Published: 5/22/2022 3:02:08 PM
Modified: 5/22/2022 3:00:14 PM
As the saying goes, build a better feller-buncher and the forestry world will beat a path to your door.
But that’s assuming you can get financing, technical help and development space — exactly the issue that a four-month program is trying to tackle this summer.
“The idea came out of tech-based businesses … and seeing an opportunity to support innovation in the forest products industry,” said Jared Reynolds, manager of the Forest Products Accelerator.
Accelerators are short-term programs, often focused on specific industries or technologies, designed to help businesses at the very beginning of their life cycle — start-ups in what is known as “seed stage.” Similar to business incubators, accelerators provide expertise, contacts and advice rather than much in the way of funding, but unlike incubators they last for only a set period.
The Forest Products Accelerator runs from July through November. Applications are due by June 17, at forestaccelerator.org.
It is based at Northern Vermont University in Lyndonville, Vt., and is open to anybody in North America.
“This region is a perfect spot to pilot and launch these technology-driven companies,” Reynolds said, partly because the Northeast’s pattern of relatively small, privately owned woodlots creates a need for new, more efficient ways to harvest, cut and use wood.
“There is definitely a focus on Northern New England, wanting to support innovation and startups here,” said Reynolds. “But if there’s a startup in Oregon that has an idea or a feasible business using wood byproducts, when that technology or business becomes available here it can benefit us.”
It has three focus areas: technology to improve forest operations (that’s where the feller-buncher, a massive device to cut and hold entire trees, would come in); products that use low-grade wood, sawdust or resins; and wood heat or biofuels, either with new ways to make fuel or better systems such as burners.
Targeting uses for low-grade wood makes sense because that’s one of the biggest financial problems in the logging industry.
Paper mills and wood-burning power plants once bought the branches and small trees that get cut when trees suitable for lumber are harvested, providing extra income that helped loggers to keep operating, but both of those industries are shrinking 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 companies — Boise Cascade has commit to paying for a pilot project with at least one participant, Reynolds said — as well as testing space and technical expertise.
“We have connections to some national companies that are looking for innovation. They have lots 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 the Making Matters, the Concord makerspace, although he has moved to Vermont.
The accelerator is run by the Northern Vermont University and DoNorthCoworking in Lyndonville.