Michael Stausholm, in a photo taken by himself.

Welcome to The Hub, your spot for ecosystem and accelerator news. In this news roundup, we provide you with the latest on organizations working to support, educate and fund innovators and their ideas. We’ll highlight cohort applications, people to know in the incubator world and programs working to give resources to those who typically don’t have access elsewhere. As always, we’re focused on underrepresented entrepreneurs — such as women, people of color, and those geographically outside power centers — and organizations supporting these demographics. 

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Coming Soon: Sproutable Eyeliner

Michael Stausholm has focused his life work on sustainability. He’s conducted speeches about the topic, advised on it for large corporations such as Nike and Walmart, and since 2013, he’s led a company driven by sustainability. In 2019, it had revenue of $6 million in 2019, and is on track to increase that to $7.5 million this year.

Sprout, Stausholm’s Copenhagen-based company, produces pencils that can be planted at the end of its life cycle. It’s sold 35 million of its products since its start, he said.

Now the firm is entering a new, even larger market with a sustainable product: the $3.6 billion eyeliner pencil market.

A group of students at MIT came up with the idea of the plantable pencil when they were tasked with creating the office of the future in a class. Stausholm came across the idea on a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and made a deal to sell the product in Europe. A year later, he acquired the company’s patent and rights.

The pencil, Saushold says, has two lives and no waste. “You take a product, you use it for something, and instead of throwing it out, after you’re done, you can actually literally give a new life a second life by planting it and growing beautiful flowers or herbs,” he said. A pack of 5 sells for $11.80 on Amazon. 

The company has grown in its eight years, with manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Europe. Its Boston office runs its North American operations. It has about 30 employees. Stausholm has funded the company on it’s own, wary of straying from the impact-driven nature of the company. “I try to stay away from venture capitalists and funds because I don’t feel that they have the same focus on sustainability and green business  as we do,” he said.

In May, Sprout launched its newest product in Europe: an eyeliner pencil with the same second-life properties. Stausholm was not convinced it was a good idea at first when a teammate pitched it.

“She then pulled her hand back from under the table, and she had four or five different eyeliners in her hand bag, and then they started around the table to show me that they were all carrying anywhere from one to six, seven eyeliners brow liners, lip liners, in their bags,” he said. “We started to investigate and the global market is huge — it’s 10s of billions of liners that are being sold every year.”

Sprout’s formula is all natural and has an allergy certification, he said. The company plans to launch the product in the U.S. in September.

“The cosmetic industry wants to be sustainable and natural, but the fact of the matter is that they are very, very far from natural and sustainable, unfortunately,” Stausholm said. Sprout plans to launch a brow liner and lip liner in the future, as well. 

Many companies have marketed sustainability in their products for recent years, a trend that’s responding to consumers’ want to be more green. The problem with this is many of these companies’ marketing is simply that — their words don’t align with their actions.

RELATED: Public Sustainability Declarations Don’t Match Private Boardroom Convos: Report

“Talking about and being marketing smart about sustainability is not enough anymore, because the consumers are paying much more tough on companies,” Stausholm said. “You must be able to document your supply chain. You must be able to actually prove that your product is all natural.”

In Denmark, companies are fined when they falsely claim their products are sustainable. 

Eatery Turned Queer Incubator In NYC

A beloved diner in New York City transformed last month into a community cafe and business incubator for founders who are queer or people of color, Eater New York reports. The diner, called MeMe’s, had started to host pop-ups in its space as the pandemic hit the restaurant industry especially hard, former co-owner Libby Willis tells Eater. Now, the space’s main mission is to carve out more space for queer poeple and people of color under its new name KIT, or Keep In Touch, according to the article.

“This is not a pivot, but it is a direct response to the fragility of the restaurant industry,” Willis told Eater reporter Erika Adams. “To me, opening another restaurant that was just my own felt like status quo. I wanted to try to create something that felt sustainable for small businesses.”

Each business works out a contract with Willis for how long they’d like to stay in the space, according to the article. The goal is that the shared space will help these separate companies grow.


