TRIEX – a story of sustainable entrepreneurship

The TRIEX Gestión de Residuos project, launched in 2001, was the result of an initiative by chemists Ana and Ruben, who were concerned about the lack of proper hazardous waste management in Uruguay. The personal experiences of Ruben in the sales field and Ana in the pharmaceutical industry triggered their interest in providing a solution to the problem from an entrepreneurial point of view.

Turning theory into action

During the 1990s, Ana worked in a chemical analysis laboratory in Uruguay. Her worked allowed her insight and she saw that the treatment of waste was appalling. This was also a time of scarce resources and poverty in Uruguay and, absurdly, vitamins were being thrown down the drain. The duo decided to take action.

With their knowledge of chemistry, Ana decided to train in environmental sciences, whilst Ruben learnt about enterprises and ventures.

Kick up a fuss 

From the outset, Ana and Ruben decided that they wanted to create an economically viable business within the conventional market, but they were also clear that they wanted to be a different company that provides decent jobs and is environmentally responsible. Profit was not their main motivation, although they started out with almost no money. At first, the couple joined forces with other entrepreneurs to manage waste from pharmaceutical products. Conditions at their business premises were precarious and the technology was rudimentary. Differences with these initial partners soon arose in terms of approach, since for Ana and Ruben the premises were merely a means of getting to the next stage.

Then, in 2001, Ruben and Ana decided to create their own company, MA&A, with the aim of carrying out proper waste management and becoming a model for the sector. Hampered by severe financial constraints, the team applied for the relevant operating licenses, but were turned down by the environmental authority. “We kicked up a big fuss,” Ana recalls, but it still took them three years to obtain the environmental permits, thanks to some officials who understood the need for their cooperation in developing the waste industry.

Meanwhile, waste continued to accumulate on the MA&A site. The company was like a laboratory that collected waste, conducting studies and storing the materials because it lacked the technology to treat them properly. “We knew everything that was needed – a crusher, for example, but we never had enough capital to acquire them,” says Ana.

By this time, MA&A had ten employees and a good working environment, as well as a truck and a forklift bought with money from the church and loans from friends. The rocky road hit another hurdle in 2008 when the Municipality of Montevideo threatened to close their company down. They were told: “If you don’t improve, if you don’t reduce the amount of accumulated waste, we’ll suspend your activities.” Though they did everything possible to prevent this (they worked more shifts and the partners injected more funds), the city authorities prohibited them from bringing further waste into the plant and finally withdrew their operating permit.

Values matter more than numbers

Ruben and Ana had always liked the idea of having their own company. “It was like another child for us,” Ruben recalls. At the same time, they always had the idea of growing and knew that this would at some point involve joining forces with a larger company or group. In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, after a proposed bailout by a Spanish company fell through, they received a call from a former MA&A worker. She contacted them because her new employers were interested in venturing into waste management issues. The company, CIEMSA, and its president, a young engineer, made an offer to save the business. Although MA&A had financial problems, he recognized it as a gateway to waste management. Soon an agreement was negogiated and TRIEX was born.

A hidden treasure: social enterprise values

In its new phase as TRIEX, the company has becomes revitalized, and now as a small business, is now facing the challenge of moving towards globalization, which has already begun through the merger with a larger company.

To consolidate this new phase in the development of TRIEX, and to achieve greater political and economic impact, Ana and Ruben set out to create the Uruguay Chamber of Waste Management Businesses (Cámara de Gestores de Residuos del Uruguay – CEGRU). Ana is heading this initiative, aiming to enlist the support of other participants, including companies and government authorities, in developing and advancing the industrial waste sector as a whole.

This is just an extract of the *real* story of Ana Luisa and Ruben. This story has been told as part of a storytelling project of the Siemens Stiftung. The art of storytelling is an innovative method for changing communications and understandings of what we see, listen or know to be true. Social entrepreneurs can use storytelling to reach out to his or her network of investors, customers, and other stakeholders and to get new insights in his or her corporate development.
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