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Five Burning Questions with New England Based Innovators: Epic Renewal Co-founder Tess Feigenbaum

Updated: Apr 19

Epic Renewal, founded by Tess Feigenbaum and B. Baba, is on a mission to keep food waste out of landfills and use it to improve soil health and support equitable and resilient food systems. Starting out in L.A. and now back in New England, they’re combining software with turning piles of compost. 

StartUp Boston caught up with Co-founder and Operations Director Tess Feigenbaum about Epic Renewal's mission, her advice for entrepreneurs, and small steps you can take to help the climate crisis.

SB: Epic Renewal has been in action for some time starting in LA and now back in New England. Tell me about the mission, highlights, and where the organization is now.

Tess Feigenbaum: We’re community-based composters who work to keep food waste out of landfills, and use it to build healthy soils and promote equitable and resilient food systems. We also offer zero waste consulting to help our clients shrink their carbon footprint, and provide easy composting services for businesses and events – we'll provide useful signage and clean containers for our customers to collect their food waste, and swap them for clean ones each week. You could say we do the dirty work, and our customers do good! 

A big piece of our current work is centered around developing critical software for other composters like us to do their work more efficiently, and effectively measure their impact. Throughout our work, and that of our peers, we’ve seen a clear need for technology to automate processes and collect the data we need to tell our story and establish our work as a critical infrastructure solution to address climate change. The software we’re developing to launch in 2024 will help composters not only effectively manage their composting sites across team members and locations, but also track key impact data points that illustrate the larger societal impact of our work.

SB: What advice would you give to someone who is totally new to understanding the climate crisis and not sure where to start?

Tess Feigenbaum: Be patient with yourself, go slow, and follow your interests. The climate crisis is so huge and complex that it’s impossible to grasp all of the nuances, challenges, and context around all of the factors that have led us to the situation we’re in as a planet. A huge piece of starting to dig into any of this is recognizing that no one person is to blame, and no one person can fix it all. Everyone making tiny changes and improvements goes far. Start small by finding one positive habit change that is realistic for you to implement in your life. When that feels old, find a new one, and keep going from there.

You can also look for the areas that you’re passionate about and search for where your skills can overlap. If you’re a beach person, do some research on ocean pollution and acidification, and learn about what organizations in your area are working on those challenges. If you’re a foodie, learn about the farm near you, and how soil health supports our food systems. There is without a doubt an issue that will resonate with your interests, people already working to address that issue, and a place for your unique skill set to add value.

QUESTION: Epic Renewal hosts zero-waste events, can you tell me more about that and the scale of events? Is it more expensive?

Tess Feigenbaum: A zero waste event is one with a keen eye towards minimizing landfill waste, with the ideal goal being zero landfill waste whatsoever. We’ll work with our clients to ensure every detail of their event is considered, large or small. We’ve helped customers reduce waste at their events from a small wedding to a 5,000-guest music festival. We’ll provide compostable serveware, work directly with caterers and florists to minimize packaging, provide clear signage and helpful staff. We divert everything organic from landfill with our composting services, and will secure a food recovery partner for leftovers. 

Our current approach to waste management in the U.S. has set unreasonable expectations about what handling our discards actually costs. It will always be cheaper in the short term to throw everything in the landfill, cover it up, and forget about it, though the long-term costs will far outweigh the short term market standards we’ve set. While our pricing can be comparable to a single-stream waste management vendor, it does sometimes come out more expensive. Those costs reflect the realities of offering equitable pay, creating local jobs, putting in skilled labor, and creating major environmental benefits in our communities. If our services are cost prohibitive for any client, we’re always happy to pivot, adjust, or craft an entirely new approach that fits within their budget. Small steps make a big difference - even just shifting a single component of an event plan can create less wasteful outcomes!

SB: Imagine yourself in ten years thinking over the arc of your startup. What are you most proud of?

Tess Feigenbaum: I think at the end of the day, I’m most proud of having actually gotten out of my seat and created some of the change that I wanted to see in the world. I know that when I’m turning a compost pile, I’m having a real impact, even if it’s small. In my experiences with Epic Renewal, the brightest points are the times when I’ve been able to share my passion, and get someone else excited about compost, or soil health, or food systems - those moments are usually a casual conversation, or onboarding a new client, or some other easily dismissed interpersonal moment. Being able to share something I care about and welcome others to join in on the journey is an immense privilege, and feels like a huge energy boost when I get to do it.

SB: You've worked with countless entrepreneurs, what's the number one piece of advice would you give to an entrepreneur who is just starting out?

Tess Feigenbaum: Stick it out, be kind to yourself, and find a community of support. Entrepreneurship is just plain hard - it’s super common for entrepreneurs to feel like they’re crazy, especially when their family, friends, or community struggles to understand their vision. The people who love you will be worried about what will happen if you fail, and their input may not always be helpful sometimes, even though it’s coming from a good place. Find others who have been through the journey and lean on them when you’re struggling, stuck, or feeling like quitting. While your passion and business is unique, the experience of crafting something yourself is a shared experience amongst other makers and starters.

Written by Rachael Brady, a digital content specialist at tech startup connectRN.


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