Welcome to Startup of the Week. A column highlighting BC’s most innovative and exciting tech startups. Today, we’re featuring Flash Forest.
What’s your higher purpose? That’s the multi-million dollar question for any startup. For Flash Forest, the answer comes easy. The planet loses 13 billion trees per year and regains less than half of that. Flash Forest started with one clear goal, to heal our planet’s lungs. As far as this company is concerned, until that job is done well, no other job matters.
The timber industry has mastered efficient harvesting technology for quick clearing with minimal human involvement. On the other hand, tree planting still operates with a bag and shovel. Now Flash Forest is changing that. Instead of humans on the ground, it’s transferring the hard labour to drones at 10 times the speed, and accelerating the rate of reforestation worldwide. Any surprise this startup just keeps on growing.
Marc Apduhan, Innovation and Business Development Manager of Flash Forest, talks about what motivates the team every day, questions to ask when networking, and how to find out your CO2eq.
Q: How would you describe your company to a Grade 7 class?
A: Flash Forest uses state-of-the-art technology including drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning and biology to scale the rate of reforestation globally.
Every year, there’s a net loss of seven billion trees. Yet the standard approach to reforestation is still confined to planting by hand, using shovels. This method hasn’t advanced, ever! While it does result in reliable survival rates, it can’t meet rising demands, given that over 15 billion trees are cut down.
With changing climate and urgent need to scale, reforestation efforts need to catch up.
Drone reforestation is the newest method for rehabilitating forests, and Flash Forward is Canada’s largest drone reforestation company.
Q: What motivates your team every day?
A: We started Flash Forest with the goal of offsetting carbon emissions enough to have a significant and measurable impact on climate change within the next decade. The support from everyone has really kept the team moving forward with this mission.
Our first overarching goal is to plant a BILLION trees by 2028. Once that is accomplished, we will proceed to working with world leaders in achieving the planting of a trillion permanent trees, and move forestation technology forward to combat climate change and address the problem holistically.
Q: What don’t people know about Flash Forest that they should?
A: Over 80 countries have reached out to us!
Flash Forest’s partners include sustainable companies, Indigenous partners, academia including UBC, environmental organizations, and governments across Canada and around the world.
Over half of us on the team have also been tree planters. We have tests planned or underway with over 15 species for planting trials. The list includes: White Pine, Red Pine, White Spruce, Coastal Douglas Fir, Western hemlock, Interior Douglas Fir, Hybrid Spruce, Acacia Koa, Pili Grass, Mamane, Aalii, Kolea, Papala, Kepau, Akoko, Naio, and more.
Q: What has been most helpful for building your business?
A: Thank you to New Ventures BC, MaRS, Centre for Social Innovation, Emissions Reduction Alberta, InnovateBC, ECO Canada, SDTC, and to our partners for giving us the land, species of trees, and expertise in order to make this happen.
Special shout-outs go to UBC’s Dean of Forestry, Dr. John Innes, among other world experts who provide their expertise.
Q: What are 5 trends that will impact your company?
A: 1) The Government of Canada is committed to planting 2 billion trees the right way. Ensuring that tree planting can be done on this scale and in a sustainable, inclusive manner that supports biodiversity requires careful planning so that the right tree is planted in the right place.
2) The Bonn Challenge is a global goal to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
3) Canada has declared carbon tax as constitutional.
4) The frequency of wildfires and deforestation.
5) The changing societal conscience to do good!
Q: What advice would you give others in the startup community?
A: Join causes you are truly passionate about. It’s likely there are many others who share your same views and you can work together to make things happen.
Work with people you truly enjoy working with, and form a strong team by establishing clear communication and transparency. Be careful and never overpromise. Better to over-deliver.
Network and ask questions. Who are worthwhile investors to partner with? What’s the best way to gather capital? How should you form your organizational chart? What are some unexpected costs? Etc. There are many others going through the same experience as you are.
Embrace diversity and inclusion at the office. The workplace of today is a multifaceted environment, with people from all walks of life.
Q: Who are your heroes in real life?
A: I look up to Dr. Shannon Bard, my mentor and colleague of five years. Shannon Bard is a dynamic leader with over 25 years of experience in commercializing innovations, sustainability, environmental health, biomedical research, toxicology, ecological impact and risk assessment. She has extensive experience in leading regional, national and international multidisciplinary technical teams to tackle complex interdisciplinary environmental problems.
We also look up to our great mentors who have led us closer to our goal of planting a billion trees, Dr. John Innes, Adam Lorant, and Angie Schick.
Q: Any call to action for readers?
A: Find out your Co2eq through our carbon calculator and contribute to our cause here.
We’re always looking for talent, aligned investors, planting projects worldwide, volunteers and future employees, experts in the field of forestry, and press. So don’t hesitate to email us.
If you’re a company and you see synergy in your work or you want to sponsor our work, connect with me on LinkedIn.
Want to be featured as a Startup of the Week? If you are a BC-based tech startup that we should know about, or would like to suggest one, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.