Blackbird-backed food waste startup Bardee sacks 30 staff

- August 7, 2023 2 MIN READ
Phoebe Gardner & Alex Arnold
Bardee cofounders Phoebe Gardner & Alex Arnold
Blackbird-backed Melbourne food waste recycling startup Bardee has cut most of its workforce, around 30 employees, who are waiting for outstanding payments, as it struggles to raise more capital amid a range of issues.

Staff lost their jobs in May, with The Australian reporting the job losses last week.

Bardee was founded in 2019 by architect Phoebe Gardner, and entomologist, Alex Arnold. The startup raised $5 million in Seed funding in late 2021, with Blackbird Ventures leading the round, supported by Who Gives A Crap founder Simon Griftiths and Culture Amp founder Didier Elzinga and his wife, opera singer Greta Bradman.

Gardener did not respond to Startup Daily’s request for comment on the cuts, but complained to The Australian that she believes the current market is unwilling “to necessarily fund and back unprofitable deep tech and climate tech companies” –  although rival Goterra’s $10 million raise last week suggests otherwise.

“The reality is, I think Bardee is in one of those first early batches of real climate tech, deep tech investments, and in general the operating costs are so high and obviously going up massively with electricity costs alongside everything else,” Gardener told The Australian.

Subsequent media reports have revealed that Blackbird partner Nick Crocker resigned from the startup’s board in early 2022. just months after the VC’s investment, along with three other company executives, amid disagreements with senior management.

The business, which is now selling its fertiliser product in Bunnings, is hoping to pay its employees their full entitlements by September.

Tragedy then struck in late June when a 26-year-old Bardee worker was crushed to death after he got out of the truck he was driving on Hosier Lane in Melbourne’s CBD 7am, and it rolled forward and pinned him against a post and building wall. WorkSafe Victoria is investigating the incident.

Like Goterra, Bardee feeds black soldier fly larvae food waste to produce livestock protein feed as well as fertiliser.

It emerged from two years in “stealth mode” following the 2021 raise with a 2,500sqm commercial facility in Melbourne’s northwest. The plant is reportedly being upgraded.

Meanwhile, Canberra-based Goterra, which is backed by Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes, announced last week that had raised $10 million in a bridging round as it builds a $3.5 million processing plant in Western Sydney, having cut a deal with Woolworths to process with its food waste as part of the supermarket giant’s target of zero food waste going to landfill by 2025

It built Australia’s first commercial waste processing facility using insects in the NSW border town of Albury, last year and also has facilities at Sydney’s Barangaroo, processing food waste generated from the Lendlease office towers. The company is looking to raise a Series B later this year.

Phoebe Gardner told media last week that she hopes to get Bardee to profitability by November.