London Buses Run on Bio-Bean

Bio-Bean, a British startup, has started to partner with companies such as Shell and Argent Energy to create a coffee-based diesel fuel to be used in London’s various busses. In 2013 the company was founded by Arthur Kay and is the first company that aspires to industrialize the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into biofuels and chemicals.

The company does not believe in waste; just misplaced resources that they strive to produce into clean fuel. On their website, Bio-bean states that “spent coffee grounds are highly calorific and contain valuable compounds, making them an ideal feed stock from which to produce clean fuels.” The startup saw potential to create this fuel from the 500,000 tons of coffee grounds in UK landfills and an opportunity to help save the environment by reducing the amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

In previous years, the company produced various products such as the “Coffee Log”, (£7.99 or about $10.75) a product used to sustainably heat homes. The log works by packing together 25 cups of ground coffee into a block of material that has been measured to produce “about 20% more energy than wood” (Bio-Bean). Currently, the startup is taking its goals a step forward and is planning to turn coffee waste into a clean fuel to be tested in  the public transit network of London.

As of November 20th, 2017, The company has produced a total of 6,000 liters of coffee oil and, with the help of the London Transit Authority, planed to power one London bus for a year to test for efficiency. Bio-Bean collects coffee waste from various cafes, restaurants, and factories in the area, then sends the wastes to a recycling plant. There the grounds are dried before the coffee oil can be extracted. The coffee oil is then blended with other fuels and oils to produce B20 Bio-fuel (20% bio-components) which can be used in diesel buses and vehicles without additional modifications. Use of this fuel costs significantly less than the use of traditional diesel fuels and allows for a cleaner environment.

It is always interesting to see how a small project such as Bio-Bean develops and progresses with time. The creation of the coffee log was unique as it introduced recycled coffee as a way to heat a home. The new deal with Shell and Argent takes this small startup to the next level. As they create this futuristic fuel, many could call into question its ability to be used in society. There are many other alternatives that attempt to reduce the emission of harmful gases, such as electric cars, but unfortunately are making small changes in the environment. Thus, it will be fascinating to see if Bio-Bean will be a leader in making the planet healthier

Bio-bean is not the first company to pursue an interest in alternative fuel sources. Many other companies have seen the potential for the successful adaptation of bio-fuel and have implemented it in many ways that are both similar and different to what Bio-Bean attempts to do.

In 2017, a company by the name of Fiberight began construction on a facility with the intention of converting “trash and in some cases corn stalks or wheat straw” (Barney)  into a form of bio-fuel. This company, while also focusing on recycling, has set a goal of “transforming… solid waste and other organic feed stocks into next generation renewable bio-fuels with cellulosic ethanol as the core product” (Barney).

Another company working towards a similar goal is Plastic2Oil. This company, while doing essentially what the name entails, combats liter while producing an “ultra-clean, ultra low sulphur fuel” (Barney). The company is able to take on two problems with one solution. This is done by utilizing liter and other waste in their production of fuel. In doing so, there is an “economic benefit” for the government and other organizations as litter becomes less of an issue. The company tends to have around an 86% success rate when creating this fuel from litter and for every 8.3 pounds of litter collected one gallon of fuel is able to be produced.

Despite London’s goal of an emission-free transport network by 2050, as of time of writing, Bio- Bean has no formal agreement to continue using its coffee based fuel in London buses. The company is currently looking for new markets and for ways to continue to innovate. Recently in a written statement, the company set its sights on America as “there is huge potential to expand the project into the U.S, which drinks the most coffee on the planet, 400 million cups a day” (Bio-Bean).


The Marvel Cinematic Universe and its Deadly Impact on Film

“In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives,” the Mad Titan Thanos bellows in the Avengers: Infinity War trailer. As excited as I am for this movie, I feel like this line is alluding to the rest of the film industry in Hollywood.

