Alum Startup Renoster Kickstarts with Techstars Sustainability Accelerator Program
Renoster, a startup founded by Saif Bhatti (McC ’20), was recently selected for the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Techstars provides mentorship opportunities, funding, and connections to potential partner organizations to 10 sustainability-related startups, with the most recent cohort beginning in September 2021. Renoster was selected after a competitive application process.
Bhatti, who was a double major in industrial engineering and philosophy at Northwestern, launched Renoster in 2019 with funding support from the Resnick Family Social Impact Program — administered by the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN). Separate funding came from an undergraduate research grant through the McCormick School of Engineering and faculty mentorship from professors Nick Marchuk and Stephen Tarzia.
Renoster began in March 2019 as a research project using bio-acoustic monitoring technology with the aim of reducing wildlife poaching in Africa. Bhatti developed an audio-processing script using a linear programming language he learned in his engineering courses. The devices could raise alerts in response to the sound of poacher gunshots.
“ISEN has been a key support, believing in us from day one and introducing us to The Nature Conservancy... And TNC enabled us to go to Thornybush and do some real testing [in the field]. And we've been leveraging that pilot since July [of that year],” said Bhatti. The early funding allowed Bhatti to test the model first at a preserve managed by TNC in Oregon in 2019 and then in the Thornybush Game Reserve in South Africa in 2019.
“Now what we're doing is taking a step back and reevaluating where we fit in the supply chain, or the value chain,” he added. Based out of Boulder, Colorado, Techstars provided Bhatti and the Renoster team with support with everything from local office space to mentorships to the first institutional capital. Then, for 13 weeks, Bhatti and his team worked with Techstars mentors to prepare for Demo day: the culmination of the program. For Demo Day, Bhatti had to showcase Renoster’s business model and mission to a room of active investors with the goal to gain additional capital to grow the company. To prepare, Bhatti worked with Techstars mentors for months and pivoted the Renoster business plan to solve specific problems. “We came in as a hardware startup. From the get-go, we’ve stepped back and really questioned everything in every way. Techstars has made us rethink the business. We’ve ended up pivoting towards delivering precise, real-time green project monitoring in the form of clear sustainability metrics,” he said. Bhatti is excited because, through Techstars, “we’re getting important access to TNC conservation folks, scientists behind the scenes, and running new pilots.”
Even with these new plans, Renoster is not departing its hardware roots. However, they’re moving on from hardware development — entirely into the data science world — and leveraging their off-the-shelf (OTS) hardware sensors. “Now, it’s usually a scientist who goes into the field once a year with a clipboard, and they collect data year-to-year. Renoster uses OTS devices to collect data year-round and store the data on its cloud platform. Renoster shares the data with organizations as a clear and comprehensive data set, which can then disseminate to scientists and reserve managers and provide perspective of what’s happening on their land. The goal is to be able to provide environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investors with data and tangible strategies that show that their investments are making a discernible impact in the environment through clean infrastructure, sustainable agriculture, water management, and forestry conservation projects. As a part of the Techstars program, Bhatti has learned that ESG investments are becoming the vehicle for sustainability and conservation projects. Renoster acts as a monitoring, evaluation, and ROI analysis piece that sits between all the capital in a growing green project industry.
At the end of the day, what Bhatti personally cares about is making an impact. It’s what led him to create the first Renoster prototypes at Northwestern. Since graduating, he’s learned that “it’s a matter of combining environmental impact and capital investment and riding the wave until you find the missing insight.” Bhatti and his team at Renoster are thrilled with how Demo Day went. “We’re very grateful for Techstars for providing the opportunity to build our team and achieve our mission.” He and the team at Renoster are looking forward to leveraging their background as a hardware startup and straddling the worlds of data science and capital investment to ensure a return on investment and, most importantly, an impact on environmental sustainability and conservation.
Watch Renoster’s Demo Day pitch here.
Bhatti attributes much of the success of Renoster to his team, including many Northwestern graduates since its inception. He looks forward to continuing that trend and has an open door for discussion with current and future alumni.