Five Questions With Rust Belt Riders Co-Founder Dan Brown

Every entrepreneur needs fertile soil and a thriving ecosystem to flourish. But it’s not just a metaphor for Rust Belt Riders—the business literally converts food waste to high quality compost that enriches the soil. Recently we sat down with co-founder Dan Brown to learn more about how his business took root.

What inspired you to create Rust Belt Riders?
In 2012, we started a community garden in Cleveland on 40th and St. Clair. In doing so we realized that the soil we were working with was pretty degraded. At the same time, we were also working at restaurants and had a lot friends who were working at restaurants too. We noticed that most of these businesses didn’t have a strategy for managing their food waste.

We figured that if we delivered a service to them by collecting their food waste, we could have greater access to nutrient dense soil to use for our own purposes of creating food for ourselves and our community. That’s where it started.

What is your market niche? What problem are you solving?
Across the country, 40 percent of food that is grown gets wasted and most of this waste comes from consumers. We target businesses whose majority waste stream consists of compostable food waste and offer a solution that recirculates it back into the local economy.

Where is the business now, and what are some of your future plans and goals?
We currently have 40 clients in Northeast Ohio and we’re seeking to expand in the next year by moving from targeting cafes and restaurants to larger institutions such as hospitals universities and grocery stores. This will also help us to achieve greater impact both environmentally and socially.

We are also investigating some opportunities for us to convert the food waste to products that can be used as animal feed and in anaerobic digestion in addition to compost.

How did you first connect with JumpStart and learn about the Core City Cleveland Impact Program?
We started out last year in a local accelerator called SEA Change that works with social enterprises. That’s when we realized we needed to work through some of the issues that we were facing and determine how we were going to scale up our operations. JumpStart does a tremendous job of linking to institutions and government agencies in a lot of ways that other accelerators do not. So, I sent an email to Lamont Mackley; we had a few conversations and here we are.

The program has been very thorough and it has really helped us to grow in our knowledge. I didn’t study business in college, so this has been a great way to continue to refine our business chops and better align ourselves with the regional goals that JumpStart is so in tune with.

Every business encounters obstacles that can stunt their growth. Have you had any major setbacks and if so, how have you adapted?
Early on, we were definitely not thinking big enough. We were literally riding around on bicycles to transport our compost. As a result, we encountered scaling challenges because of how small we started. Through the Core City Cleveland Impact Program, we’ve gained a better understanding of the market potential and realized we can grow faster.

Watch Dan’s elevator pitch for Rust Belt Riders below. To learn more about the Core City: Cleveland program, click here.