It is no surprise that this new Marvel movie is already breaking records before its release into theaters on April 26th. Tickets recently became available after the world premiere trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, and it broke the record for advanced screening tickets—in a total of six hours. The previous record holder for pre-sales (unsurprisingly Marvel’s other 2018 hit Black Panther) ended up grossing $202 million its opening weekend, and is only one of five films ever to gross over 200 million dollars domestically in a weekend. Soon, six films will likely helm this record.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has had eighteen films released so far, and has earned approximately $6.43 billion domestically and $14.706 billion worldwide. This fortune is huge, and rather impressive, considering this is only their eleventh year making movies. What Marvel Studios has done is changing the world; they were the first company to make a successful cinematic universe, incorporating characters from different stories together and having them interact with each other. It’s a fun concept, and it’s even more fun to see on screen. However, I have a feeling that the MCU is slowly killing cinema.

Now that Marvel has succeeded in making a cinematic universe, it seems as though every corporation wants to make their own. The difference between regular sequels and a cinematic universe is that a sequel follows a singular franchise, while a cinematic universe follows multiple franchises that are interdependent. DC (also based on comic books) is one of the other prominent companies making their own cinematic universe. While not as successful critically or financially, their films are large blockbusters that collect much of the box office profits during the weeks they are prominent in theaters. Other cinematic universes that are beginning to develop include Star Wars (Rian Johnson is directing a trilogy about new heroes that will not follow the established characters from past movies), the LEGO movies, Ghostbusters, X-Men, etc.

These cinematic universes are killing the film industry, and the reason behind has to do with franchising. The days of going to sit down at the theater and enjoying a standalone, complete story that is non-action based are slowly fading away. No one wants to go to a movie unless it is a franchise, which is why the top five highest grossing movies of all time are the two most recent Star Wars movies, Jurassic World, The Avengers, and Black Panther.

An example of what modern, non-franchisable film is becoming is Annihilation, which was a science fiction film directed by Alex Garland that came out in February. With the release of Black Panther the week before, Skydance Studios (Annihilation’s production company) expected it to flop, so it got a straight-to-Netflix release overseas only seventeen days after it came out in America. With the power of torrenting and streaming, American audiences do not even have to go to theaters and pay to see the film if they do not feel like it. Instead, they can just watch it on the Internet, rather than supporting the smaller, standalone film.

Marvel has a clear strategy when making these films called a ”blue ocean strategy,” in which a company develops a new market space that makes competitors irrelevant. Marvel was the first company ever to make a cinematic universe, but it seems to be running out of creative steam. For example, despite Black Panther’s recent success and ability to make some minor changes to the formula, it still felt like a standard Marvel movie. Once other people begin to realize that all of these movies are pretty much the same, the demand is going to begin to plummet.

While Avengers: Infinity War will most likely be a cinematic experience that every man, woman and child is going to go see and enjoy, its presale records are an example of why these cinematic universes can be harmful. I don’t even want to think about what other films might be coming to theaters that weekend or the weekend after, because I don’t see it being dethroned from number one at the box office until the Deadpool sequel comes out three weeks later. Hooray. More comic book movies.



Is Crowdfunding Helping or Hurting the Cause of the Sharing Economy?

The term crowdfunding, defined as a source of alternative finance where a project is funded through raising small amounts of money from a large population, usually through the internet, is taking off in a big way in the United States and throughout the world.  It is estimated that there are over 2,000 crowdfunding platforms for a variety of different purposes (real estate, consumer products, business ideas, etc.) with more than $34 billion raised through these combined platforms in 2015 alone.[1]  For reference, this is more than the $30 billion raised in venture capital each year and is, therefore, a force to be reckoned with in the world of investing.

There are a number of implications that pertain to all industries that utilize crowdfunding and implications that are more industry specific.  All industries, for example, utilize one of two primary methods for crowdfunding: equity and non-equity.  Naturally, equity crowdfunding involves the raising of capital and contributions through the disbursement of equity or shares in the organization.  Non-equity or “rewards-based” crowdfunding involves an exchange of financial contributions for non-equity things, which can include almost anything the fundraiser wants to give away.  Examples could include anything from physical items or non-physical rewards like naming rights or social media shout-outs.  Both equity and non-equity crowdfunding platforms have been effective in a variety of industries.

