Israeli marine biologist and entrepreneur Shimrit Perkol-Finkel of ECOncrete was chosen to represent the Western Europe and Other region. Just four other female entrepreneurs whose businesses seek to advance the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN were chosen.
ECOncrete is one of the most prominent companies to join the FIBA program, a Tampa-based accelerator that helps Israeli companies enter the U.S. market.
“ECOncrete really encapsulates the kind of company that FIBA is looking to attract to the Tampa-St. Pete area,” said Rachel Marks Feinman, executive director of FIBA. “This latest honor that Shimrit has received just showcases how transformative the ECOncrete technology is.”
“And that’s what we’re striving to do,” Feinman explained, “to bring transformative and innovative technology from Israel … so that we can help our corporations, our government, our community solve challenging problems.”
ECOncrete was founded in 2012 to solve a growing problem Perkol-Finkel saw as coastline development advances and sea level rise threatens coastal communities – the stunning lack of biodiversity surrounding man-made underwater infrastructure, specifically concrete structures.
“About 70 percent of the structures in the water are made of concrete,” explained Perkol-Finkel. “I noticed that they had very poor community, very low biodiversity, very few species.
So I said, ‘We can change that. What is the problem with concrete?’”
Perkol-Finkel and her co-founder Dr. Ido Sella developed and founded ECOncrete in an effort to utilize existing man made infrastructure like seawalls, ports, marinas, offshore gas and electric. ECOncrete’s innovative technology enhances the elemental structure, texture and design of infrastructure to increase marine biodiversity, without interfering with the everyday activities of the structure.
“I think ECOncrete matches up so well with that fact that we are a coastal community,” said Feinman. “We have tons of miles of seawall, particularly in St. Pete. They have a technology that is looking to solve real, timely challenges that we have in this community.”
During ECOncrete’s time with FIBA, they were introduced to local subject matter experts, manufacturers, property owners and developers. They also met decision-makers throughout Tampa Bay, including St. Petersburg Mayor Kriseman and City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll, opening a dialogue between the the City of St. Petersburg and ECOncrete.
Those conversations ultimately led to ECOncrete hiring a representative in Tampa Bay.
“We’ve known that Florida is a great market for ECOncrete, and there is a huge need there because of sea level rise,” said Perkol-Finkel. “So we said this is a great opportunity to advance the business over there.”
“FIBA’s role is to bring companies here and help educate and mold them to make them more successful in their efforts to penetrate the U.S. market,” explained Feinman. “But we really can’t do it without the support of the entire Tampa-St. Pete community.”
“I think it’s something that everybody can really rally behind. Here you have a product that not only helps from a function standpoint, but it makes a positive impact,” explained Feinman. “Whereas before, there was either no impact or a negative impact.”
The WE Empower Award not only recognizes the importance of ECOncrete’s work, but also provides an all-expenses paid trip to New York during UN Global Goals week, where Perkol-Finkel will have extensive training and advocacy opportunities, and vie for a $20,000 grant.
Perhaps most importantly, Perkol-Finkel will speak to a highly distinguished audience of senior UN Officials and educate them about how ECOncrete can have an impact throughout the world as she attends the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit, the G5 Collective Dinner and the Global Citizen Summit, the Council of Women World Leaders and the We the People Summit.
More on the innovative approach of ECOncrete
“I was always intrigued by how we can design and mimic natural communities and natural reef,” said Perkol-Finkel. But a common approach to solving the biodiversity problem has long been the construction of stand-alone man made reefs – and those have a footprint of their own, said Perkol-Finkel.
“Why should we put more structures in the water – more man-made structures on the sea bed?” she asked, “When we can actually harness the ones we have.”
The problem with existing concrete structures, Perkol-Finkel found, was three-fold: material, texture, and design. The concrete material itself leeches chemicals and components mixed into marine concrete to prohibit things like corrosion or freezing. These components can be very harmful to the marine life that may otherwise occupy man-made structures.
Texture and design are problematic, too. “Flat, gray” concrete and pipe structures do little to attract species. Throughout her studies, Perkol-Finkel went on hundreds of dives to man-made structures, attaching experimental models to existing oil rigs, ports and marinas in order to study the difference they could make.
“I saw that a small, three-dimensional addition to the structure made a huge impact from an ecological perspective,” said Perkol-Finkel. “There was a lot more happening when I took a three-dimensional structure and attached it to a pipe for example, which was completely smooth.”
Creating ECOncrete meant addressing each of these problems.
“We did a prolonged experimental process to find out which concrete mix designs work well with biology but also maintain the integrity and the strength that is needed for actually building seawalls,” explained Perkol-Finkel. The texture and three-dimensional elements of the design can also accommodate specific species in the region, They can even construct holes of the perfect size and depth to attract a certain endangered fish.
“It’s really three components that work in synergy to bring the concrete to life, as we say.”
But retrofitting existing structures is not all ECOncrete can do. It can actually construct seawall, too. Perkol-Finkel says the biggest hurdle is educating the marketplace.
“We are telling people that we can do this differently,” said Perkol-Finkel. “We don’t have to do flat and grey, we can bring life to these structures.”
“We are a feasible option for improvement that is cost effective and offsets the carbon footprint.”