Joining forces to create sustainable cities

Po0ol founders (from left) Isa Miralles, Kang Lin and Kim van Sparrentak
Foto (CC-BY-ND): Inspiring Stories

Three former international students in New Zealand aim to cut CO2 emissions by creating an online marketplace where businesses can join forces to buy from sustainable suppliers.  

Kim van Sparrentak, Isa Miralles and Kang Lin have a vision of a city where every business is sustainable, from car mechanics to kebab shops. They’ve chosen Wellington, New Zealand, as the place to launch an ambitious online project that could help make their vision a reality.

The three women are the founders of Po0ol, an e-commerce marketplace which aims to connect sustainable service providers with small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Kim says smaller businesses are often left out of plans to mitigate climate change, even though they are the backbone of the economy in many countries. In New Zealand, about 97 percent of businesses are SMEs.

“My dad had a small business, so I’ve always known about the struggles of SMEs,” she says.

“SME owners are a very diverse group and they often work like crazy, so they don’t always have the time or the capital to look for ways of becoming more sustainable. After going through many phases of research, we realised what was missing was the link between SMEs and sustainable providers.”

Subhead: Passion into an idea

Kim, Isa and Kang met while they were studying in New Zealand. Kim, 26, from the Netherlands, Isa, 26, from Spain, and Kang, 23, from China, were all passionate about sustainability, but might never have come up with the idea for Po0ol if they hadn’t attended the Wellington Climathon, a 24-hour global hackathon event focused on solving climate change problems.

Wellington was one of 20 cities to host Climathons simultaneously in June 2015. The events were organised by Climate-KIC, a European Union public-private partnership that addresses climate change by encouraging innovation.

Working together in the fast-paced atmosphere of the Climathon, the three women came up with the idea for an e-commerce site where suppliers of sustainable products and services could offer their products at a reduced price. The more customers who bought products at the same time, the lower the price and the transport footprint would be.

Kim, Isa and Kang named their project Po0ol – with a zero in the middle of the word to symbolise the drive for zero waste and zero pollution. 

Subhead: Successful in the Grand Palais

The women’s hard work paid off when Po0ol was judged one of the four best solutions in the Wellington Climathon. After four months of coaching to test the feasibility of their idea, Po0ol was chosen by Climate-KIC to be showcased at the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris.

“Throughout the journey, all three of us became even more convinced of fighting climate change – for our future and for New Zealand’s future,” says Kim.

Before their idea was showcased at the Climate Conference, Kim and Isa attended a training weekend in Paris to hone their pitch and network with other climate change innovators and experts. Kim presented the Po0ol business plan in a two-minute pitch to the Grand Palais audience, competing against twelve other global teams.

“We had very good preparation, but the Grand Palais is quite an overwhelming venue to present in,” says Kim. “There was some nervousness at the end.”

Happily for the Po0ol team, the hard work paid off. They won second place in the worldwide competition, and were offered mentoring to help them turn their idea into reality. 

Subhead: An ideal place with enthusiastic supporters 

When the three Po0ol founders met, Kim and Isa were completing their internships, while Kang was studying for her Bachelor of Commerce degree. Kim has a Master’s degree in Urban Environmental Management, while Isa has a Master’s in Food Technology in Innovation and Management.

Kim and Isa went back to Europe after finishing their studies, but planned to return to Wellington to set up Po0ol with Kang in mid-2016. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the region has a population of about 471,000 people, which the Po0ol team says makes it an ideal place for the project’s launch.

“We have mentors in Europe, but we want to start Po0ol in Wellington because it’s a good-size city for an e-commerce marketplace. There are also many organisations in Wellington that have given us their support. We’ve met lots of wonderful people who want to make business more sustainable,” Kim says.

A particularly enthusiastic supporter has been the Sustainable Business Network, a social enterprise made up of businesses, government agencies and organisations around New Zealand. The network aims to make New Zealand a model sustainable nation for the world. 

Subhead: Taking on big challenges

While Po0ol is still in the early stages of development, its founders already have potential investors who may provide funding.

Po0ol will focus on three sectors at first: cafes, food and drinks companies, and cosmetics companies. The three young entrepreneurs chose the sectors for their large number of conscious consumers and retailers.

Kim, Isa and Kang have divided up responsibilities for setting up Po0ol according to each founder’s strengths. Isa has done most of the research, Kim is the team’s spokesperson, and Kang has been in charge of all the calculations.

Isa points out that setting up Po0ol will nevertheless be a complicated project with many logistics to solve. “I like challenges, and this is a big challenge,” she says.

“It’s really exciting. I feel Po0ol could really make a difference to the way we consume, and do something meaningful for the environment.”

An e-commerce marketplace for consumers was recently established in the United States, but the team isn’t aware of any similar projects offering businesses a chance to buy products collectively. Isa and her co-founders are excited that their idea is scalable and has the potential to evolve in many different directions.

“Our goal is to make Po0ol work in Wellington, and then take it to the world.”