Climate 21

Helping startups solve the climate crisis - a chat with Plug and Play CEO Saeed Amidi

June 30, 2021 Tom Raftery / Saeed Amidi Season 1 Episode 31
Climate 21
Helping startups solve the climate crisis - a chat with Plug and Play CEO Saeed Amidi
Show Notes Transcript

A couple of episodes of this podcast have featured guests from the financial space, but we've never had someone from the startup/VC industry so I felt it was time to address that.

Plug and Play calls itself an innovation platform. They help around 2,000 startups a year, and they are committed to working with startups in reducing plastic waste, and decarbonising.

Their CEO is Saeed Amidi, and he very graciously agreed to come on the podcast to talk about their plans - what they are doing with startups, and why.

As always, I learned loads, I hope you do too.

If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - feel free to leave me a voice message over on my SpeakPipe page, head on over to the Climate 21 Podcast Forum, or just send it to me as a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn. Audio messages will get played (unless you specifically ask me not to).

And if you want to know more about any of SAP's Sustainability solutions, head on over to www.sap.com/sustainability and if you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show. Thanks.

And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane!

Music credit - Intro and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Saeed Amidi:

I feel you know, they there is similar entrepreneurs in their world of sustainability and climate. And we just need to empower them to change the world together with us.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon or good evening wherever you are in the world. This is the climate 21 podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices and climate emissions reductions. And I'm your host, global Vice President for SAP. Tom Raftery. Clemmer. 21 is the name of an initiative by SAP to allow our customers calculate, report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In this climate 21 podcast, I will showcase best practices and thought leadership by SAP, by our customers, by our partners and by our competitors if their game in climate emissions reductions. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the climate 21 podcast. My name is Tom Raftery with SAP and with me on the show today I have my special guest, Sade. Sade, would you like to introduce yourself?

Saeed Amidi:

Yes, Tom, pleasure to be here with you. My name is Sam IID, a needy coming to you from Silicon Valley, California. And I am, you know, entrepreneur at heart, as well as I work with many, many entrepreneurs through the innovation platform called plug and play.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so can you for people who are unaware, can you tell me a little bit about what plug and play is as a platform?

Saeed Amidi:

Yes. You know, personally, after I started about 10 companies in California, and some of them around the world, I realized that when you are a specifically a technology entrepreneur, and you would like to build your product and technology and launch it, there is of course, a lot of help in Northern California in the form of angel investors, VC investors, mentors, so I tried to bring all of these together in this innovation platform called plug in play, and try to help more entrepreneurs, build their dreams, and, you know, accelerate their journey hopefully, to the success they are wanting to have.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, super, super Ben, this is the climate 21 podcast, and I've invited you to come on it because you're doing some interesting things in the climate and sustainability space. So before we get into what it is you're doing, could you maybe tell me a little bit about why you are interested in the climate and sustainability space?

Saeed Amidi:

Yes. You know, I mentioned to you I have been involved in starting several companies. And before plug in play, I have a packaging the technology company, actually, it's a plastic packaging technology company, where we help juice dairy, and bottle water companies with their packaging technology. And all the time, as I have been doing this for the past 30 years, I always was concerned about the waste or you know, packaging ways plastic waste, and what happens with it. And this is why when I started the bottle water business, which is called Aqua service, mostly in Spain, we focused on what we call the economical package, an ecological package, which is like the 20 liter polycarbonate bottle that we reuse for 50 times approximately. And then after this cycle, we recycle the polycarbonate 100% trying to have zero plastic waste and all along my journey before focus Unplug and play and helping startups. I always said, you know, we really can apply what happens in the technology companies in Silicon Valley to sustainability, and reducing plastic waste, startups and entrepreneurs. And again, I found out that the people similar to myself, who are passionate about the environment, about the climate change, it's not only for, you know, success and making money, but it comes from a deeper insight that they want to really make a positive impact for the world for themselves, and of course, for the next generations to come. And this is what super excites me about this opportunity. And it's great to be here with you in this podcast.

Tom Raftery:

Sure. And I mean, just to give an idea of scale, roughly, how many startups are you dealing with on a day to day basis?

Saeed Amidi:

It's a great question. You know, in our headquarter in Sunnyvale, California, I always say I am, like three miles from Google, and three miles from Apple. So it's kind of like a good neighborhood. And of course, Stanford University is here, plus Berkeley and Santa Clara. So we in Northern California, would accelerate or help about 1000 startups in different verticals like I believe our material and packaging vertical has a lot to do with sustainability, our food and agriculture. Vertical, has a very big impact in sustainability. One of our largest divisions, supply chain and logistic, which everything in life has to move around and reach the consumer, I believe can benefit from technology and sustainability, as well as banking or what we call FinTech or insurer tech, they the way that I am looking at climate change and reducing the carbon footprint and sustainability. It's a long all the different industries and value chain, I think we need to really make a holistic view of what we want to implement. And to mention to you after helping about 1000 startups per year, in California, I expanded my activity to Germany, France, Italy, and Tunisia, Singapore, China. And we help another 1000 startups per year in our different locations around the world, focusing on specific areas, like in Paris, we work with brand and retail. But in Milan, we work with food and food technology and packaging. So it's been a great ride. And, you know, some of our entrepreneurs have been incredibly successful. And now we are proud to launch what we call Alliance to End plastic waste innovation platform in six hubs around the world.

