Episode 2: From original ideas to Aventurin Waste ...
How did my original ideas turn into Aventurin Waste? Getting serious about it …
I’ll continue where I left it with Episode 1 in this part of my blog series.
After being in the Senegal in February and March 2019 already for about three of the total three and a half weeks, I decided to spend my last three days in a tourist hotel in the Mbour region at the Petit Côte which is a very nice beach area about 80 km south of Dakar. Diving right back into my normal life was not an option. So I went for some western style tourist luxury where you just had to care to be in time for meal and the rest was on me. With this I gave me some time to think about all of what I had experienced so far. And digest. Which was urgently needed with my head and feelings jumping around ...
So I took again a sept-place from Kaffrine to Mbour. By the way, a sept-place is a typical inexpensive means for getting from A to B in the Senegal. Sept-place because it is a car with seven seats and often times these cars were built a long long time ago. You make very interesting and authentic experiences there, which I like a lot. And you learn a lesson here again - you’ll get there, not always as planned, but in the end things will work out ...
The hotel wasn’t too crowded at the time, but still pretty well visited - mainly by western European tourists. I basically did spend the three days at the hotel’s own beach area. Either sitting in the sand of the beach or in one of the freely available deck chairs of the hotel. And staring over the sea ...
My brain was going back and forth between all the impressions. All the people I had met. All the places I had seen. The conversations I had. Sometimes a bit bumpy as my French still leaves quite some room for improvement, but anyways - people were always welcoming me in their conversations. Thinking about the people I met at Gaia. Thinking about Cheikh and his chemistry students. Taking notes of my thoughts. Combining bits and pieces to a bigger picture. Writing down my thoughts helps me think, it makes my brain giving it all an inner structure. It usually works, yet also needs quite some time and you don’t know how long. And quietness helps.
And sometimes you need the right people to talk to and reflect, get new insights or new perspectives. And it is the balance of quietness and people that at the end makes the difference.
And luckily - as just a huge series of coincidences - I met Dörte from Hamburg there at the beach. That was the start of a three days long very intense conversation about many many things around the Senegal, the people and life in general. It was Dörte who shared quite a bit about her experience she made over the last 20 years when she first came as tourist and then again and again returned and did incredible things for the people of the country. Dörte also has written a book (“Der Schwindel”) which she brought me on day 2 and I couldn’t let go until I had read it, so that we could already talk about it on day 3 :-). A very inspiring book and a woman full of energy.
Funny part was that she at some point said, she also knew from the beginning that I was German. Because I had sat in the sand and was staring over the sea. Only Germans do this, she said :-).
So looking for hours over the sea and talking to Dörte for hours was my only activity besides enjoying meals and having a beer once in a while. That actually helped a lot calming my brain down from jumping around like crazy from thought to thought.
And it was once again the series of coincidences that made my way. One the one hand it was Dörte. On the other hand Google was helping out.
As already said in my last blog episode, it was the enormous amount of plastic waste that had touched my heart so much. And consequently it also triggered my brain. I wanted to understand more in general about plastic waste. And how actually plastic is being made in the first place. So what do you do? You Google. So I figured out that - no surprise - plastic is made from mineral oil, which I sort of knew. And that depending on how you connect the molecules (e.g. in short or long chains), you get once the plastic bottles, once the bags, once the polystyrene, once the … ok, interesting. So my brain kept working. And at some point I asked myself “can’t you reverse that transformation?” and asked again Google. I started typing “plastic transformation” and google auto-completed my search with “plastic transformation reverse”.
(This screen shot is obviously faked for the purpose of this blog as you can see)
Well, some other people seem to have asked that question. And obviously the answer is yes. So I kept reading and it didn’t take long until I stumbled about an entry from a German startup called Biofabrik. I looked up their website and liked more and more what I saw. They seemed to have exactly the technology on offer, which might make a huge difference in the Senegal. So I used the chat feature of their website to reach out and ask for more information. And their chatbot confirmed and kindly asked me to wait until the next day for them to get back to me, when they would be back at work on Monday.
I was heading back to Germany the next day and also got back to work at SAP then in my normal life. Yet, the impact on my normal life was too big to ignore. I couldn’t stop thinking about the Senegal and used my spare time to keep digging into the Biofabrik direction.
It then so happened that SAP offered in the context of a global restructuring effort also in Germany a voluntary program (besides an early retirement) which was very attractive. So I started thinking “what if”. What if I was to leave SAP, a company I worked for more than 25 years? What if I would take on the effort of creating a value chain for plastic waste in the Senegal way more seriously, because I would have way more time for it? What if I would do this as social business - an approach which I learned about from Dörte? What if I would use my professional experience as product manager at SAP to building up a second business for earning a living?
We discussed this scenario also in our family and I received quite some support for it. And I eventually decided late April / early May to go for it, because a) it was just the perfect wave that I had to ride and b) that the rest of my private context was also fitting to it in that the kids are old enough and already at university or heading there. My wife has a job. We do pretty well.
So seeing the perfect wave, seeing there’s nothing really against it and most of all trusting that I can make it happen. And even if I’d fail, it would be tough, but so what. You can recover. And by the way, it will be successful in the first place.
So starting my journey to the Senegal mid of February 2019 and deciding to turn my life upside down was a matter of about 8-10 weeks. But what sounds like crazy speed at the end is only a logical consequence of things that have built up in me over the last 8-10 years. And only then, it took a blink of an eye to decide.
There’s one other aspect that stood out for me in these few months in a sometimes bizarre plurality and speed. Things will happen that you can never plan or foresee, so be open for change and opportunities. It will enrich your life.
In the next episode ...
In the next episode, we will basically turn from “how we got there” to “where we’re heading”. We will explain why we called it Aventurin and you’ll read about a few of the current challenges we’re facing - and maybe you can help or know someone who knows someone who …
All the best, Achim