rust belt riders' waste-to-compost business on a roll with new customers, funding

When Daniel Brown and his partners, Michael Robinson, John Stone and Mikey Ericsson, formed Rust Belt Riders last year, the purpose was to nourish their community garden. The soil needed to be enriched, and compost was the way to create a rich, growing soil.

“We were running a garden on E. 40th Street and St. Clair Avenue and we realized before we could grow anything with success we had to cultivate the soil,” Brown says. “A lot of gardeners in town are in the same situation. We realized that cheap, nutrient-rich soil was the common thread and that started with composting at home.”

With that, Rust Belt Riders was born in June. The group collects compost – fruit and vegetable peels and scraps, coffee grinds, tea bags, garden and lawn waste – from clients, who are given five-gallon buckets. The team rides bicycles around a 10 square mile area in the Detroit Shoreway, Tremont and Ohio City, picking up the buckets on a set schedule. Rust Belt Riders then delivers the compost to eight area community gardens.

The company currently has 35 subscribers, with five more coming on at the end of the month. So far, Rust Belt Riders has collected more than 18,000 pounds of compost.

The concept is so innovative, it earned Rust Belt Riders one of 13 spots in the SEA Change Accelerator, a collaboration that supports social enterprise businesses, access to support services and mentoring and a chance to crowd fund through Kiva Zip, a micro-lending website. “We quickly realized we had no idea what we were doing running a business,” recalls Brown. “We thought it would be worthwhile to apply and get some business acumen going.”

Brown and his partners went through the six-week SEA Change program, learning about business law, accounting, branding and marketing and creating a business plan.

“We selected Rust Belt Riders as one of the twelve participants because they are addressing a clear social issue (waste reduction/sustainability) and have high commercial potential through two prominent revenue streams: waste removal and sale of compost,” says Mike Shafarenko, manager of community engagement, web and social media at ideastream. “In our mind, that is a recipe for a strong and sustainable social enterprise down the road.” 

Now Rust Belt Riders are meeting with mentors Shafarenko, Bill Leamon with the Business of Good Foundation and assistant professor of marketing at Notre Dame College and Bryan Mauk of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries

The company is preparing for a "Shark Tank" type pitch competition with the other 12 SEA Change companies in January, in which the winning company can win $50,000.

Rust Belt Riders will launch their Kiva Zip campaign in the next couple of months. If they raise at least $1,000 in their fundraising, the Business of Good Foundation will match $1,000. The company is also eligible to receive some of the $50,000 SEA Change will award to some of the 13 finalists in the program.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.