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Coffee grounds great for start-up

A business that recycled the coffee grounds thrown away by cafes was an idea that seemed so simple, Mark Henderson was sure someone was probably already doing it.

Fortunately for the Canberra entrepreneur, this was one idea that no one had previously cottoned on to as the premise for a company.

It was only last year that the former IT consultant was told by a barista in a Civic cafe that the shop threw away 10kg of coffee waste a day.

''If that shop opens seven days a week for 50 weeks a year, you're talking about a significant amount of waste - about 3.5 tonnes,'' Mr Henderson said.

He and former colleague Geoff Howell spent three months researching what that waste could be used for and found there was strong anecdotal evidence to suggest coffee grounds could be used as a slow-release fertiliser.

The pair discovered there was no company anywhere in the world manufacturing fertiliser from coffee waste and, after seeking advice from business contacts, they quit their well-paid jobs to establish Espressogrow in late last year.

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The company, which will purchase coffee waste from cafes and turn it into fertiliser, was just named one of the top 10 start-ups of 2011 by BRW magazine.

The business is in its final funding stages and plans to manufacture the fertiliser in Australia, the US and Europe. Mr Henderson hopes the product will hit retail shelves in the second half of this year.

''In March or April last year, Geoff and I thought we would be buying a second-hand ute and going to markets to sell the product out of a hessian bag,'' he jokes. ''Now to be recognised in a publication like BRW - it's a great vote of confidence.

''But the practical reality is we haven't achieved anything yet until we walk into a retailer and see our product on the shelf.''

Mr Henderson says the organic fertiliser will be sold in pellets and it will smell like coffee, rather than having the unpleasant smell of animal fertilisers.

He hopes that by giving a commercial value to coffee waste, Espressogrow will encourage recycling practices in the coffee industry.

''In the US, per head of population, 4.2 kilos of coffee is consumed a year,'' he says. ''By purchasing the coffee grounds, it instantly becomes a valuable commodity to a retailer so we're actively encouraging them to be sustainable.''