Under blue Mediterranean skies, it’s a town that’s proud to be green. Montpellier, in the south of France, is proving not only that it’s possible to be business-friendly and eco-friendly, but that these two values can feed each other. Local public initiatives and private startup dynamism are combining to provide an economy that is more respectful of the planet. The town shines as an example of Greentech.
It’s a good place to prosper, as proven by startups like Watertech, Bulane or Comwatt that have raised impressive figures in funding and export their wares far outside of France. The big projects being supported by the town itself are aligned with this push for ecological sensitivity. Take Med Vallée for example, a planned hub of healthcare, sustainable agriculture and environmental entrepreneurship. It has big ambitions of becoming a European-level leader in Greentech, combining the public and private sectors.
UNESCO has recognized this eco-vivacity and has selected Montpellier as the home of ICIReWaRD, its flagship international water science research institute (or, to explain the acronym, the International Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Water Systems Dynamics).
Let’s take a quick tour through Montpellier’s eco-startup landscape via four companies that are marrying economy and ecology.
Beoga: the ‘clever energy community’ for local, renewable energy at competitive pricing
Backed by the IONIS 361 incubator, Beoga is a startup that deals in the production and distribution of short-circuit electricity. The project is a partnership with Enedis and Planète Oui, a provider of 100% renewable energy. This “energy community” was given its official launch on March 26, 2021 and was piloted in the village of Le Cailar, just east of Montpellier. The initiative, named Smart Lou Quila, is based on the sharing of 100% local and renewable electricity by a handful of residents of the village. The technology in place consists of solar panels, three stationary batteries and two electric cars.
What’s exciting about Beoga’s offer is that it seeks to allow members of a community to control their own energy production and consumption needs by themselves and in real time. Algorithms calculate the amount of unused energy so that it can be shared out among the members. The process harmonises energy consumption on a local network scale.
Smart Lou Quila is the first commune in France to propose stationary battery and electric car integration in this way. Beoga is using the pilot project to forge a new economic model in energy distribution, a model that involves the users directly. In time, it’s hoped it will lead to a 15% reduction in electricity bills and an increase in the share of renewables to 20%.
The startup has received several awards, as well as a “Greentech Innovation” certification from the French government. It’s goal is simple: to develop the use of energy communities and accelerate ecological transition.
Circle Fishers: a second-hand market for the transition to sustainability
Creating a new marketplace is no mean feat but that’s exactly what Circle Fishers did in 2019. More than 7,000 fishing enthusiasts and professionals use the site to trade second-hand fishing equipment. Karim Sanogho, a former sales rep and founder of the platform, wants Circle Fishers to become a European leader in quality, affordable fishing material. Retailers will soon be able to access the site to make their unsold inventory available to customers via custom-made features. Whether it’s fly or bait fishing for carp or catfish in fresh or sea water, the platform offers a complete catalogue for all anglers. It is also an appeal for us all to re-examine the way in which we consume, as buying used products lessens the need to manufacture more; the second-hand market is emerging as a pillar of the circular economy, a sustainable alternative to a “take-make-waste” society.
For Sanogho, the municipal and regional support for the project has been crucial:
“Since we started, we’ve benefited from the advice and expertise of many public and private sector parties in the Occitanie region, notably the IONIS 361 incubator in Montpellier, the Hérault Chamber of Commerce, Réseau Initiative, BPI, Réseau Entreprendre…there are many available groups offering financial support and general guidance to help our project develop.”
Transfarmers: fertile soil for Greentech
“A pot designed to feed your plants with your fruit and vegetable peels.”
Like most good ideas, it’s so simple that you wonder why it never existed before. This innovation comes from Transfarmers, a startup that channels Mother Nature’s ingenuity to create a plant pot that recycles organic waste into plant feed. Its design has made it a hit on Instagram, welcome news for any budding manufacturer.
It all began four years ago when four friends living in Montpellier were dwelling on the Jean Yanne saying that “everybody wants to save the planet but nobody wants to take the bins out.” It got them thinking about how to reduce the amount of organic waste we throw away. They created Transfarmers with the aim of reducing the weight of our bin bags by 30%.
The pot itself is made up of two compartments (one for the plants, the other for the compost) which are linked by a grid that allows the transfer of water and nutrients from the latter to the former. Earthworms in the compost section do all of the hard work and turn fruit and veg peel and other organic waste into food that keeps plants healthy.
The startup found its own nourishment from various socio-economic organizations in the local area: the Occitanie regional government, the Montpellier Business and Innovation Center, Agro Valo Méditerranée and l’Alter’Incub, the regional social innovation incubator.
Sportydeal: when sport makes the circular economy turn
Another example of a successful new marketplace comes from Sportydeal, which caters for lovers of water-sports, snow-sports, horse-riding and diving, among other activities. The circular economy is at the heart of the project, which puts itself forward as a social network specializing in the buying and selling of sports equipment.
There’s a current boom in the trading of second-hand sports products, thanks to the dual benefit of economic and ecological gains for those concerned. Consuming better means ultimately consuming less, making the circular economy a key player in preserving the planet by re-using what’s already manufactured rather than simply manufacturing more.
The founder and owner is Yann Le Corre, a sporty type himself who hails from just outside of Montpellier. He explains why the region took such an active role in growing his startup:
“The dynamic of the Occitanie region to develop innovative projects involved in the circular economy encouraged me to join the IONIS 361 incubator in Montpellier in September 2020 for the launch of my own project. Montpellier is a nest of entrepreneurial innovation thanks to the presence of numerous organizations like French Tech and the Occitanie Region.”
Sportydeal’s ambition is to emerge as the leading “green sport” social network for buying and selling second-hand sports equipment. First in France, and then across Europe.
Montpellier is clear in its objective to cement a reputation as a fertile greenhouse for Greentech. And with new talent entering the town from afar, it seems to be working: the University of Montpellier has been awarded 3rd place in the ecology category of the 2021 Shanghai Global Ranking of Academic Subjects after being classed 4th the previous year. That step up onto the podium is a sign of steady, solid progress.