Moreover, both equity and non-equity strategies have been effective in their own ways depending on the platform.  The largest non-equity crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, has alone raised over $3 billion in financial contributions for thousands of organizations all over the world.[2]  Equity crowdfunding sites in 2013 alone have funded over 300 projects.[3]  That sort of power should have traditional investment platforms scared.  The ability of crowdfunding platforms to scale massively to meet the needs of worldwide projects and for capital allocations to come from anywhere in the world means crowdfunding platforms have a wider reach and more sources of capital than any other source of investment.  While this does not necessarily translate to a complete industry disrupter, like ride-sharing or home-sharing companies, industries once dependent on traditional sources of capital now have new means of funding their projects.

Take the real estate finance industry for example: there are many projects looking for funding all the time, and only so much traditional investment money to be allocated to those projects.  In addition, the barriers to entry for small businesses often prohibit smaller real estate projects from taking a seat at the table and working with larger investment banking institutions.[4]  However, platforms like AngelList, EquityNet, EarlyShares, and other equity crowdfunding companies remove some of the barriers to entry, like capital requirements and professional experience/credentials.  Each organization still has some restrictions in place, including some form of minimum committed investment (usually around $25,000) or some documentation filed with the SEC.  On the whole, platforms like these allow projects to become financed where there may not have been the opportunity before.  These include projects like YOTEL San Francisco, a high-tech, mid-market property with 203 rooms and an onsite restaurant that sought a portion of its equity (10-15%) through equity crowdfunding.  AKA United Nations Hotel-Condo is another project, a $95 million extended-stay hotel and condo project with around $12 million in contributions from equity crowdfunding.[5]

Another industry being disrupted is the technology market, both on the consumer level (remember the Fidget Cube?  That project was crowdfunded for $6.5 million[6]), to larger projects focused on advanced manufacturing and robotics.  There is now a community of startup incubators, consultants, thought-leaders, and of course, crowdfunding platforms, solely dedicated to crowdfunding technology startups.  With such a tight knit but expansive community, startups often eschew Wall Street in favor of crowdfunding platforms; they can do it all from the comfort of their couch (provided they have access to WiFi).

Moreover, it is important to note that not every project has to be successful for the idea of crowdfunding to continue to eat into the market share of traditional financing institutions.  TechCrunch identifies many tech startups that have failed for one reason or another (poor leadership, too little funding, competition, etc.)[7]  One of the most dramatic examples is Star Citizen, one of the most funded projects in Kickstarter history, which to date has amassed more than $150 million since the campaign launched in 2012.  However, that sort of money has been more hurtful than helpful, pushing back the launch date of the game as the creators kept expanding the scope and features of the game.  With no declared publish date for the game as of this writing, the question still remains if the game will ever launch[8]. There are hundreds more examples of projects falling through despite substantial monetary backing via crowdfunding.  However, the point is that a community for these niche projects exists, and that community has a much deeper pool of “investors” and capital than traditional investment institutes thought possible.

Finally, let us not forget the additional benefit that crowdfunding provides: a sense of ownership in the project.  When individuals participate in crowdfunding a project, they do not just send their money away without having the opportunity to get to know the project.  Crowdfunders have the choice to become an active supporter and champion of any particular project should they want to.         

One prominent Pittsburgh example of non-equity crowdfunding is the Superior Motors restaurant project by acclaimed chef Kevin Sousa.  The project raised $310,225 from over 2 thousand backers over a period of one year.  Tiers of rewards were used, varying from $25 dollars for a twitter “shout out” to $10,000 dollars for a fully funded function of the contributor’s choice.[9]  This type of project, with local community support and rewards that give back, is why crowdfunding is taking off.

There has never been this level of personal involvement in large-scale projects like these in my lifetime.  Giving individuals a voice in this way allows people’s dreams to come true, and allows project contributors to help them come true.  The disruption we see in this industry is a good thing, and instead of killing off or threatening traditional enterprises like Uber did to taxis or Airbnb did to hotels, I think more opportunities will come out of crowdfunding, not less.