Startup Spotlight: Edama Organic Solutions Is On A Mission To Reform Saudi Arabia's Approach To Waste

Edama Organic Solutions is on a mission to transform organic waste into resources for desert agriculture, and thereby aligning social, fiscal, and environmental benefits of the Kingdom's Vision 2030 with the United Nations Social Development Goals.

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Based at the KAUST Research and Technology Park in Saudi Arabia, Edama Organic Solutions is on a mission to transform organic waste into resources for desert agriculture, and thereby aligning social, fiscal, and environmental benefits of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 with the United Nations Social Development Goals. In simpler terms, this startup aims to promote innovative and sustainable solutions to reduce pollution, while increasing food and water security in desert regions.

Edama
Co-founders of Edama Organic Solutions Dr. Sabrina Vettori, Mitchell Morton, and Saud Alhagbani

Dr. Sabrina Vettori, co-founder of Edama, explains that the enterprise came into being thanks to a question: where does all the organic waste in Saudi Arabia go to? ”Sadly, so far, in Saudi all organic waste ends up in landfills, causing serious issues for public health and the environment,” she says. "Organic waste in landfills generates potent greenhouse gases, such as methane, and pollutes aquifers and local soils by leaching harmful chemicals into the ground." But Dr. Vettori and Edama co-founder and CTO Mitchell Morton knew that organic waste, if properly recycled, could be converted into precious resources for desert agriculture. It is an insight that came at a critical time for Saudi Arabia’s path to sustainability, Dr. Vettori says. ”My personal challenge was to prove to decision makers that sustainability is not just about doing the right thing for the environment, but it is an economically viable business solution that will lead to benefits to our economy and society and the sustainable development of our cities,” she explains.

Another of Edama’s co-founders, Saud Alhagbani, who is the startup’s Business Relations Director, points out that one of the challenges the company faces in being the first to provide composting solutions in an immature waste management sector. "Our customers cannot assess the difference between our circular economy solutions and other waste treatment processing methods that deliver low quality products without concrete benefits,” Alhagbani says. ”It is important for Edama to work with government entities and regulators to make sure that there are clear guidelines for customers to follow best practices and top industry standards. It is to ensure the successful implementation of the national strategy proposed by the National Center of Waste Management, which has set an ambitious composting target- to compost 35% of the total waste produced in Saudi by 2030.”

Source: Edama Organic Solutions

The idea behind Edama Organic Solutions was recognized by the ecosystem with the startup being one of the winners of the KAUST TAQADAM Startup Accelerator program in 2018. Dr. Vettori, who earned her her Ph.D. in Statistics at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in December 2017, says that the prize enabled her team to benefit from the KAUST’s well-established local network and scientific resources. Edama Organic Solutions has since also received US$1 million in funding from KAUST Innovation Fund, having completed its seed round in February 2020. While the Edama team is currently preparing for the next investment round, they are already in discussions with several municipalities, project managers, and food industries to develop additional recycling facilities across Saudi Arabia and the MENA region. According to Dr. Vettori, the startup’s current plan is to expand its recycling capacity from 5,500 tons per year, to 1 million tons per year by 2023.

When asked about Edama’s unique selling proposition, Dr. Vettori lists the company’s high-value products and expertise in the organic waste recycling industry. "Compared to other waste management companies, Edama is not just concerned with reducing the amount of waste we send to landfill, but we made it our mission to convert waste into valuable products for desert agriculture and landscaping to support the local farming and tree plantation projects,” she explains. “Plus, unlike our competitors, we do not implement an 'off-the-shelves' solution per each project. Our recycling technologies integrate world-class organic waste recycling methods with local needs and proprietary scientific know-how, lowering project risks and increasing the success rate. We work with international partners which gives us access to a portfolio of world-class technologies that we further develop in our labs and adapt to local climate conditions and socio-economic context.”

Source: Edama Organic Solutions

Today, Edama has the local experience, technical competencies, and scientific resources to provide turnkey organic waste recycling solutions for various project needs and sizes. Although starting up in Saudi Arabia came with challenges in terms of navigating government systems and regulations, it also brought the Edama team access to numerous business opportunities.

"The implementation of development projects and the attention to sustainability represents a great market for entrepreneurs that are keen on using science and innovation to provide better solutions for our society sustainable development,” Dr. Vettori says. As for the road ahead, the Edama team’s plan for the next two years includes supporting cities and mega-projects in sustainable development, while also helping industries improve their environmental performance by developing projects in municipalities and industrial cities across Saudi Arabia. "We are also working on small-scale composting solutions for events and remote areas, to enable every community to recycle,” Dr. Vettori concludes.

Related: TAQADAM Tales: Biotech Startup Wayakit Is Creating Organic, Non-Toxic Products That Will Help Make Travel Safer

‘TREP TALK: Tips for entrepreneurs from Edama Organic Solutions co-founder Dr. Sabrina Vettori

1. Believe in what you do "Make sure you believe enough in what you do in order for it to fuel your energy to power through. There will be times when you will wonder whether it makes sense to keep going, but if you really believe in what you do, then you will find the motivation to overcome those periods."

2. Do not regret your mistakes, but build on them "Starting a business from scratch means making a lot of mistakes, no matter how many times they tell you about it at a business school. Building a successful startup is all about making sure that your learning curve is steep enough!"

3. Understand your market and customers “It's a classic piece of advice, but it is indeed essential to know you market so well to be able to predict market trends and make the right moves.

4.  Build a strong team that supports you "Spend time recruiting the right people, because you will need a competent team that embraces your vision and mission."

5. Your happiness is key to your startup’s success “The startup life can easily become your only life, so make sure that you take holidays when you need to and keep a healthy work-life balance. If you burn out, nobody else is going to carry on the project you have worked so hard for.”

Related: Saudi Agtech Startup Red Sea Farms Is On A Mission To Enable MENA Farms To Grow Crops Using Saltwater

Tamara Pupic

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Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.