Tom Raftery:

Fantastic, fantastic. And that's kind of the size and scale of plug and play. Can you talk a little bit about now. I mean, you've alluded to it, but talk a little bit about now, what it is you're doing in the sustainability space for the startups.

Saeed Amidi:

The beginning that we try to implement this startup technology setting to sustainability effort happened about two years ago, when the top 50 companies around the world including Pepsi Procter and Gamble, Exxon Mobil, Bill dow, etc, came together and they formed an alliance where they committed I believe $15 million each, to effort of reducing plastic waste, specially taking plastic waste out of the landfill, and trying to stop plastic going to the oceans. And when we met them, and they kind of saw what we do, they asked us can be open the first three platforms in Paris, us and Singapore. And we looked for the best entrepreneurs best technology, roughly 20 startups per hub, after reviewing over 1000 startups. And when we reviewed this startups we say is this, you know, a passion project, or it's really can it sustain and be economical, a viable while cleaning the environment. And we must have both because, you know, we are not a nonprofit organization, or we are not a charity, we really would love to build startups that can sustain themselves, and then scale globally. And it's been an incredible journey. And after working with Alliance to End plastic waste, we realize there is a much much more desire for every one a day 520 corporates, which we work with, to reducing their carbon footprint. So we also are launching in the same hubs sort of technology innovation in reducing your carbon footprint, may it be in your plans, in the stores, or in the offices, or also in their truck fleets. Because a loader, as I mentioned, goods around the world is distributed through trucks and vans, and especially with the e commerce incredible growth during this coal bed, we realized that reducing the you know, the environmental impact of delivering goods. It's very, very important.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, indeed. And and with the growing importance of e commerce, it's only going to become more important as we move forward.

Saeed Amidi:

That's exactly right. You know, in fact, we just had an event in Europe, about drone delivery. And it we brought in the top five drone delivery companies. I recall. I mean, you're in Europe, I recall five years ago, we worked with the Swiss Post, to deliver the first packages, we are drawn to the sort of different areas throughout Switzerland. And I really think that will be a reality that we will have both drone delivery as well as these small vehicles that will possibly work on the sidewalks, coming to my house and dropping off my groceries.

Tom Raftery:

But not I mean, I can see how the small delivery vehicles on sidewalks would work. But there have to be challenges for drones in terms of you know, people in apartment buildings. For example, I remember reading an article about manna arrow who are an Irish drone company, and they received certification from the Irish Civil Aviation Authority to do deliveries of food from a fast food chain. And it was the case that you know, you'd open up the app on your phone for this particular Fast Food Company. It was a Thai restaurant, I think you'd order the food and then you choose whether you want to deliver by a person or by a drone. And if you chose the drone option, a Google map of your address would come up and you would just place a little kind of flag on your street if you had a garden in your garden where the drone should drop it down. But as I say, that kind of thing for apartment complex has got to prove challenging, right?

Saeed Amidi:

Yes, no. If you notice right now, majority of the apartment buildings have a locker area Because the deliveries don't come at the same time. So there is sometimes an attendant that puts like 20 3050 packages in these people's lockers, and somebody has to sign for the package. So I could easily see there is a landing ground, somewhere, maybe there in the roof or in the near the swimming pool in the apartment building, where the drones will drop off the goods. And then perhaps there is a locker there for each apartment. But these are, I believe, different business models and different challenges that will be overcome. If the economics of it works, right, which I live in, it's a lot cheaper to have a drone deliver something than a person get in his car or her car, and drive and then deliver the same one pound package or half a pound package. So sure,

Tom Raftery:

ya know, it makes a lot of sense. Again, to get an idea of scale, rough roughly how many companies are you working with in the kind of sustainability space

Saeed Amidi:

we started with two years ago with about 60 companies per year in our three hubs. Then after that, we expanded our hubs to Shanghai, San Paolo, and Johannesburg. So that added that to about 120 startups per year. And this is specifically for our Alliance to End plastic waste, about 120 startups around the world. But when we added carbon reduction, and for example, we are running a hydrogen accelerator out of Hamburg, which shell and Hamburg local government, we feel it's going to be one of the biggest, and the best technology platform for implementing hydrogen trucks, vans, etc. We feel only No, we will, in a different program work in more than three to 400 startups per year in the environmental area. And then, Tom, I must mention to you, we also have a company in Spain called Aqua service, which is a pretty large company, 2000 people, five plans, 50 distributions and roughly 500 trucks. And you know, we are running the largest hybrid truck fleet in Europe, which is not large, it's only about 150 of our trucks. And we actually received the first Mercedes all electric trucks in Spain, we love to get more of them. But we, in Aqua service, I'm very proud to say we became carbon neutral about 60 days ago by using clean electricity by using a lot of solar on our facilities. And of course, by offsetting some of our carbon footprint by planting trees, both in Spain as well as in Amazon.

