IGP Stories

A circular economy business gets children into STEM and the culture of repairing things

Fast Forward 2030 Europe

25 October 2023

For the Circular Economy Week 2023, we interviewed Anaïs Engelmann, the Co-Founder of Team Repair, a start-up with the mission of engaging more children in science and technology while tackling the e-waste crisis through the fixing of electronics. She spoke recently at our Fast Forward 2030 event “Meet the Entrepreneurs Turning Waste into Value”, taking part in the sixth annual circular economy showcase from 16 to 20 October 2023.

1. Circular economy is a term we hear a lot about these days. How do you define it, and what role does it play in your work with Team Repair?

For me, “Circular Economy” means extending resource life cycles for as long as possible, whether that’s through rethinking business models, redesigning products to be more resource efficient, or finding ways to redirect waste back into the supply chain. At Team Repair, we create kits that teach children how to repair broken electronics using real gadgets, and a circular economy framework is core to our company mission. We operate a rental business model over an ownership one - once a repair kit has been completed, it is sent back to us so that we can “re-break” the gadget before sending it off to another child to fix. This means gadgets get reused over and over again, maximising our impact and minimising our waste creation. Our long term goal for driving the circular economy forwards is instilling a repair mindset to the next generation, so that they have the confidence to fix something when it breaks.

2. Education is a core aspect of your work. How does Team Repair approach educating people about the circular economy and repair?

What got my co-founders and I into engineering when we were younger was taking broken things apart, trying to fix them and seeing how real products actually worked. Combining repair and STEM education felt so natural to us because it is what we grew up doing and got us to where we are today. Our approach to teaching repair aims to recreate our experiences, both making it as fun as possible, whilst also nurturing curiosity and problem solving skills through a practical activity.

Within each repair activity, we integrate curriculum-based STEM lessons, to demonstrate potentially abstract or hard to grasp science concepts in real life. This is paired with a more holistic exploration of sustainability topics related to the activity. For instance, in our wind-up torch repair kit, children are tasked with solving the puzzle of how to order the gears inside, as well as fixing the handle and replacing the batteries, which teaches them all about gears mechanisms, levers, and power storage and generation. Once complete, they are challenged to connect a voltmeter to both the spinning handle as well as a mini solar panel, to compare different methods of energy generation and as an introduction to renewable energy.

3. Team Repair has likely collaborated with various stakeholders. Could you talk about the importance of partnerships and collaboration in advancing the circular economy and the SDGs?

When building a startup, there are always a million things to prioritise and so it can be easy to get distracted from your core mission. Finding and working with other organisations who share our sustainability goals have been crucial to focusing our work to advance our impact in the circular economy space.

We work with Repair Cafes and repair groups like The Restart Project, to learn what kinds of repair skills are most useful to teach. We work with schools and educational groups to understand how we can best engage children from all backgrounds with repair and STEM. We collaborate with councils to figure out how together we can promote circular economy and sustainability to local schools and groups. The list goes on!

4. How do you see the future of the circular economy and the role of repair evolving, and what impact do you hope to make through Team Repair in the coming years?

Repair is such a powerful skill that can help tackle so many of the societal issues we are faced with today: the cost of living crisis, the practical skills shortage, and of course the e-waste and climate crisis. The Right To Repair movement, a global policy-driven movement to make sure everyone has the right to fix the products they own, will be critical for enabling repair. This, coupled with repair education for the next generation (which is where we come in), has the power to really drive the circular economy movement and reduce our planet’s future electronic waste production.

That’s why alongside our core business activities, we are constantly working with and amplifying repair groups developing campaigns calling for change at a policy level. Speaking of, the UK Repair and Reuse Declaration has just been released, asking UK legislators and decision-makers at all levels to support repair and reuse to thrive. Check out https://repairreusedeclaration.uk/# if you would like to get involved!

Finally, we are determined to prove that circular business models are not only good for the planet, but also good for business. For us, our circular model just makes commercial sense - we are able to reach a positive gross profit margin from the first time we ship a kit, and this just increases each time we recirculate the kit. In the future, we want to share our data and learnings on developing a circular model with other businesses who want to transition to a circular model too.

5. What advice would you give to others who are interested in setting up their own business to achieve the circular economy and the SDGs?

Speak to other businesses in the circular space. We have received so much useful advice and learnings from other companies who are a bit ahead of us and who have faced similar challenges to us earlier in their journeys. This is particularly valuable in areas of industry which aren’t completely on board or up to date with circular economy practices yet, such as logistics and operations.

6. What is to you the most rewarding aspect of your job as an impact entrepreneur?

Working in the education space, we are able to see the direct impact of our work when talking to students, teachers, and parents. We’ve had children tell us they managed to fix something at home after attending one of our workshops, or teachers telling us that using our kits helped build their students’ science confidence. Those moments are definitely always the most rewarding, and motivate us to keep going.

#CEweek2023 is a celebration of progress and innovation in the circular economy space. Hosted by ReLondon, London's circular economy partner, and sponsored by Visa, the event showcases circular recommerce business models and inspires businesses to transition towards a more sustainable future.

To collaborate with impact entrepreneurs in the UK, Lebanon, and Africa for a circular economy and to achieve SDGs, join Fast Forward 2030 Community.

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