Our startup stories now shed light on Ecobot, a project developed by A.G Corp S.A.S, a family business created by Lina Aramburo, who is an industrial engineer and company manager at Icesi University, and Santiago Aramburo, an industrial engineer at Javeriana Cali University. This Colombian startup was one of the 14 projects chosen by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to participate in Ideas Soluciones Mejor Vida 2016. We talked to the founders of Ecobot to learn more about the launch and development of this project.

When was the startup conceived and which were its goals?

Ecobot was born in an effort to encourage the recycling culture in Colombia and Latin America, since recycling rates in those countries are reported below 15 percent. Inspired in RVM (Reverse Vending Machines) that have been successful in other countries, Ecobot was adapted to the Colombian conditions and implemented back in April 2016.

Although ECOBOT was launched in Cali on April 15, 2016, we’ve been working full time on this project since October 2015, designing the equipment, and getting what we called Ecopartners.

How does Ecobot work?

Like a “Reverse Vending Machine”, Ecobot user introduce an empty PET bottle and its cap in different orifices. Per each bottled introduced, the Ecobot prints a discount coupon to be used in restaurants, stores, movie theaters and more. Ecobot guarantees the correct distribution of the collected PET waste and donates the caps to different foundations.

So far, the Ecobots have been installed in universities and malls in Cali city and that’s a way to connect the environmental commitment of companies to the society’s. As for Ecopartner companies, we are an advertising platform that fosters recycling through their brand.

What have been the main results of Ecobot?

The first important outcome was the materialization of this project, its development and production in the city, thus giving an example to the region. Beyond that, we’ve obtained the following results:

  • Having installed 5 Ecobots in the city over the first six months.
  • Having collected over 18 thousand bottles during the first 5 months and seeing how the recycling rate of Ecobots grows on a daily basis.
  • Counting on the trust of over 20 Ecopartners (partner companies) that decided to join Ecobot and promote recycling by using their brands. Such big companies as Almacenes Éxito and Evacol put their smart money on Ecobot before its launching.
  • Being chosen by the IDB as one of the 14 Latin American startups to participate in IDEAR SOLUCIONES 2016.

What are the prospects of Ecobot for the rest of the year and 2017?

We’re looking forward to finishing 2016 with 7 Ecobots distributed in different areas of Cali and counting on over 35 Ecopartners. In the early 2017, we’ll try to take our Ecobots to other cities of Colombia, such as Bogota and Medellin. And having more than 20 Ecobots in Cali. In 2017, the collection models will be installed at the point of origin of other wastes.

What’s the importance of being ranked among the 14 startups for Idear Soluciones Mejorar Vida 2016?

We’re very happy and proud about it. Being up for this recognition and international distinction is a huge responsibility. We must keep on working to reach out to more Latin American countries.

What do you think about the startup ecosystem in Colombia?

Since our very first experience, we’ve found several entities in Colombia that support the development of startups. The universities and the chamber of commerce are great examples. The Icesi University, for instance, has the Entrepreneurial Spirit Development Center (CDEE is the Spanish acronym), which has given us valuable consultancy and support by means of the Centro Alaya program. Likewise, the Javeriana University manages the Campus Nova.

However, we think that small companies don’t receive enough support in terms of bank charges and tax payment, since we are required to proportionally respond like medium and big companies, which represents an obstacle when it comes to founding a company because, during the “valley of death” (the first 2 years of a business) you have many expenditures and few incomes.

What tips would you share with other startups?

We tell them: yes, starting up is possible, there are obstacles like everything in life but it’s possible. They have to be persistent and keep their motivation. We recommend them to look for organizations that provide support for free, such as some universities and the chamber of commerce. Attend business activities to meet other companies and entrepreneurs, since they can be good allies.