Start Sirkulær 2023 – engaging students to focus on circular economy

February 16th to 17th Start Sirkulær 2023 was arranged by Start NTNU and Engage. With the subtitle: “An entrepreneurial journey within the circular economy”, that was exactly what was intended for the participants. The goal was to inspire and engage the students at NTNU to work further with innovation and entrepreneurship within the circular economy.

By Pernille Svartveit Osmundsen

Circular economy is about reusing the resources we have so that they run in an eternal cycle, and one of the goals is that it should be profitable to operate sustainably. “Circular economy is incredibly important in order to minimize all consumption and extraction of natural resources. Accordingly, that is important in order to ensure sustainable social development and a brighter future”, says the project manager of Start Sirkulær, Astrid Nitter.

The background to this event was Start NTNU’s yearly event called Start X, where you can apply as a project manager within any topic. One year ago, Astrid submitted the topic “circular economy” because she believed it was in the wind at the moment, and saw it as an extremely important topic to bring forward as we are currently in an area with a great need of innovation and new ideas. Obviously, she was not alone in having these thoughts and became project manager for Start Sirkulær. Engage was working on a similar event with Sara Grette and Anas Ani as project managers, who contacted Start NTNU and proposed a collaboration. The final result took place in the form of the event being launched back in February.

The students working together during the business simulator.

During Start Sirkulær 2023 the students got to participate in a 24-hour business simulator/case solution with mini-workshops and pitch courses. There were held two different pitching competitions where one was in connection with the business simulator, while the other was about ideas that could contribute to one or more of UN’s sustainability goals. At the evening there was arranged a quite successful “change-of-clothes-party”, and the whole event was concluded with a banquet at Britannia hotel. There the winners of the business simulator and the pitching competition were chosen, as well as being awarded prizes – including a trip to Germany, with TOMRA.

The students about to pitch their solutions in line with the problem presented by TOMRA.

The main problem TOMRA presented to this year’s case participants was: How can one create circularity in the textile industry, while at the same time being profitable? The participants had to familiarize themselves with a segment of the value chain in the textile industry. During the 24 hours the participants were given, they were able to participate in professional workshops with Trondheim Municipality, StartOff and Equinor, in addition to pitch courses with 6AM Accelerator.

Two of the participants were Mathias Bjønnes and Matias Ashour studying Electronic System Design and Innovations, joining the event because they thought it was exciting to learn more about entrepreneurship. Their experience was that it was challenging, but fun to work with, and as students who for the most part have theoretical courses it was a fun, new and challenging experience. They elaborated that they hadn’t thought about how difficult it was to recycle textiles and to what extent it is done. The two students added that the experience has made them become a little more observant about it, which can be said to be a small start on a journey towards a world operating from a circular economy point of view. “What makes me most satisfied and proud in retrospect is when I hear that the participants had fun while at the same time learning a lot about the circular economy, and specifically how big an impact the textile industry has on the climate and environment”, Astrid Nitter says.

The panel judging the solutions presented.

The goal from both the organizers and the main collaboration partner, TOMRA, was to reach out to all students from as many different fields of study as possible, at NTNU. “Different types of students can contribute to the topic from diverse points of view, backgrounds and angles” Nitter stated, and added “I am incredibly impressed by the solutions the participants were able to come up with in just 24 hours, and how good they were at pitching these solutions. The clothes-swap-night was also a nice addition to show how individuals can contribute to a circular textile industry. Last but not least, we think the banquet was very successful”.

To reach a brighter future Nitter talked about when explaining circular economy, we need to start thinking now. Everyone must do their part, and regarding the question of what is the most important thing that entrepreneurship and innovation can contribute to when it comes to developing this circular economy, Nitter responded: «To develop a circular economy, an incredible amount of innovation, new ideas and new start-ups are needed. Therefore, I hope Start Sirkulær has inspired students to continue investing in this field!”