By John Saltonstall
To innovate is to make changes to something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products. When it comes to supporting residents’ ideas and helping them earn a living and make the world a better place, your City of Flagstaff economic development team regularly practices innovation. Since 2017, the city’s Economic Vitality Division has implemented a new public program – The Innovate Waste Challenge – to positively impact the community, the environment and the economy by inspiring residents to innovate. and be rewarded!
The City of Flagstaff’s economic development team began exploring ways to encourage entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship in late 2017. After months of research and drafts, and considering the development of essential partnerships, the Innovate Waste Challenge (IWC) was created with the approval of the City of Flagstaff. Municipal Council. IWC invited entrepreneurs to examine all materials entering the landfill and develop a business idea to divert those materials and convert them into a commercial product or service that would result in a new start-up business and jobs in Flagstaff.
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Since 2019, the City of Flagstaff Economic Development Team has met with [email protected], Flagstaff Sustainability Offices, Northern Arizona University, and Coconino Community College to help introduce and implement implementation of the program in the community. [email protected] manages the business development program and business incubator and business accelerator activities, so they were the perfect partner to foster and promote the IWC program. On April 6, 2019, three different companies presented their ideas in a “Shark Aquarium” style to a diverse jury. Praxis Plastics won the Innovate Waste Challenge with their idea to collect discarded plastic sleds and plastic sled parts from the forest and recycle the plastic into a number of different products, from clipboards to grapples climbing gear, and virtually any other item that can be made from plastic. Economic Development had the honor of awarding Praxis Plastics in hopes that they would become a job-creating and problem-solving company.
2020 was the year COVID took center stage; Yet the Innovate Waste Challenge continued to invite residents to continue exploring ways to practice true sustainability through innovation, service and stewardship. Plagued by COVID, the team innovated the challenge with another pandemic pivot. The fear was great and the world demanded new ways to move around the planet with a renewed focus on personal hygiene. Companies were pivoting to meet needs and fill gaps in supply chains for anything that would improve cleanliness, and Scott Hathcock’s team at [email protected] took the program to scale. Bee Well participated in and won the Innovate Waste/PPE Challenge by creating and delivering an organic hand sanitizer produced in Flagstaff. Bee Well has been impacted by stories of the rampant spread of COVID on indigenous populations where limited water availability has exacerbated close conditions. Organic Hand Sanitizer helped its customers maintain cleanliness by providing their product to those who needed it. The City of Flagstaff Economic Development Department was honored to award Bee Well for responding to the call for the Innovate Waste/EPP Challenge.
2021/22 has presented the Department of Economic Development with another opportunity to take on the challenge in partnership with [email protected] in their tour of statewide pitching events culminating in June 2022 at the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff. . APS sponsors the annual Shoemaker Awards which will be a celebration of all things entrepreneurship in Arizona, including the winner(s) of this year’s event. The City of Flagstaff’s Economic Development Department not only provides sponsorship to the annual event, but also funded the 2021/22 $20,000 challenge. Also partnered with Sustainability, the call was the Innovate Waste/Carbon Neutrality Challenge with Sustainability providing $10,000 to companies that would focus on carbon dioxide removal or sequestration.
Eight entrepreneurs applied to the program, six submitted, five were awarded, with the top two companies being awarded by the City of Flagstaff. Restoration Soils presented their idea of being a facility capable of transforming organic materials and construction waste into other consumer products. With land, relationships, knowledge and access to markets, Restoration Soils is poised to have a huge, positive impact on landfill by diverting materials, a huge impact on the environment in general by reusing materials and a huge impact on the community potentially with new jobs. So Restoration Soils won the event and received $20,000 to develop their business idea in Flagstaff. Crosswalk Labs also presented their idea which is a digital product (software service) that helps municipalities, governments and agencies calculate greenhouse gas emissions. This ability is increasingly important as governments seek to reduce greenhouse gases. Crosswalk Labs is already growing as the demand for their knowledge also increases. Crosswalk Labs received $10,000 to develop their business idea in Flagstaff.
Each year, the City of Flagstaff’s Economic Development Offices have brought together tremendous partners throughout the community to take on this innovative challenge designed to promote entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship. The City of Flagstaff Economic Development Department will continue to partner with and support [email protected] to deliver programs to grow ideas and entrepreneurship across the state and right here in Flagstaff. Stay tuned to https://www.moonshotaz.com/ to find out how the Innovate Waste Challenge will pivot next year! One more reason to visit, discover and grow in Flagstaff.