Eliza Connolly

This was the 2019 Green Challenge DeepDive Week

Last year in September, five startups were selected by the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge as the most promising entrepreneurs in sustainable business worldwide, standing out among 25 nominees and countless other applicants. These winners were AlgiKnit, AquaBattery, LettUs Grow, Reverse Resources, and The Great Bubble Barrier, who received prizes between €100.000 – €500.000 each, and a tailored follow-up support program by Rockstart in partnership with the DOEN Foundation. The Rockstart support program kicked off in November and after three months of remote mentorship, expert site visits, and alignment provided by Rockstart, the 5 teams came back to Amsterdam for the program’s main event: a week-long DeepDive!

The Rockstart Green Challenge DeepDive Week in February was an intense booster week full of masterclasses, strategy sessions with industry experts, and networking events with Rockstart’s partners, alumni, and investors. The startups were challenged to take a ‘DeepDive’ into their biggest obstacles, whether that be funding, PR, strategy, product, or anything in between. The Rockstart Corporate Programs team of Kim Geesink and Eliza Connolly started preparing in November to ensure that the startups had maximum exposure to the best of the best in their industries and technical fields, as well as all resources they would need to get through the week.

The program was, overall, so spectacular. This program has been the most useful one we’ve ever done and we’ve participated in various ones.” (AlgiKnit)

The Program

The DeepDive week is spread out over five days and is jam-packed with masterclasses, workshops, peer-to-peer, networking, pitch events and meetings with industry experts, business gurus, and legal advisors. This year, the program kicked off strong with a full day of masterclasses in Sales and Customer Journey, a team building exercise, and one-on-one sessions with experts, wrapping up late with a peer-to-peer dinner (and, for those inclined, a little salsa dancing). At Rockstart, we never underestimate the importance of thinking big, working hard, and letting loose at the end of the day!

The program for the week also included an Investor Dinner, where the startups had a chance to pitch to and network with Rockstart’s community of green-impact investors. Freerk Bisschop, Program Director of Rockstart Energy, helped prepare the teams for the evening with a hands-on pitch training.

My pitching skills have grown exponentially since following Rockstart’s training. I’ve never felt more confident on stage.” (Reverse Resources)

This year, the teams were even lucky enough to meet and hear the inspiring story of 2017 Green Challenge finalist Maijke Receveur, Chief Growth at Lightyear, who shared her experiences and lessons of going through a year of exponential growth since the 2017 program ended.

Finally, the week wrapped up with an incredible Closing Event to celebrate the achievement and progress of the startups. Thomas Brorsen Pedersen, CEO, and Founder of Pond and 2017 Green Challenge runner-up, joined on stage to share his journey and exciting plans for 2019. Afterward, the teams had the chance to share their achievements and goals for after the program, and connect with the Amsterdam sustainability and green impact community.

The DeepDive week is the halfway point for the Rockstart Green Challenge support program. All startups will receive continued mentorship and support for the next three months to make sure they’re fully set up for scaling and growth.

The DeepDive was very valuable for us, especially being able to speak with someone who had a lengthy background in the industry.” (LettUs Grow)

The Winners

Working in a diverse range of industries and piloting radical projects, these awesome startups are pushing for big impact worldwide, in everything from textile manufacturing and re-use to renewable energy.

The 2018 winner of the Green Challenge was The Great Bubble Barrier, a Dutch startup working to eradicate plastics in rivers and canals, removing them from waterways before they reach the ocean.

It is no surprise that plastic pollution in waterways sits at the heart of this Amsterdam-based enterprise, founded by sailors and friends increasingly confronted with the unavoidable damage and consequences of plastics. The “Bubble Barrier” solution allows plastics to be caught while allowing for the passage of fish and ships, keeping rivers and canals clean while protecting the larger bodies of water downstream. Thanks to their ingenuity and excellence, this startup was awarded the winning prize of €500,000 in September.

The runner-up for the 2018 awards was Reverse Resources, who came away with €200,000. Reverse Resources is working to enhance transparency and accountability in textile reuse and recycling by tracing and connecting textile recyclers with suppliers, traders, and fashion brands. Using their data platform, Reverse Resources hopes to build data intelligence around textile waste and recycling, while encouraging the fashion industry to recycle and reuse production waste by enhancing visibility.

Lastly, €100,000 was awarded to each of the three finalists. First was AlgiKnit, a US-based startup producing sustainable biomaterials from kelp, one of the fastest-growing and most renewable organisms on earth. AlgiKnit is driven to create garments, textiles, and other everyday products that decompose naturally once discarded, reducing the pollution and environmental degradation of waste, while also creating a more environmentally-friendly production process.

Next is AquaBattery, a Dutch startup that has designed and built the only electrical storage system that is 100% sustainable, using only table salt and water. AquaBattery offers an energy storage solution that is renewable, environmentally friendly and allows for constant energy supply, as opposed to other renewables such as wind or solar. This startup’s founding team opposes the use of toxic materials in conventional energy technology while striving to create a safe and affordable alternative.

And finally, LettUs Grow, a UK startup based in Bristol working to revolutionize the indoor agrifood industry through high-yield aeroponic technology. Combined with software and data services, LettUs Grow aims to make sustainable, affordable agriculture the gold standard for urban environments and helps indoor vertical farms to maximize production while minimizing system complexity.


Rockstart provides each startup with a mentor in three areas: business, funding & finance, and team. Mentors are individually selected from Rockstart’s network and are connected to one of the startups based on their specific needs and challenges. These mentors then meet remotely with the startups for six months, providing expertise, advice, and support, as well as opening up their own network to the startups. Mentors also have the opportunity to visit the startups for a site visit, to get an up-close understanding of the operations, company, and team.

This year, the team mentor for all startups is Paul Musters, founder and CEO of Fortify, who led the teams through an ‘escape the room’ challenge and individual team workshops, which were highly valued by the startups:

The team sessions with Paul were brilliant, really interactive and gave us a lot of new insight,” (The Great Bubble Barrier).

Other mentors this year include Marjolein Brasz, Challenge Lead Circular Economy at Amsterdam Economic Board, Harald Friedl, CEO at Circle Economy, Eduard Puig, Partner & COO of GNE Finance, Jan Cihlar, Senior Consultant at Navigant, Ethan Mayers, CEO at Tilt, Peter Scheijgrond, Ocean Energy Specialist at Dutch Marine Energy Center, and Gus van der Feltz, Program Manager and Business Developer at Blue Engineering.

During the DeepDive, startups rely on their mentors to orient their trajectory and hold reflections at the end of the week to discuss their progress. The mentors are dedicated to supporting each of their startups as they strengthen their foundations, enhance their investment case, and strategize for future growth.

We gained a lot of new, interesting insights, especially in the DeepDive session with our mentors. We had this problem that we didn’t know how to solve and now we have a good understanding of how to move forward” (AquaBattery)

This was the 2018 Green Challenge DeepDive, a terrific week of collaboration and empowerment. Applications for the 2018 Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge Award and 2018 – 2019 Rockstart Green Challenge DeepDive support program open on March 1st, get ready!

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