"The amount of products available has increased greatly as there are more conversations surrounding transparency of chemicals and materials in the entire value chain."
The San Francisco start-up, Mango Materials has created a process to create biodegradable and petroleum-free materials that can replace persistent plastics. A team of scientists and academics at the company produce pellets, which can be used by manufacturers to convert them into a variety of plastic products such as children's toys, electronic casings, water bottles, and food packaging. This relatively new company hopes that their bioplastic will replace conventional plastics that accumulate in the environment, harming ecosystems and consuming space and resources. In this week's interview, Emily O'Dowd sits down with Dr. Anne Schauer-Gimenez, an environmental microbiologist with expertise in bioreactor design and operation of methanogenic cultures. As Vice President of Customer Engagement it was interesting to learn Anne's viewpoint about the changing levels of demand in the bioeconomy in recent years.
Emily O'Dowd (EOD): What first inspired you to enter the bio-based industry?
Anne Schauer-Gimenez (ASG): I did a science fair project in 7th grade where I “composted” several different materials (diaper, plastic straw, paper bag, Styrofoam container, etc.) and did subsequent research on landfills and garbage. Realising what was being thrown away back then inspired me to continue to do more research into environmental issues and ultimately pursue that subject in college. Mango Materials’ CEO (Molly Morse) has a similar story about going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 4th grade where she saw an exhibit with a fish tank full of Styrofoam clamshells representing wasteful packaging. I think we both knew we were destined for this type of work at a young age!
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
ASG: I really enjoy promoting the bio-based economy through interactions with individuals and groups. Whether it is at conferences or one-on-one phone calls/meetings, educating the entire value chain about biopolymers and their role in reducing plastic pollution is what gets me up in the morning. I also enjoy hearing about the pain points and visions of the future from these same individuals. Being able to tell people about Mango Materials ( @MangoMaterials ) technology and discovering synergies between companies large and small is the highlight of every day.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in the industry so far?
ASG: Scaling any biological technology is not without it’s own set of challenges. We are currently located at a wastewater treatment plant in the San Francisco Bay Area and working in the field has been both interesting and exciting. We have had great success at the current scale but in order to accelerate our growth, capital is needed to increase production. We’ve been very honored to receive government grants and business plan competition winnings throughout our initial scale-up phase and we have been leveraging some amazing partnerships as well. We are excited about the next phase of our company where we are transitioning from an R&D focus to an application development/commercialisation focus.
Mango Materials' CEO Molly Morse will be speaking at this years' Bio-Based Live America conference!
EOD: How do you think the bio-based space has evolved in the last three years?
ASG: The amount of products available has increased greatly as there are more conversations surrounding transparency of chemicals and materials in the entire value chain. We still have quite a ways to go, but there is a rapid acceleration recently and momentum to continue moving upward. I have seen more consumer interest in bio-based materials lately, which is only going to increase in the future.
EOD: What advice would you give for a new start-up?
ASG: Get organised and hit the ground running! Talk to as many people as possible and listen to their needs and wants. You can never start the customer discovery phase too early. Gather all of the data and run with it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint but as long as you continue to believe, good things will happen.
EOD: What single change do you think would help the bio-based industry further?
ASG: A standardised set of tests to help guide brands and consumers as to what is going into their products and how they are packaged. There is a lot of confusion around the terminology (biobased, biodegradable, etc.) and it would be really beneficial to find a common ground amongst all bio-based materials to prevent any potential greenwashing.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based product aside from your own product range?
ASG: I still have an Ecovative mushroom bowl I received when we won the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge back in 2012. I love the idea of being able to grow your own materials and have been inspired by their companies’ growth and product diversification. They are doing some cool stuff for both home and businesses and while I love my bowl today, I can’t wait to have MycoBoard in my future office!
Our last 5 minutes with... Darcy Prather, President of Kalion.
Bio-Based World News will bring this 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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