$200k for A New Minority Business Incubator in Louisville

Louisville Metro Government is giving $200,000 to SKS Accounting and Consulting Firm, a black woman-owned agency in Louisville, Kentucky, to create a minority business incubator in the city, the Louisville Courier Journal reports. The firm’s incubator will be called The Well and it will focus on business development services such as accounting, marketing and technology implementation. Going forward, the incubator plans to sell bundled membership and sponsorship to local companies to fund the incubator.

RELATED: As A $3 Billion Boom Hits Louisville, New Generations Of Black Leaders Are Rising To Power

Loans For Small Business Owners in Washington

Washington State small business owners and nonprofits can apply for a new $100 million loan program, called Small Business Flex, according to an announcement from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The public-private partnership between the state Department of Commerce and financial institutions and community organizations is offering loans of up to $150,000 to owners, with a focus on those located in low-income communities. Five CDFIs are originating loans for the fund.  The interest rates will be between 3-4.5%. Small businesses in the area with fewer than 50 employees and less than $3 million in revenue can apply. Applications are live on the fund’s website.

Names to Know

Salome Asega will lead the New Museum’s incubator for creative entrepreneurs starting Jul 26, according to an article by ArtForum. The incubator program has been running for eight years, according to its website. Asega teaches speculative and critical design classes at New York’s Parsons School of Design and previously was the New Media Art Research Fellow For Creative and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, according to the article. Asega has worked with the New Museum before, working with the education department in 2014 and becoming an IdeaCity Fellow in 2016. 

Sarah Ross was recently named the director at Norwalk Economic Development Corp. in Ohio, the Norwalk Reflector reports. Previously, Ross held a similar role as the director at Erie County Erie Economic Development Corp., where she played a key role in attracting a more than $400 million project that plans to create 200 jobs.

Open Applications

Applications open for InsurTech NY 

InsurTech NY is seeking growth-stage insurance startups for its accelerator, Insurance Journal reports. The program is a global one (last year, the accelerator accepted entrepreneurs from more then 20 countries). The program has partnered with more than 20 brokers, carriers and affiliated venture arms, such as Chicago-based Avant Ventures and Carmel, Indiana-based CNO Financial, who will work with the accepted startups according to the article. The program will also mentor the startups on topics such as raising funds, recruitment and marketing. Applications are due August 2.

RELATED: A New Auto Insurance Company Aims At The Underserved LatinX Market

Accelerator Series for Montana Tech Entrepreneurs

Montana State University and nonprofit Early Stage Montana have partnered to offer a free program to train and mentor Montana tech entrepreneurs, KSEN reports. It’s part of the organization’s efforts to advance tech startups in the state, according to the article. Entrepreneurs will compete in regional showcases, the first one on July 29. Winners will move onto a 50-hour, one week training bootcamp in September, and finally compete in the final showcase for the chance to win a $50,000 investment.  Applications are due July 16.

Food Accelerator Offers $10,000 and Mentorship From Barilla

San Francisco- based Good Food Makers is seeking startups innovating the food space for its global accelerator, according to the program’s website. The program is in partnership with Barilla Group’s venture group, BLU1877, and the incubator KitchenTown, according to the article. Specifically, the program is looking for entrepreneurs with solutions to reduce waste, improve food delivery, develop digital nutrition guides and create easy meal routines. One startup per category will be selected to receive $10,000 and work with Barilla experts for eight weeks to develop the solution. Applications are due in August.

Outside U.S.

Entrepreneur Award For Turtle Island Indigenous Entrepreneurs

Pow Wow Pitch, a grassroots organization in Turtle Island, Ontario, of Indigenous entrepreneurs, is accepting applications for its annual Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards, according to a news release. The award, which consists of a title, a plaque and a signed original piece of art from Indigenous artist Christi Belcourt, will be presented with Facebook, Shopify and RBC. Indigenous entrepreneurs across Turtle Island are eligible to apply for the award. Applications are due July 30.

This story has been updated to reflect that Sprout’s eyeliner formula has an allergy certification.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.