Posted on April 1, 2021
“Our project is offering biodegradable disposable tableware made from repurposed fruit and vegetable peels”. That’s the idea behind Sofra, a sustainable initiative that is scaling its business model through the GIMED project. Rayanne Beayno, Sofra’s Head of R&D and Operations, explains that their main impact is the valorization of food waste into a performant biomaterial with potential to replace plastics and other non-renewable materials.
“Instead of letting huge amounts of food waste emit greenhouse gases while rotting in costly landfills, we are repurposing them into biodegradable disposable tableware to replace single-use plastics”, Rayanne says. In this way, Sofra alleviates threats to the environment, human health and wildlife.
Sofra is a Lebanon-based project supported by GIMED during its business model development. Before joining the program, Rayanne was a graduate student in Food Technology at the American University of Beirut, and she was working on her thesis project, which became the innovation behind her eco-venture Sofra. After that, Rayanne heard and applied to the Green Applied Research and Innovations Program under the EU-funded GIMED Project thanks to Berytech. “It was exactly the kind of support we were searching for”, she says.
At that moment, Sofra was ready to scale the research done into a successful green business and move from working in the American University of Beirut’s labs to start producing and selling on a pilot scale. Thus, they have developed several prototypes to cater for the disposable tableware market and are currently in the process of testing the mechanical, thermal and barrier properties of their biomaterial.
“Our next steps revolve around setting up a pilot production facility, optimizing our research and development and validating with potential customers in the environmental and food services sectors”, Rayanne shares. Their future biggest accomplishment would be the creation of their own pilot manufacturing facility. In this journey, GIMED is helping Sofra in growing by providing business training and support.
Besides developing her idea from scratch into a well-structured, solid and sustainable business, GIMED is helping Sofra reach new markets and funding opportunities that might be beneficial for the development of their projects.
The key takeaways taken from the support provided by the GIMED were many, including the importance of looking at the sustainability of their whole value chain, and not just the sustainability of the products they are offering. “It is crucial to design our whole chain of operations ecologically”, Rayanne says.
Another key learning is the importance of continuously communicating with their stakeholders, especially their customers, to keep them in the loop and make sure they are aware of the importance of their vision, the impact they are creating and the credibility of their products.
“My experience in the ENICBCMED program has been very enriching ever since we started our journey with GIMED”, Rayanne says, mentioning that the project is financed by the EU in the framework of ENICBCMED. “This program has been intensively training my team and I on how to build a strong green business model and on how to eco-design our venture and its activities”, Rayanne adds.
“One of the main constraints that we are facing to establish this project and enter the market is the need for funding to procure or lease the equipment for the production process”, Rayanne says. According to her, this will enable Sofra to produce, sell and validate their products with interested potential clients.
Another constraint has become a common one for Lebanese entrepreneurs who are currently facing an economic, social and health crisis in the country. “The biggest piece of advice I would give for someone starting is never fear the challenges or obstacles you might face”, she inspires. In her own words, a big part of these challenges will be your next source of inspiration. “Always embrace these difficulties, as they will make you, and your business stronger”, she concludes.