New business

A new business accelerator focuses on the forest products industry

Posted: 05/22/2022 15:02:08

Modified: 05/22/2022 15:00:14

As the saying goes, build a better feller buncher and the world of forestry will come knocking at your door.

But that’s assuming you can get funding, tech help, and development space — exactly the problem a four-month program is trying to solve this summer.

“The idea came from companies that were technology-driven…and saw an opportunity to support innovation in the forest products industry,” said Jared Reynolds, director of the Forest Products Accelerator.

Accelerators are short-term programs, often focused on specific industries or technologies, designed to help companies at the very beginning of their life cycle – start-ups in what is known as the “seed stage”. “. Similar to business incubators, accelerators provide expertise, contacts, and advice rather than a lot of funding, but unlike incubators, they only last for a set period of time.

The Forest Products Accelerator operates from July to November. Applications should be submitted by June 17 at forestaccelerator.org.

It is based at Northern Vermont University in Lyndonville, Vermont, and is open to anyone in North America.

“This region is a perfect place to pilot and launch these technology-driven businesses,” Reynolds said, in part because the Northeast’s relatively small private woodlot pattern creates a need for new, more efficient ways to harvest, cut and use wood.

“There’s definitely a focus on northern New England, wanting to support innovation and startups here,” Reynolds said. “But if there’s a startup in Oregon that has an idea or a feasible business using wood byproducts, when that technology or that business becomes available here, it can benefit us.”

He has three areas of interest: technology to improve forestry operations (this is where the feller buncher, a massive device for cutting and maintaining whole trees, would come in); products that use inferior wood, sawdust or resins; and heating with wood or biofuels, either with new ways of making fuel or with better systems such as burners.

It makes sense to target lower quality wood uses, as it is one of the biggest financial problems in the forest industry.

Paper mills and wood-burning power plants once purchased the branches and small trees that were cut when harvesting trees suitable for lumber, providing additional income that helped loggers continue to operate, but both of these industries decrease in the northeast. Creating new ways to make money from this by-product would be valuable for the industry.

The accelerator will pay for up to two trips to Vermont. It provides connections, both in person and online, to funders and businesses — Boise Cascade has committed to paying for a pilot project with at least one participant, Reynolds said — as well as a space to testing and technical expertise.

“We have links with some national companies that are looking for innovation. They have a lot of chips and dust and are looking for things to do with that, for startups with new and innovative ideas,” he said.

Reynolds graduated from Bow High School in 2005 and UNH in 2009 and is currently president of Making Matters, Concord’s makerspace, although he moved to Vermont.

The accelerator is managed by Northern Vermont University and DoNorthCoworking in Lyndonville.