Businesses gather in Barcelona to discuss boost for rural economy

Start-ups and entrepreneurs from around the world participate in a two-day workshop in Barcelona to further develop their innovative ideas and solutions for NWFP management and create cross-sectoral partnerships.

EFI's Inazio Martinez de Arano and Eduard Mauri introduce the cross-cutting event. Photo: Sarah Adams

Entrepreneurs, start-ups and established businesses shared ideas and inspiration on innovation and entrepreneurship for non-wood forest products (NWFP) in a highly energised seminar which took place in Barcelona’s Sant Pau Art Nouveau site on 27 and 28 February.

During the two-day event, the EU-funded INCREDIBLE (Innovation Networks of Cork, Resins and Edibles in the Mediterranean Basin) project provided a space to promote cross-sectorial partnerships and support actors and practitioners to exchange experiences, explore barriers and identify opportunities for NWFP businesses. Start-ups and entrepreneurs from Spain, Italy, France, Tunisia, Switzerland and USA shared a glimpse of the great potential of non-wood forest products for human consumption, services and non-edible products.

NWFP offer a host of opportunities to develop locally sourced, natural and traditional products that meet a growing consumer demand for sustainable, healthy living. Products can be marketed with close territorial connections to land and regions which could provide new possibilities for rural livelihoods and bolster the contribution of Mediterranean forests to a sustainable bioeconomy.

The meeting aimed to highlight this potential through four main objectives:

  1. Disseminate business innovations and creativity in entrepreneurship and rural development based on NWFP, through real experiences.
  2. Cross-pollinate innovative business ideas between NWFP and other sectors.
  3. Assess drivers and barriers to business innovation and entrepreneurship.
  4. Provide B2B meetings opportunities in a marketplace.

On the first day, the opening seminar and workshop focused on the state of the art and the future of businesses in NWFP, as well as a SWOT analysis of NWFP businesses, with presentations from Giulia Muir (FAO), with a global overview on opportunities for NWFP commercialisation; Colm O’Driscoll and Jacopo Giacomoni (ETIFOR), on how to discover and support entrepreneurship through open innovation; and Carmen Aviles (UPM) and Pablo Marcías (Khora Urban Thinkers), on NWFP businesses and entrepreneurs in Spain.

To further ground these concepts in real-world experiences, two round-table discussions presented compelling testimonials of business innovation and creativity in entrepreneurship and rural development around NWFP. The discussions sought to analyse common business models for bio-based companies in rural areas, while also exploring future perspectives of the NWFP business and related sectors. Success stories on business innovation were shared by Eduard Peralta from Parc de les Olors, a collaborative network between producers, industry, and consumers of aromatic and medicinal plants; Stéphane Person of Forest Goods Growing, on utilizing super foods from the African Baobab in South-Saharan African countries; and by Christine Fischer of Sitka Services, on truffle and mushroom tours in Spain.

Round table discussion with testimonials of business innovation and creativity in entrepreneurship and rural development around NWFP. Photo: Sarah Adams.

Following these in-depth discussions about the drivers and barriers to innovation in NWFP, the second day of the meeting provided a platform for entrepreneurs and innovators to pitch their business ideas and engage with other entrepreneurs, start-ups, and established businesses, as well as researchers, business experts, rural development agencies, and policymakers. Participants were also encouraged to network in the “marketplace,” where businesses and start-ups presented stands with information, product samples, and interactive descriptions of services.

Innovations ranged from using drones and seed bombs for crowd-sourced reforestation (Dronecoria), to natural truffle flavour technology (Nectariss), to cork recycling (Catalan Cork Institute), and new jobs and opportunities for Tunisian resin tapping (RETUFO). The presenters shared their products and services, which spanned various stages of business development, in a search for partners, mentors or funding. Five of these presenters were winning participants in the INCREDIBLE project Open Innovation Challenge and Acceleration Service, and were able to reflect on the benefits of this process to their business’s development and future planning.

Álvaro León presents on exploring new value chains for acorn-based products with his start-up, Bellota y Raíz. Photo: Sarah Adams.

Overwhelmingly, the entrepreneurs who participated in this event were driven by a motivation beyond mere profit: many of those involved in the NWFP sector are invested in promoting the bioeconomy, providing sustainable, low-impact alternatives to fossil-based products, and revitalizing rural areas. Jesús Fernández Moya and Nur Algeet Abarquero from Aromas del Encinar, which harvests and processes wild aromatic plants, seek to “enhance customer experience by letting them know they are a key part of sustainable forest management.” Álvaro León, the co-founder of Bellota y Raíz, marries “tradition and innovation” while exploring new value chains for acorns. The entrepreneurs draw inspiration from their heritage, their own scientific research, and their passions – Giuseppe Uras and Claudio Fina, from Suru, were inspired by their love of surfing to produce complex objects from cork granulate, including a 100% organic pad for surfboards.

Last week’s meeting provided a unique space to reflect on the current state and future trends of NWFP innovations, to exchange knowledge and experience of how to face the drivers and barriers of the sector, and to promote B2B meetings among rising and successful NWFP entrepreneurs. This space opened the door for possible future collaborations among businesses and other actors seeking to develop sustainable, innovative products using non-wood forest products. It contributes to the INCREDIBLE project’s aim to create cross-sectorial partnerships and support NWFP actors and practitioners in the development of innovative solutions for NWFP management.

With this basis, the businesses and entrepreneurs who participated are one step closer to turning their inspired ideas, into a financially and environmentally sustainable reality.

Click here for more information about the event and get inspired by NWFP innovations on the INCREDIBLE website.

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‘Innovation Networks of Cork, Resins and Edibles in the Mediterranean basin’ (INCREDIBLE) promotes cross-sectoral collaboration and innovation to highlight the value and potential of Non-Wood Forest Products to support sustainable forest management and rural development. INCREDIBLE is coordinated by the European Forest Institute, bringing together universities, research centres and professional organisations.