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Posted: 10th September 2021

Sustainable Thinking Scotland (STS) has become the first social enterprise in Scotland to secure investment from the Catalyst fund. STS has received an investment of £190,000 to enable them to bring their biochar technology to market. The fund’s innovative funding mechanism means that the social enterprise will repay the investment via a share of their revenue as the business grows.


The Catalyst Fund, launched in June this year, is designed to finance ambitious social enterprises in Scotland. It offers loans starting at £50,000 using a revenue-based repayment model, providing social enterprises the flexible finance they need in the early stages of development, without compromising their social mission. The fund, made possible by a £15 million investment from the Scottish Government, is delivered by agencies Firstport and Social Enterprise Scotland.


Sustainable Thinking Scotland CIC was established in 2016 by Sean Kerr and Stephen McQueen to help tackle social and environmental issues in their local area of Bo’ness, Falkirk.

STS approached the Catalyst Fund to help them fund the development of their biochar water remediation technology. Biochar, similar to charcoal, is obtained from ‘baking’ waste wood and other biomass at high temperatures and can draw down carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, storing it for hundreds to thousands of years.


Biochar was highlighted in the 2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land as a product that ‘could make a significant contribution to mitigating both land degradation and climate change, simultaneously’. It has several applications, but STS’s innovations enable it to be used as a bio-absorbent to tackle the problem of nutrient pollution in waterways, which can lead to toxic algae blooms. Once ‘charged’ with nutrients and re-collected, the biochar can be added to the soil used in food production, demonstrating the circular economy approach in action.


STS will use the investment to accelerate the growth of the biochar project, increase production capacity and R&D, as well as to employ staff and develop core business operations for the intended scale up.


Sean Kerr, Director at STS, said: “Our mission is to be Scotland’s leading organisation in the development and targeted application of biochar, driving innovation within water remediation technologies and land management, creating a circular economy model which benefits both our environment and the people within our communities.


The Catalyst Fund investment is a significant milestone in the development of our social enterprise, and together with the business support and connections provided by Firstport, will be the catalyst which allows us to drive innovation and regulation within these new carbon markets, helping to set the standards for environmental recovery, whilst contributing towards Scotland’s Net Zero ambitions”.


Daisy Ford-Downes, Head of Group Investment Programmes at Firstport, said: “We are so proud to have STS as the first company in the Catalyst portfolio. Sean and Steve set a high bar for a new generation of ambitious, high growth social enterprises serving people and planet. They have developed an exciting new technology that simultaneously tackles pollution, captures carbon and increases crop yields for community food production, and we are looking forward to supporting them as they bring this to the market.”


The Catalyst Fund is currently open for Expressions of Interest. More information about the fund and STS can be found on the Firstport website.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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