Before closing in 2001, Fresh Kills in Staten Island had the unenviable distinction of world's largest landfill. For decades, the 2200-acre site was home to people's castaways and a last stop for uneaten food.
Growing up by Fresh Kills and experiencing the unsightliness and wretched odor on a daily basis was a formative experience for Amanda Weeks, co-founder and CEO of Industrial/Organic, and motivated her to find a solution to the nation's growing food waste problem.
"I drove by it every day going to the movies or going to a friend's birthday party," said Weeks. "So, I have always been very aware of waste, because it was always there and it doesn't really go away."
With hopes of reclaiming some of the 40 percent of food that is wasted and ends up in landfills, Industrial/Organic has closed $1.3 million in seed funding. The round was led by Brooklyn Bridge Ventures with participation from SOS Ventures, BBG Ventures, Honeycomb Portfolio, Newark Venture Partners, Outbound Ventures, Melo7 Tech Partners, 3G Capital Investments, Duck Island Holdings and other undisclosed angel investors.
Founded in 2014, the Newark, N.J. company began with the mission to recover the resources spent on wasted food and reuse them to create sustainable products. To do so, it developed an anaerobic fermentation process that allows it to quickly break down food waste and turn the resulting byproduct into other goods to be sold like organic fertilizer and natural surface cleaners.
It claims its proprietary method is six times faster than anaerobic digestion and composting, and it does not emit odor or the greenhouse gas methane. As a result, Industrial/Organic can operate in urban areas since it requires less space than a typical waste facility and is not obtrusive.
Food waste is still a somewhat nascent category and has not garnered as much interest from investors as other categories in agrifood. Companies in the space raised just $133.7 million in 2016, which was an increase from the $100 million raised in 2015, according to data from AgFunder, an online investment platform for food and agriculture technology.
But Weeks believes investors attitude towards food waste companies is beginning to change. "Traditional tech investors are starting to look outside the box and look at companies that solve real world problems and that go beyond just software or apps."
With this initial cash injection, Industrial/Organic will focus on building out its first commercial facility, which is slated to open in Newark, N.J. by the end of the year. It will initially serve restaurants and wholesalers in the the New York Metro area.