Food & Drink

Constructing A More Sustainable Future

It’s been a long year. Our latest 30 Under 30 Europe Manufacturing & Industry honorees gives us hope for a more sustainable future.

For many young entrepreneurs, the sky’s the limit. Ehsanullah Ekhlas decided to get there by digging holes in the ground. 

As cofounder and CEO of Unicontrol ApS, a Denmark-based startup with a user-friendly machine control system for excavators, Ekhlas is working to make the construction business more efficient and safe. The system runs on custom three-dimensional models, which ensures the digging process is correctly completed the first time.  Born in Afghanistan, Ekhlas immigrated to Denmark with his family at age 10. His motivation to work hard and deliver results, he says, is based on a drive to “give back to my parents who fled from their home country and left everything behind to give a better life to their children.”

Ekhlas is just one of the accomplished members of the Forbes’ 2021 Europe 30 Under 30 Manufacturing & Industry list. From building Europe’s first 3D printed house to formulating edible packaging, our latest batch of honorees are redefining sectors historically resistant to innovation. 

Like Ekhlas, several of our honorees are reconstructing construction. That 3D printed house was the debut project of COBOD International, founded by Simon Klint Bergh in 2017. The Copenhagen company’s 3D printers, selling for an average price of  about $400,000 (€340,000), have churned out schools in Africa, farms in Florida, multistory family housing in Germany and even wind turbine towers for General Electric. Elizabeth Gilligan, cofounder and CEO of London’s Material Evolution, has developed a mixture called “algorithmic concrete,” which can fit seamlessly into existing manufacturing processes—while reducing the carbon footprint of production by 85%. Also in the U.K., George Smithies leads innDex, a startup keeping construction workers connected during projects with a combination of hardware and cloud-based software. 

Some of our honorees aim to make the energy industry greener. Martin Pentenrieder, cofounder of Kraftwerk, invented a fuel cell technology that is both light and rugged. The product can use a variety of different kinds of fuels, enabling it to be a “bridge technology” to pure hydrogen. After three years of R&D work, Andreas Eberhardt’s Munich-based startup Pionierkraft allows homeowners to share renewable energy produced from rooftop solar panels or other sources with their neighbors. And as innovation lead at Maersk Drilling, Ana Andonvska is helping to pivot the offshore drilling operator towards a more sustainable future—all while leading With Purpose, an organization she cofounded to bridge the entrepreneurship gender gap in Nordic countries.  

Andonvska isn’t our only honoree working to increase entrepreneurial equity. In addition to her day job as commercial director at McCormick & Company managing commercial teams across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia, Simone Sargeant also founded a coaching initiative to support young women entrepreneurs. Hady Milani directs the Space Entrepreneurship program at the European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability—and one of his works of art has been selected to be sent to the Moon in a project joined by the European Space Agency. At Student Energy, a global youth-led organization empowering young people to accelerate the sustainable energy transition, Helen Watts led fundraising and grew the organization’s budget by 700% in four years to become a multi-million dollar operation in 2021. 

What better way to create material change than with materials? As cofounder of Zurich-based Antefil Materials, Nicole Aegerter leverages research from her PhD to manufacture fiber-reinforced thermoplastic materials that are more durable than the competition (and completely recyclable). In Italy, Cosimo Maria Palopoli cofounded IUV, which fabricates single-use packaging products that are biodegradable, compostable and plastic-free. In Estonia, Kelly Kangur and Mart Salumae are developing water-soluble plant-based and edible packaging materials at Decomer Ventures, a startup they founded together in 2017.  

A few young European entrepreneurs plan to innovate the oldest industry around: agriculture. With their company Materra, Edward Brial, John Bertolaso and Edward Hill are building more agile farming systems to produce sustainable cotton supply chains. To make that happen, the UK-based founders are improving agricultural infrastructure to better cope with climate volatility and developing management tools that enable farmers to make better decisions with data. As the founder of Smartkas, David Meszaros employs artificial intelligence, drones and clean energy systems to build greenhouses and vertical farms that don’t need pesticides. For tomato production alone, a Smartkas greenhouse uses about 5% of the water needed in traditional farming. 

From fuel cells to food packaging and everything in between, this year’s Europe 30 Under 30 Manufacturing & Industry honorees give us hope that a more sustainable future is within reach.

This year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Manufacturing & Industry list was created using nominations from a variety of sources, and edited by Alex Knapp and Eliza Haverstock.

Our judges this year were Aleksander Ciszek, CEO of 3D printing software startup 3YourMind and a 2018 Under 30 honoree; Benoit d’Iribarne, senior VP of Technology & Industrial Performance at French manufacturing giant Saint-Gobain; and Annalisa Stupenengo, president of powertrain at Italy’s CNH Industrial.

For the complete Manufacturing & Industry list, click here and for full 30 Under 30 Europe coverage, click here.

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