In 2021, Rana Hajirasouli embarked on a mission to transform the way companies approach resource management and environmental impact. Her startup, The Surpluss, based in the United Arab Emirates, seeks to disrupt the traditional business landscape by promoting sustainability.
Hajirasouli, an Emirati native, has always been passionate about environmental sustainability. Her journey to founding the Surpluss took her through diverse experiences, from working in a litigation company as a court stenographer, where she observed crucial environmental and sustainability cases, to later engaging with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) struggling with climate change-related challenges.
Hajirasouli discovered that many SMEs desired to make a positive change but lacked the resources and knowledge to do so effectively. Her experience working in manufacturing allowed her to witness the dilemmas faced by SMEs. They grappled with raw material shortages, price hikes, and demands from larger clients regarding the eco-friendly aspects of their products, often without clear guidance.
As Hajirasouli delved deeper into the problem, she realized that addressing environmental concerns and resource depletion required understanding the psychological aspect of the human element. She wanted to explore how businesses could reshape their perspectives, much like how platforms such as Airbnb had revolutionized how people thought about sharing resources.
"So the deeper I started getting into the problem, the more I realized that it's not just about environmental conservation or resource degradation or depletion. It was a human puzzle piece that we needed to understand better in terms of psychology," explains Hajirasouli.
Hajirasouli's vision is grounded in the belief that businesses often have underutilized resources. Her platform helps companies identify and make the most of these resources, whether it's extra office space or employees with spare time, enabling them to adopt more sustainable business models while remaining financially viable.
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"I had one-on-one time with SMEs, and I saw their pain points. They were facing raw material crunches, price hikes, and demands from their larger clients in terms of what kind of products they should be made available to the market without any leniency in terms of educating them," she recalls, reflecting on the challenges faced by SMEs.
"What's fascinating is the way that Airbnb made it normal for people to stay at strangers' houses and stay in spaces that are not being completely utilized," Hajirasouli adds, drawing parallels to her vision of normalizing resource sharing in the business world.
"It is the same concept we want to bring to businesses essentially to help them realize that there's a lot of unfulfilled potential within businesses. And they don't need to wait for fancy net-zero technologies like carbon capture, which is not going to be commercially available for SMEs anytime soon, to make a change," she says.
The product essentially assists companies in two crucial ways. First of all, it helps them to identify underused resources, which could be in the form of excess office space, underutilized employees, or other unused assets. By pinpointing these resources, companies gain full autonomy over their existing assets, allowing them to assess the costs and depreciation associated with these underused assets in their books.
The second is matching and Collaboration: Once companies identify their underused resources, the platform connects them with other companies in the vicinity that can benefit from these resources. This collaborative approach fosters sustainability and incentivizes more eco-friendly business models. It also makes financial sense for companies, as they can reduce waste and maximize the utility of their assets.
To realize this vision, Hajirasouli assembled a team with extensive experience in diverse industries and merged them with experts in manufacturing and heavy-emitting sectors.
They took an incremental approach, building a beta product and incorporating customer feedback to ensure it was user-friendly. By October 2022, they launched a product designed to empower SMEs with a practical solution that required only minimal daily time investment.
"We gathered a lot of feedback as we were building the product because we wanted to make sure that we were building something that customers wanted to use. By the time we launched in October 2022, we knew we had a product that was going to be useful for SMEs and that would be easy for them to navigate," Hajirasouli explains.
The business model primarily caters to business-to-business (B2B) interactions. Companies join clusters, pay an annual membership fee, and gain access to Surpluss's platform, with no commissions charged.
Another model, Business-to-Government-to-Business (B2G2B), involves collaborating with city councils and local government free zones, offering their services to businesses to meet net-zero and sustainability goals. This approach aligns government visions with business realities and helps them navigate the path toward sustainable practices.
"For the B2B model, the members' annual membership works out at about AED 1,000 ($273) per month, so that's a minimum of AED 12,000 ($3,726) a year that they'd be paying," Hajirasouli says.
However, the journey to establishing The Surpluss was not without its challenges. The team understood that sustainability was not one-size-fits-all. Different companies have different needs, and the platform needed to adapt to these diverse requirements.
COVID-19 raised awareness about sustainability as well, as businesses recognized the importance of resilience -- not only in environmental terms but also in securing their supply chains.
Looking ahead, The Surpluss envisions connecting one million SMEs by 2025, a commitment to transforming the sustainability journey for businesses. The company plans to expand its reach into emerging markets to address sustainability needs more effectively.