Munich Startup: What does Pina Earth do? What problem do you solve?
Gesa Biermann: Pina Earth develops certified climate protection projects. Our goal is to make forests in Germany climate-resilient. This is because forests in the EU are under severe threat due to climate change. To counteract this and make our forests future-proof against increasing heat, storms and drought, monocultures must be converted into mixed forests. This is a complex and cost-intensive process, which in Germany alone must be undertaken by around two million forest owners.
To help finance this, we have developed a technology that quantifies the additional CO2 reduction achieved by forest conversion measures. We sell the additional CO2 reduction performance in the form of CO2 certificates to companies that can use them to make a regional climate contribution. The revenues from the sale flow back to the forest owners to finance their conversion measures.
Financing forest conservation projects with Pina Earth
Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!
Gesa Biermann: It is! Of course, our concept is certainly not new in its individual components: There are already CO2 certificates from other forest climate protection projects. However, these are mainly located in the global South, not regionally in Germany. Moreover, these are not forest conversion projects but, for example, ‘REDD+ forest conservation projects’ (i.e. reductions in emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). And this is already prohibited by law in Germany. With our specially developed forest conversion methodology, we have created a new type of climate protection project that is geared to the needs of our regional ecosystems and that has not existed before.
Of course, forest restructuring in itself is not a new topic either, but has been present to forest owners in Germany for years. With intensifying risks associated with climate change, it is now more important than ever to act. The 2022 Forest Condition Survey again dramatically highlighted the effects of climate change, with four out of five trees suffering from disease. Since 2018, more than 500,000 hectares of forest area in Germany have fallen victim to climate change. Three million hectares of forest need to be converted in the coming years!
To make this possible, we offer Pina Earth as a new source of income for forest owners to be able to finance their conversion measures.
Foundation with structure, but without “Eureka moment”
Munich Startup: What’s your founding story?
Gesa Biermann: The original idea for Pina Earth didn’t come about in a romanticized “Eureka moment” that some people imagine. For us, it started with the team and the consensus that we wanted to make a contribution to society with our work.
To put this in perspective, a person devotes a total of around 80,000 hours to their career in their lifetime. It was clear to us that we wanted to use this time profitably for society – beyond purely financial goals. After a structured brainstorming process and the evaluation of around 150 different social and environmental problems, we came up with the CO2 markets and the opportunities they offer to reconcile economic and environmental goals. We also learned how difficult it is for smaller forest landowners to access this market. That’s when we realized we wanted to solve that very problem.
Successful seed round with strong investors
Munich Startup: What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Gesa Biermann: Fortunately, not much has really gone wrong yet. Nevertheless, we had major challenges that we had to overcome. Getting started on the subject of CO2 markets and certification is complex: in order to gain an in-depth understanding of this topic, we read every methodology that exists on forest carbon offset projects. These are thousands of pages of standard documents that describe what criteria CO2 certificates must meet.
This was somewhat laborious, but at the same time an important basis on which we are now building. From this intensive work, we have derived rules and software features that ensure the quality of our certificates. In addition, it was a personal challenge for me to lead the fundraising for the first time. Here we received a lot of support from other founders and mentors and were able to close a very successful seed round with strong investors.
Successfully acquired several project sites
Munich Startup: How is business going?
Gesa Biermann: We have already been able to acquire several forest project areas in different parts of Germany and are proud that these have now been audited and certified by TÜV Nord Cert. This was definitely a major milestone. Currently, our forest conversion projects already cover more than 1,000 hectares in Germany. At the same time we are starting the pilot phase under the forest climate standard and developing the first projects under a regional standard for the certification of ecosystem services.
Since we are on a two-sided market with Pina Earth, the buyer side is of course not to be neglected. This year, we have entered into several partnerships with platforms and marketplaces in order to market our projects through strong multipliers in addition to direct sales. In this way, we have already been able to transfer initial revenues to forest owners to finance their forest conversion measures. For further insights on this, our case studies with Liefergrün, Fokus Zukunft, and trans-o-flex are also suitable.
Munich Startup: How have you experienced Munich as a startup location so far?
Gesa Biermann: Munich is ideal for us as a startup location. Due to the startup ecosystem and the large number of companies in Munich, there are numerous opportunities for exchange. At CDTM – our “alma mater” – we have already met many other founders and mentors from whom we can learn a lot on our journey. In addition, the two universities TUM and LMU mean that there are many talented students in the city, which makes recruiting easier.
Munich Startup: Risk or Security?
Gesa Biermann: In our substantive work, we actually deal very centrally with risks: the risks of climate change. Here we want to create more security for German and later on European forests and make them more climate stable. Since this has to happen quickly, founding a tech-focused startups with fast scaling potential was the right choice for us.