Founder and CEO, Re-Nuble
Tinia Pina was at the professional line of scrimmage, and she didn’t like what she saw.
Her technology – using an aerobic process to biologically break down biodegradable materials – worked. Mobilizing it presented intriguing food services prospects such as supermarkets and restaurants.
But addressing food waste and related landfill-engorging refuse was only one of the tech’s beneficial side-effects. It also resulted in residual goop that turns out to be an ace fertilizer – good enough to move the ball in both traditional farming and the emerging field of hydroponic agriculture, which eschews dirt to grow waterborne crops.
Now Pina, founder and CEO of 2015 “waste-to-value” biotech Re-Nuble, was at the line with a lot of potential vertical routes – and a swarm of commercialization hurdles lurking in the field, never easy on entrepreneurs but especially hard on those pursuing multiple business lines.
So, the quarterback called an audible. And Re-Nuble, which “entered the market with a unique process by which we transformed food waste into fertilizer,” according to Pina, spent the bulk of 2018 honing in on one primary objective: significant reduction of the use of traditional, environmentally damaging fertilizers.
“We realized that focusing on developing an agricultural technology capable of reducing
costs on overall fertilizer usage, production and shipping was a significant benefit to everyone,” the CEO says. “It became increasingly more competitive for us to focus on this offering.”
Best part: Re-Nuble, a longtime “virtual tenant” of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, could still pursue multiple verticals.
“We could do it in ways that would still allow us to succeed in our mission of displacing chemical fertilizers within the hydroponic or controlled-environment agriculture market,” Pina notes.
The narrowed parameters were energized in 2018 by recent outside capital to help Re-Nuble expand its operations in the Bronx, closer to longtime partner Baldor Specialty Foods, a regional distributor based in the South Bronx’s Hunts Point section.
The focus on local sourcing, manufacturing and research is still essential to the startup, which can process food waste faster and for about a third of the cost of traditional recycling efforts, and without creating greenhouse gases – while simultaneously creating a wonder-fertilizer that can benefit hydroponic and soil farms both economically and environmentally.
Re-Nuble has benefitted more than once from the attention of others, including a 2017 American Entrepreneurship Award (and a $25,000 interest-free loan to go with it). But New York State “has been very good to us,” Pina says, and with Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushing hard for statewide environmental reform, it’s easy to see why.
“The state recognizes the gap in resources needed to ensure that manufacturers not only create a commercially viable product, but also approach the market in a way that is lean and sustainable and creates meaningful, permanent jobs,” the entrepreneur adds.
For example: Re-Nuble’s acceptance into the NYSERDA-supported M-Corp Program, which helps cleantech startups commercialize.
“M-Corp focuses on getting founders through the Valley of Death to launch pilots and fulfill first orders,” Pina adds. “There are so many ecosystem partners supporting Re-Nuble within New York alone, including CEBIP, M-Corp, Columbia University's Tamer Fund, SoBro … and they all have demonstrably helped us recognize prototype manufacturers and customer-trial partners.”
But many of Re-Nuble’s recent advances can be traced to a philosophical change, according to the founder: a mindset shift from “our process” to “our technology.”
“This has really sharpened our focus to create plant-based agricultural products that completely use all uncoverable vegetative waste streams, optimally sourced,” Pina says. “Our formulations to convert dried fertilizers into water-soluble fertilizers for very sensitive control-hydroponic systems require a special blend of expertise.
“Thankfully, our incredibly diverse multidisciplinary team has demonstrated the uniqueness of our technology, which can scale to provide market-driven solutions.”
With her company on the hunt for exactly the right space for its Bronx expansion – “We remain optimistic that our ideal location will be signed by the end of 2018,” Pina notes – the CEO is excited about her startup’s 2019 prospects.
She sees potential partners everywhere, in corporations, in municipalities, on farms. Recent news stories, such as the E. Coli scare that caused a national Romaine lettuce recall, focus more attention on how food is grown, while strengthening both the hydroponics and clean-fertilizer causes.
And as society transitions to a more plant-based food economy, “more farms are interested in plant-based, non-manure-derived fertilizers,” according to Pina, who has observed a rapidly increasing demand for “biologically superior products.”
“More Fortune 500 companies are recognizing the consumer-driven need for sustainability and more environmentally conscious value chains,” the CEO says. “They are really looking for ways to achieve goals like zero waste and zero hunger in the communities they serve. Well, that’s why we’re here.”