Innovation Game Changers: Meet 3 entrepreneurs who will be disrupting low carbon materials in 2014

31 January 2014

NEW YORK: This week we hosted three top US-based entrepreneurs from the low carbon building materials world in a live Google Hangout, the first in our new Innovation Game Changers series. You can watch the full video below.

Our new quarterly conversations feature entrepreneurs from our network who are creating the most exciting technologies, products and services for the low carbon economy.

The materials sector has huge potential to lower its emissions and help avoid dangerous climate change, so we held our first session with three American innovators who are revolutionizing the low carbon packaging, building materials and plastics sectors; Eben Bayer, CEO and Co-founder, Ecovative, Ginger Krieg Dosier, Founder and CEO, bioMASON and Mark Herrema, Chief Executive Officer, Newlight.

Jim Walker, Co-founder and International Programmes and Strategy Director, The Climate Group, moderated the session. Highlighting the importance of these clean tech innovators in achieving a low carbon future, he said: “We want to support game-changers, help cities and state governments to support them, and encourage more innovators and entrepreneurs like them to do business.”

Eben Bayer, a previous winner of the Netherlands Postcode Lottery Green Challenge and CEO and Co-founder of Ecovative, a company which develops organic packaging and building materials, shared his gratitude for the early-stage government support and grants his business had received in New York State, and for the progress it had allowed. He said: “We started releasing products into the market really soon which allowed us to build up an incredible body of knowledge around how to manipulate this living polymer--and I don’t think we could have done that without some of the federal and (NYSERDA) state funding, as they allowed to ask us ask really key research questions that were not ingrained in the commercial needs of our clients.”

Ginger Krieg Dosier, Founder and CEO, bioMASON and also a winner of the Green Challenge prize, said that America’s many state-funded service programs are supportive of her company, particularly locally in North Carolina where clean tech companies like bioMASON can work with top universities to drive revenue back into the state. She pointed to the high impact of conventional construction materials, citing the 1.23 trillion bricks created each year and the associated 800 million tons of carbon emissions. bioMASON’s objective is to put its unique biological cement-based masonry building materials, into the hands of existing manufacturers across the world.

Further praising state governments’ role in driving innovation, Mark Herrema, Chief Executive Officer, Newlight, a company which creates bio plastics from waste methane, spoke of how 2013 was a ‘breakout year’ for Newlight, as it achieved commercial scale-up, including a multi-acre production plant in California and the launch of the world’s first ‘carbon negative chair’ made from his product in partnership with furnishing company KI. He explained how being based in California, a leader in its support for the clean tech sector, has been an advantage for Newlight’s carbon capture technology.

Moving the conversation from government support to the role of business, when asked about the need to compete against incumbent materials on cost, Mark Herrema said: “We are mostly substituting industrial commodities, and the whole game is price. […] We can make a raw material which substitutes on a functionality and cost-advantaged basis.” He added: “And in the last 18 months, as a result of this, we have proven that the business is there.”

Ginger Dosier underlined the importance of finding a niche for green ‘premium’ products with multiple values at the early stage of market development: “Within the masonry sector we are looking at replacing a traditional brick with a new product. We have got the cost down by looking at the supply chain, but for better, premium products like bioMASON stone. […] We are combining to create what is now a premium product and will soon become a very key product.”

Next Jim Walker asked the group about the importance of developing corporate partnerships. Eben Bayer shared his experiences with potential partners, some of which had been successful, some of which had not. Explaining the success of Ecovative’s work with furniture manufacturer Steelcase, he said: “Once we had a product offering to could give to end-users, then we could work our way up the value chain and then we could go to the world’s biggest packaging companies and say ’look at all these end users’. Then you are able to have a fruitful conversation. I think: ‘who is going to use the product?’ and then work backwards.” Bayer praised Steelcase’s willingness to invest time in understanding the market potential for Ecovative’s products and cited the importance of a strong internal champion for green innovation within the partner company, something that had been consistent across Ecovative’s successful collaborations.

Herrema emphasized the need for transparency when working with corporate partners, and in selecting partners with a shared ethos: “We had to work with companies who believed in us. We had to be very specific and open and honest around capabilities.” Dossier agreed, saying that bioMASON was fortunate to meet with good companies and architects who are ‘big believers’ in the impact and change their product could have.

Discussing the power of awards, prizes and crowd-sourcing in driving clean tech forward, Herrema said: “How we mark success is how much carbon we are sequestering, the price point, and pounds shifted. But at the same time, prizes and awards are helpful to companies as they offer recognition to help you move product.”

When asked about future plans, Eben Bayer said: “We want to ensure we continue to grow and are successful around the world. The other focus is new products. […] We want to bring these products to market to prove that there are more applications for these innovative products.”

Mark Herrema also said 2014 is about commercial growth: “It is all about expansion this year, growing product to the largest scale possible. Now turning our attention to building this product out is very exciting.”

Ginger Dosier said all focus in 2014 for bioMASON will be on developing the pilot commercial order and on scaling. She said: “The first order is very important as it is the first real work test. You can do all the tests in the world in a lab but it is the real work application that matters for us in the construction industry. That is what is on the horizon for this year. After that, it is enticing people for further interest so we can grow the company on a global scale.”

Jim concluded the session by sharing his support of these business models on behalf of The Climate Group, not just on the disruptive impact they can have on industries--but in the way they are also helping reduce emissions and creating a low carbon economy.

The next Innovation Game Changers event will be on April 23, 2014. More details coming soon.

Watch the full video

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By Clare Saxon

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