I head out with Brooks to cover his Tuesday pickup route. He points out the Egleston Community Orchard, a compost recipient, as we pass by. We visit customers in Jamaica Plain, the South End, Beacon Hill, the North End, and Dorchester. From stoops, alleys, porches, and courtyards, Brooks gathers full buckets and leaves fresh empties behind.
At the end of the day, Brooks, his bike-cart, and I squeeze into an opulent elevator at a fancy office building in Boston's Innovation District.
In March, Kharitonenkov entered Bootstrap into MassChallenge, an investment contest helping entrepreneurs grow new businesses. Bootstrap earned a workspace here at the MassChallenge hive back in June, when they made it to the final stage of the business bootcamp accelerator competition.
Now they are one of 125 finalists. With MassChallenge ready to award over $1 million in grants to this year's winning startups, Bootstrap is working hard to demonstrate their abilities as a sustainable business with potential for social impact.
Tonight, Kharitonenkov gets to practice his presenting skills during a "Minute to Pitch It" event. He'll have 60 seconds to explain Bootstrap before a crowd full of tech wizards and competitors. Brooks sets up his bike-cart and hides behind a wall near the stage. Bootstrap is one of few companies to bring props.
About 40 other MassChallengers deliver pitches before Bootstrap goes on, most pushing high-tech services and digital products. When Kharitonenkov takes the stage, he mentions how Bootstrap uses bikes for a good portion of pickups. Brooks takes his cue and rides through a sea of suits, heels, and collared shirts.
Some challengers glare at Brooks as he passes, and a few brows wrinkle in obvious confusion — but most of the audience lights up with smiles.
After the presentation, another contestant approaches Brooks and asks about signing up for Bootstrap's composting service. Brooks hands him part of a cardboard box, hand-stamped with Bootstrap block letters and his contact information.
The MassChallenger chuckles. "Even his card is recycled."
Early next month, Brooks and Kharitonenkov will present their final pitch to the MassChallenge judges. On October 23, at the MassChallenge award ceremony, Bootstrap will learn if they've won grants or investor funding.
But even if they don't win seed money, Bootstrap will continue expanding on their mission as "Boston's food scrap go-getters." Kharitonenkov says the MassChallenge experience has been invaluable for the company.
"In some ways, we are a service," Kharitonenkov says. "In other ways, you could — what would you call us, Andy?"
"A lifestyle," Brooks answers, without hesitation.
Ariel Shearer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.