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The first annual Think Beyond Plastic innovation competition and conference just wrapped up in Berkeley, California this past week. The competition and the awards ceremony were a celebration of human ingenuity, entrepreneurship and innovative thinking applied to a growing global threat – plastic pollution.  And more – the contest framed the beginning of a business forum that connects entrepreneurs and investors united by a common interest in an emerging market – solutions to plastic pollution.

Over 100 applicants from countries around the world – Romania, Slovenia, Kenya, Malaysia, the United States, UAE and many others – entered the competition with their products, services and materials dedicated specifically to reducing plastic pollution.  Watch this brief video summary of all submissions here.

For many of them, this was their first business plan and first meeting with investors. The business plans were judged on sustainability, ability to scale, business viability as well as the measurable reduction of plastic pollution. Over the course of 2 months, a jury comprised of industry leaders, scientists, entrepreneurs and investors reviewed all plans and produced the final awards recommendation.

The Competition

Two businesses received the Grand Prize of Most Innovative Business:

DGrade (UAE) – who produces fabric and clothing by optimizing the supply chain and using discarded plastic bottles; and PulpWorks (USA), with a sustainable solution to blister packs, already used by companies such as EO. Both businesses have established revenue stream, and have successfully produced a viable solution to the plastic pollution problem.

The prize for each was a cash award of $10,000 from A-Spark, an impact investor from The Netherlands, and $5,000 worth of legal services from Cooley LLP.

PulpWorks Award dgrade award

Three Businesses received the Most Promising Emerging Business Prize:

Amazi (USA) – applet that allows you to find your way to fresh tap water anywhere; BYOB (Malaysia) – business that reduces packaging by offering bulk cleaning products and refill stations; and in.gredients (USA) – already operating in Texas, and with focus on raw natural products that require no packaging.

The prize for each was a cash award of $500 from Plastic Pollution Coalition, and a package of business services from Second Line, an impact investor. For more information on winners, jurors, and sponsors, please click this link.

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The Conference

The awards ceremony followed the first annual Think Beyond Plastic conference, a celebration of thought leadership and creativity, and special focus on the social impacts of disruptive innovation. Speakers included Dan Goleman, who spoke of eco-intelligence in the age of Anthropocene; Fran Seegull, who spoke of impact investing as disruptive innovation and many other thoughts-leaders and entrepreneurs. For a complete list please click here.

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Support in Social Media and Press

The event received massive support in social media networks and the press. Press releases were featured in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Market Watch, Yahoo! News, USA Today, Reuters, and countless business publications from across the US. Bay Area publications, eco-bloggers, tech writers, popular platforms like Causes, and even MTV helped us previewed the event with great optimism and enthusiasm. Notables like Bette Midler, Ed Begley, Jr. (who also MC’d the event), Jeff Bridges, and Jackson Browne all shared in the excitement by posting about Think Beyond Plastic on social media sites, helping us to reach over 800,000 people through social media alone. The total reach of Think Beyond Plastic is into the millions.

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To see press releases and press coverage, go here: http://thinkbeyondplastic.com/press/

Big takeaways

+ Solutions-based approach wins. A big and important concluding comment from speakers, attendees and entrepreneurs alike was the focus on disruptive innovation, creativity and positive thinking.  Said Daniel Goleman, “We did not talk much about plastic pollution! What a great focus on the future.”

+ Disruptive and creative approaches are a must. The conference set the tone for the future focus of Think Beyond Plastic: viral behavior change, disruptive innovation and youth leadership. The 2014 contest will be announced soon, and we are considering offers to host it in India, China and the Middle East.

+ Entrepreneurs and impact investors need a meeting forum. For entrepreneurs, coaching to develop their business structures ready for investing. For impact investors, there is a need to meet these emerging entrepreneurs and understand the wealth of ideas.

Think Beyond Plastic yielded undeniably great interest, an incredibly successful conference, and a meeting of great minds working on innovation to shape our future.

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A huge thank you to the entire Think Beyond Plastic team for making our inaugural event such a great success.