SX Startups: GrubTubs Transforms Waste

The Forrest Four-Cast: February 28, 2018

At the 2018 SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event on March 10 and 11, 50 diverse startups will attempt to wow a panel of judges with their skills, creativity and innovation. Winners in each of 10 categories will be honored at the Accelerator Award Ceremony at 7 pm Sunday, March 11, at the Hilton Austin, Salon AB. Network with all the finalists from 11 am to 1:30 pm on Monday, March 12, at SXSW Accelerator Demo Day, at the Hilton Austin, Salon C. The SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event (as well as the Demo Day) takes place within the Startup & Tech Sectors track of programming.

A finalist in the Hyper-Connected Communities Technology category , the Austin-based company GrubTubs solves for the overabundance of food waste from restaurants by creating nutrient-rich animal feed that is affordable for local family farms. By diverting waste from landfills and improving business economics for small farmers, GrubTubs is working to reimagine America’s food, energy and waste cycles. See them pitch at 5 pm on Saturday, March 10, in the Hilton Austin, Salon AB. Robert Olivier, GrubTubs CEO, answered our questions.

What does GrubTubs hope to accomplish in 2018? 
We want to sign up 1000 restaurants in Austin — that would be 20,000 tons of food waste taken out of landfill.

What inspired you to apply for SXSW Accelerator? 
William McDonough’s speech at SXSW Eco was tailor made for me. He talked about being a child in Japan where farmers collected sewage to use as fertilizer. That speech gave me the framework to connect cities to farmers, and made me realize how important that is. That revelation led me to talk about not only grubs, but also about connecting chefs and farmers. It really amalgamated my thinking around our startup. It made me change the way we think and talk about our company, introducing a new context and framework.

Has anyone on your team been to SXSW before?
Everyone has been, either to SXSW Eco or SXSW Music. It’s such an exciting event and a great example of Austin’s entrepreneurial and musical spirit.

Has GrubTubs been involved with previous pitch events? 
Yes, we recently participated in Food+City, and we were the biggest winner in Austin at the WeWork Creator Awards. Seeing the crowd’s reaction and getting immediate feedback to what we’re doing is invaluable. It’s so motivating.

GrubTubs is based in Austin. What do you find particularly compelling about the tech/startup scene in central Texas?
The reason we’re based in Austin is because of the progressive policies the city has established. We wouldn’t be here without the Zero-Waste Policy. In that sense, Central Texas makes the most sense for us. Austin is losing nine acres of farmland to development every day. GrubTubs aims to help farmers keep their land, by giving them cost-saving feed sources that will in the long run help them to scale their businesses. We want to change the food system in Austin and that starts with changing the waste system in Austin.

What can you tell us about team members previous experience with other startups? 
Ashley King, our COO, was employee number six at the Honest Company. She was the Director of Social Goodness and Corporate Responsibility there, and that experience, plus her dual MBA and law degree from Loyola, has proved invaluable to GrubTubs.

For what you do on a day-to-day basis at GrubTubs, what does work-life balance look like? 
It doesn’t exist. I’m just excited that I now get to go to all these restaurant openings as part of the job!

Other than GrubTubs, what is world’s the most intriguing startup at present?
There are many exciting developments in the world of batteries. Donald Sadoway, a professor at MIT, has a startup called Ambri. There’s another battery technology company developed by Bill Joy. Both of these concepts would change the game in terms of energy. The moment we can get out of the lithium ion bottleneck we can change the grid significantly.

You can invite any three living people from anywhere in the world to dinner. Who do you invite and why?
I’d go with chef Mathew Peters, William McDonough, and Master Cho. Mat could do the cooking! He’s a big supporter of the company and has cooked with our chickens before. McDonough is the one who inspired us to connect farms with chefs in the first place, so he’s got to be at the table. I’ve been inspired by Master Cho, a farmer in Korea who developed Korean natural farming, where the farmer uses exclusively fermented everything, from fertilizer to pesticides. There would be a really interesting dinner conversation with those three.

Look for interviews with other SXSW Accelerator finalists in this space between now and March. Startups already profiled as part of this series include 70MillionJobsAfterNowARwallaugmen.tvBluefieldCambridge Cancer GenomicsCommutifiDashTagFanFoodFutureFuel.ioGoalsetterHealthTensorInstreamaticLeafMoms Can: CodePawamePolyPortSceenicSwitchboardUPGRADEDUSHR and Vochlea.

Or, click here to browse the full lineup of startups for SXSW Accelerator 2018.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.