Report: Sarasota ranked among top cities for green start-ups
Watching front-end loaders at the Sarasota-based waste company Veransa busily move piles of tree debris, it can seem like an ordinary dump site.
But CEO Marc Owensby said it’s a revolution.
“We call it disposal, but the revolution is for it not to be disposal. The revolution is for it to be completely recycled,” said Owensby.
The Veransa crews sort and process 250,000 tons of Southwest Florida’s green waste every year—that’s everything from tree branches that broke during Hurricane Ian to grass clippings from a local park. And unlike other companies that might just find a place to get rid of it, the company is transforming that waste into something useful.
“Everything we receive is recycled and turned into valuable products, whether it's compost, whether it's energy,” said Owensby.
Veransa isn’t alone among new Sarasota companies trying to make its mark in the green industry.
Sarasota ranked number one among U.S. cities for Startups in Recycling, Waste Management and Pollution Control per capita -- that according to a report by Promoleaf with data from CrunchBase.
Sarasota has more than 20 companies per 100,000 residents in that field.
From biodegradable packaging to organic skin care, Sarasota also ranked in the top five cities for startups in Green Consumer Goods and Environmental Engineering.
Erin Silk the Chief Operations Officer at the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County said the area attracts people who are environmentally conscious.
“Whether it be for instance, red tide, or other environmental issues like that, there are certain challenges that our community faces being so close to nature, that it actually brings businesses and grows businesses that create innovations to help,” said Silk.
Silk said the number of companies moving into the area or looking at expanding has doubled since 2020 because of the positive business environment and the county’s green business partnership, which encourages businesses to go green and offers free assistance to make it happen.
Tyler Bethke the Chief Financial Officer of Promoleaf, the company that conducted the study, said local efforts are helping to launch green companies.
“Local governments definitely are at the forefront of trying to make this push towards having sustainable companies. And one thing we noticed was not even just Sarasota there are other cities that ranked high in our ratings. A couple being Boulder, Colorado, and Cambridge, Massachusetts," he said. "These are all places where they have local governments where they do have essentially, a division or something related to sustainability, and they push and promote that for both their community and for businesses in their communities.”
For Owensby, his firm’s attraction to Sarasota and the Southwest Florida area was an obvious business opportunity.
“This part of the world generates more green waste per capita than any place in America,” said Owensby.
He said around 1000 pounds or more per Southwest Floridian per year.
“I think Florida naturally is a leader in the area of climate change technology, climate change businesses simply because we're at the forefront of climate change, we're where the pointy end of the stick is. So I think that's a natural thing. From our standpoint, Florida generates a huge amount of green waste. And so therefore, it's a big problem. But it's also a huge opportunity,” said Owensby.
He said his firm knew it could get rid of the waste in a more profitable and professional way that was also better for the earth compared to existing companies like CRR so they bought that firm and other waste operators.
“And we said, look, you can take this material, and you could turn most of it into compost, and the stuff that you can’t turn to compost is that woody material, and that you can turn into energy for power plants across in Europe. So that is the basic strategy we undertook, which is to build a company, that that would be completely circular, we would recycle every bit of the waste stream that we receive.
Owensby hopes to make Veransa even greener by converting all their machinery into ones powered by electricity and at the same time growing his company from one of the biggest organic mulch producers in the region to one of the largest in the country.
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