- NextCycle Colorado, an accelerator program meant to help businesses and entrepreneurs grow their recycling, reuse and composting operations, is accepting applications for the fifth year of the program.
- The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment leads the program, which offers a boot camp and a pitch competition with a cash prize. Business consulting support is provided by Resource Recycling Systems and other industry experts.
- Businesses, nonprofits, universities, tribal entities and others can apply through December 1. Applicants can be based throughout the U.S., but projects must occur within the state and directly help advance recycling or composting markets in Colorado.
Colorado is working toward a statewide municipal solid waste diversion goal of 35% by 2026 and 45% by 2036. NextCycle sees recycling and composting businesses as a key part of reaching that goal.
NextCycle “is really tuned to entrepreneurs and startups,” said Kendra Appelman-Eastvedt, CDPHE program manager. “It helps those businesses that are just trying to get a foothold to build that business acumen, create that business model. It also helps them with their messaging, how to talk to investors, how to help their teams sell their products and their projects.”
The NextCycle model has spurred similar programs in Michigan and Washington. Program leaders in those states say the business incubator model is a way to build investments and partnerships across recycling and composting systems to get projects done more quickly while also fostering better ties between state environmental agencies, municipalities, recyclers and end markets.
In Colorado, so far 34 teams have participated in the program, which is funded by CDPHE’s Resource Recycling Economic Opportunity grant program. NextCycle does not provide grant funding directly to participants, but instead spends about $222,000 each cycle to pay for the program’s boot camp, RRS’s consulting work and the other program features, Appelman-Eastvedt said. Some of the entrepreneurs that go through the NextCycle program are also eligible to apply for RREO grants.
Vartega, a carbon fiber recycling business in the Denver metro area, was one of the first businesses in the NextCycle program. The program helped the company find a niche in an already-specialized recycling market, said Andrew Maxey, the company’s co-founder.
“We were very early in our development and working with partners on a lot of proof of concept projects,” he said. The program helped them “explore the market, do some customer discovery and understand where our technology and business could be most impactful. That was really helpful at the time, as we were figuring out which technologies to commercialize.” Those strategies have directly helped the company expand into a new facility and grow its business offerings, he said.
Previous NextCycle participants often return to the program as mentors, Appelman-Eastvedt said.
When Jamie Blanchard-Poling, founder of Compost Queen, went through the program a few years ago, she built strong bonds with other composting businesses in the state. Instead of seeing their respective projects as competition, the business owners traded tips and tricks that have helped each of their businesses save money and improve their operations in the long run, she said. Compost Queen offers organics hauling and processing in Northern Colorado.
“We paired up a lot to discuss how our businesses were the same, how they were different. We compared everything, like the details of the hauling and the pickups and the processing. It’s such a cool community thing, and we still keep in touch to this day,” she said.
Blanchard-Poling now serves as a consultant for NextCycle and gives presentations to other composting businesses in the program. Because Colorado has a mix of urban and rural communities, as well as a mix of terrains that can affect compost processes and pickup methods, there’s a demand for more small, local composting businesses like hers, she said. NextCycle is “starting to get a lot more applications for this exact kind of business, and it’s nice that they look to me as an expert in this field.”