Tom Raftery:

Pretty good, very good. And for companies who do become part of your platform, what is it that you offer them?

Saeed Amidi:

You know, there is two groups of companies one is this startups, which we consider more precious. So what we do after let's say selecting, top 20 startups out of reviewing like 200 startups in Paris, first we put a great light on them. That means we say this company is exciting what they are doing, it's feasible. And sometimes not always we write a check. We give them money and we feel when we participate as it see investor or angel investor, other people, including VCs and angels, and most importantly, our corporate partners, co invest with us. And the second part of the group, which is really, really important, is our corporate partner. Because for example, if you have a great technology to recycle plastic, and nowadays sometimes be taken back to a monomer, just like oil, fracking and having a monomer. And then we bring it back to producing top quality plastic, let's say that if you have this technology, but you do not have this scale of a petrochemical company, like dow or a shell, the technology just sits in the lab. But if shell or dow or Exxon is willing to build the pilot plant, which may cost $50 million and work with this startup, to scale that technology, that is how I believe we must change the world. And, you know, we are very proud that you know, dow shell Exxon totaal loaded the waste management companies in the US and Europe. All are together with us, reviewing these technologies with us, co investing with us, and most most importantly, scaling that technology, because we really finally need big plans, big infrastructure, if we're gonna recycle 50% of the plastic waste. You know, Tom, there is good, there is good precedents for this. If you take Europe, or us aluminum cans are recycled up to 75%. Specifically in Europe, pulp and paper like paper packaging is recycled more than 60%. So we have done it with aluminum. We have done it with paper at scale. But we must do this same big plastics.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, very true. Very true. So where to from here. I mean, you've been doing some really interesting things to date, but whatever you like your future plans.

Saeed Amidi:

You know, when we were able to help about 1000 startups per year in Silicon Valley, all didn't start this way. I remember the first year, we only help 20 startups then the following year, more and more. And now there is about 1000 startups per year that we help in the technology world in us and another 1000 globally, we really hope and plan to implement the same for startups that have double bottom line. One is they clean the environment, reduce carbon footprint, and make profitable business out of that. And if we can be part of the journey of these great entrepreneurs and these great technologies that come out of universities, and as I mentioned to you, with the help of our corporate partner, VC partners, scaled these to a global you know, standard. That is what our mission is, then that's what my dream is to be able to say. We are recite reducing the plastic usage. That's number one. And number two, because we really for our food packaging for our lives are we are we need plastics, it's people who tell us that you cannot use plastics are not realistic because we need packaging we need To deliver food to our table, when we doubt packaging, that would not be possible. But we just have to learn how to reduce the usage of it. And after usage, how can we reuse it or recycle it. And the future for me and future for plug and play is really this cannot be done by one organization or even by 100 organizations. But we hope that we will create this platforms which we call innovation platforms that both startups perhaps even that government can be on the platform to set regulations. And then most importantly, the entrepreneurs who can come and use their passion, hard work, and their engineering technology to change the world. And that's what would make me sleep better at night. And even making my daughter Sophie would like me better if I think see that doing this.

Tom Raftery:

No doubt, no doubt. So we're coming towards the end of the podcast. Now. Is there any question I have not asked that you wish I had, or any topic we've not addressed that you think it's important for people to be aware of?

Saeed Amidi:

Yes. You know, if I could tell you, I have been super lucky to meet the Google founders when they were two to three people. You know, in fact, they were in my building. When they joined us, they were three people. And when Larry and Sergey mentioned to me, they like to have a building for 500 people. And they want to have a kitchen and they want to have, you know, food for everybody and massage for everybody. I thought they were crazy. But frankly speaking, they dream big. And then they build an incredible company, which is now even Android powering our smartphone was built inside Google. So what what I like to say to the audience, is when I meet these entrepreneurs, may it be Peter teal, of PayPal, or Larry or Sergey, of course, they are smart. Of course they are, you know, at the right place, I would say at the right time. But I feel, you know, they there is similar entrepreneurs in the world of sustainability and climate. And we just need to empower them, to change the world together with us. So that is the message I would love to give to your audience. And if there is a entrepreneur or, you know, professional, corporate, you know, person in a key position that wants to get involved, we would love to hear from them, and to invite them to join us at our different events and different locations around the world. So that's the real message I'd love to give to your audience.

Tom Raftery:

Super, super psyched. If people want to know more about yourself, or about plug and play, or any of the topics we discussed today. Where would you have me direct them,

Saeed Amidi:

you know, they could always join us on our website, or frankly, speaking on my personal LinkedIn, and we will, I will get them in touch with the right person closest to let's it may be Paris, Munich, or Johannesburg. And specifically, if they have a great idea that they would like to build the company around. We would love to work with them with our venture team to see if we can help.

Tom Raftery:

Fantastic, fantastic site. That's been really great. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Saeed Amidi:

Thank you so much, Tom, and I really congratulate you on your podcast and we all have to contribute a little to make the world hopefully better. Thank you so much.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about climate 21, feel free to drop me an email to Tom raftery@sap.com or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you'd like to show please don't forget to subscribe to it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast it really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.