company looks very different today than it did back then. We have made a huge pivot and are now in the early stages of developing a reusable mushroom mini farm that uses home brewed coffee grounds as a nutrient source to grow your own food at home.
Early on, we learned that more than 90 % of spent organic byproducts end up in landfill, off gassing massive quantities of methane into our atmosphere. We’ve found that this is mostly a supply chain, infrastructure and incentive problem and can be solved with a little bit of creativity and the creation of community scale networks and partnerships.
Grounded started working with local byproduct generators (coffee shops, food producers, grocery stores, and others) back in 2018 to microhaul coffee grounds and turn them into regenerative products.
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis, our original idea to sell wholesale mushroom substrate to commercial mushroom farms has changed. We now realize how important it is for people to take back their food system at home and give people options to reduce both their household organic waste and packaging waste. Therefore, we made the decision to focus on a direct to consumer grow kit. We are really excited about this product and new direction because we feel that it’s the perfect time to highlight the importance of local food resilience and taking responsibility for our resources.
We would love to hear from you!