Sustainability and Entrepreneurship
Cofounder and CEO at Revalu
The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic and other tragic news of freak weather have triggered climate anxiety in many of us. But how many walked out of it as an entrepreneur?
After years of working in strategy and brand positioning, Berlin-born, Copenhagen-based Kika Brockstedt wanted to understand how she could actively contribute to the climate challenges ahead of us. One thing quickly became clear: sustainability is complex, and that complexity was the biggest driver for Kika's entrepreneurial journey. "It became obvious that there are many statements and strategies concerning what we would like to achieve in 2050," she says. "My feeling was that we needed to do something today."
This is why she started Revalu, a startup focused on making climate targets more achievable for companies and individuals in the construction industry in 2021. With a comprehensive material database, the startup provides building owners, architects and manufacturers with tangible data that allows them to make greener choices, which impact the footprint of buildings and make climate targets more achievable. According to C40 Cities, a global network of nearly one hundred mayors of the world’s leading cities, buildings are responsible for an average of 60 percent of the emissions of a city. In the European Union, the European Commission states that buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of the EU's energy consumption and 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from energy. Moving into green building solutions is an essential part of climate action.
Before founding Revalu, Kika had been working on a few housing projects and innovation concepts, but she was not an expert in the construction sector. "I practically stumbled upon it," she says. "I kept reading statements that something like 75 percent of buildings we need have not been built yet or that 85 percent of buildings in Europe have to be renovated in the next twenty years. That's a huge amount of material, of resources we don't really have or will run out of." That became her challenge: to think about what is inside our buildings, what materials are being used, where they come from and how we get them. "And carbon is only one of the things we should focus on. There are so many other factors we should also be starting to measure: biodiversity and toxicity, for example." With Revalu, she is trying to cover as many sustainable aspects as possible. "Transparency is the first step, so we focus on material data to enable people to see the impact of a material, and therefore make more conscious decisions. To me, transparency is the first step to tackling sustainability and climate challenges."
Despite an effective business model and impressive idea, there were still struggles. "Early struggles and lessons learned came hand in hand," she says, mentioning that a considerable part of entrepreneurship was luck: meeting the right people at the right time. "Don't ever be afraid or hesitate to reach out to people that inspire you. The number of people I've contacted on LinkedIn and just offered to go for a coffee or a walk…. I was surprised at how many people were willing to help. I got answers I had never expected to receive. Maybe that's saying something about the climate-action community; it's a specific group of people who care about the topic and always love to meet others who do too. People are generally very open to meeting and talking and helping."
Don’t ever be afraid or hesitate to reach out to people that inspire you.
Personal connections are equally important within the company, and building the right team will impact the success of a startup directly. "There are days when you love what you do and there are days when you absolutely hate it. Make sure that you are surrounded by good people, and that you have a good team. These will be your pillars of support," she says.
Additionally, she recommends that young entrepreneurs do their research, not only in terms of what the problem is, but who they're solving the problem for. She believes it is crucial to stay in touch with the people you're trying to help. "People sometimes stick to assumptions, so consistent research and questioning is essential," she says.
Her passion for sustainability and entrepreneurship also led her to an industry-leader position at Hyper Island, a digital creative-business school founded in Sweden. There, she was a co-facilitator of the Sustainable Models for Business Development Upskill program in 2021, helping other entrepreneurs tackle the complexity of sustainability. "People like to put sustainability into boxes, but it's not that clean-cut," she says. "The challenge is, we have to rethink our systems. Many people seek an easy recipe, simply replacing one thing with another, plastic with paper, fossil-fuel cars with electric vehicles. That's a great first step; we do need that awareness. But it doesn't solve the bigger picture." How, then, is it possible to ensure that people are on the same page regarding sustainability? "There's a certain expectation to provide a formula to sustainability. That's not how it works. There's a lot of rethinking to be done, and every product, every industry, needs their own process. We need many hybrid solutions. In the building industry, we can't build every house out of wood; we don't have enough trees."
On top of the innate complexity of sustainability, there's also the overwhelming feeling that climate anxiety can induce. "For me, that feeling changes on a daily basis. Because I work with sustainability, it's the only thing I read about, so it's crucial to have days when I completely switch off and read a novel or do something that takes me away from the topic. Otherwise, it really consumes you," she says. "It's not helpful to be so future-focused that you feel guilty all the time. You need to enjoy the things that you're surrounded with today and the good changes that are happening now. If not, you're stuck in threats and doomsday messages. "We can be pessimistic or optimistic about the climate, but either extreme can equally lead to inaction. "I guess there is a sweet spot: you have to be driven by fear yet be hopeful at the same time. Otherwise, it's easy to become cynical. We have to start somewhere, and it has to happen step by step."
You need an inner drive: something that keeps you going when things get difficult. People will tell you you're not going to make it. Entrepreneurship takes a lot of energy.
And Copenhagen is a good place to kickstart the sustainability discussion. After living in Berlin, Zurich, Moscow, London and Stockholm, Kika was lured to Copenhagen by friends who already lived there, and fell in love with the city. "I moved around a lot trying to find a place that I fit in, where I could have a good quality of life," she says. "In Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, you have immense social safety, which is a privilege. People here are much more aware of climate change and the urgency to transition because they have the time and the money to focus on that." For an entrepreneur working on the sustainability topic, it's an incredible advantage to be surrounded by people who are already aligned with your mission and don't need much convincing.
In comparison to other cities where Kika lived, Copenhagen is relatively small. But that doesn't mean it’s not progressive. "In London, for example, there's a certain hierarchy, and people from different statuses don't really mix,” she says. “To a certain degree, that also happens here, but on a smaller scale. People are more approachable, and because it's a smaller community, common connections happen more often. Maybe that's more noticeable to me because I'm a foreigner, an outsider. It took me some work to get into the circle. But once you're in it, it's super accessible."
As a tip for other foreign entrepreneurs arriving in Copenhagen, Kika suggests joining coworking spaces, networking events and other associations. Revalu, for example, is part of Blogxhub, the Nordic hub for sustainable urbanization, and PropTech Denmark, a nonprofit organization that accelerates and nurtures innovation and technological development in the real estate area. This way, entrepreneurs can easily meet people and get invited to events, expanding their social circle with like-minded people.
And when it comes to learning Danish, Kika admits that her skills in the language haven't evolved much in the last three years. "When I started working here, six years ago, everything was in English," she says, noting that even the process of opening a company was simple. "You go to the International House, a one-stop office for registration services, events and career programs – you just go and set everything up. They have lawyers and other people to provide support and assistance. That is also a big part of why I kind of understand Danish. I can read it, but I think I would offend people if I start speaking it."
So don't let the language intimidate you and don’t let pessimism keep you from climate action. If Kika's entrepreneurial journey shows us anything, it is that Copenhagen's ecosystem is open and ready to challenge the status quo.
[Flash Q & A]
Man’s Searching for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.
I love Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel.
At what age did you found your company?
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
Don’t fall in love with your idea; fall in love with the problem.
What’s your greatest skill?
Favorite place to go for creative thinking:
When the sun is out, I go down to my favorite swimming spot to read, write and swim. That’s where I find peace.
One thing you need to get when you arrive in Denmark:
Favorite weekend activity:
Either a long walk (doesn’t matter where) or cooking and eating with friends.
Favorite coffee shop:
Depanneur. Best bagels in town, plus it was founded by friends so there is always good people around.