Launching as a virtual event in 2021, the Rethinking Materials Summit saw materials, packaging and plastics innovators from around the world connect online to share their solutions, get feedback from investors and start forging the partnerships needed for growth.
Two of those innovators had such a valuable experience as start-ups that they have returned in 2022 as summit partners: Gelatex and Xampla.
Geletex Co-Founder and COO, Mari-Ann Meigo Fonseca and Xampla CEO, Simon Hombersley share what they have been up to since participating at Rethinking Materials last year.
Why did you take part in Rethinking Materials in 2021, how did you find it?
Gelatex: The concept of Rethinking Materials was immediately interesting for us because it is well aligned with what we believe in at Gelatex. We believe that innovation for so many new products start with materials and in order to make the world a more sustainable and healthier place for all of us we must start from what is around us – materials. Of course, that is expected as we are a materials technology company! The event was very well organized, and it was great to see many big corporations participating. It shows how important the topic is.
Xampla: It is a really exciting event, and the difference between this and some other events in the sustainability space is that the summit is not just about lamenting the problem of plastic pollution – it’s about finding solutions. The summit brings together a community of innovators, who – with our different ideas – will do more to drive the transition away from plastic than any government can through regulation alone. I found there was a real excitement about Xampla’s offer back in 2021, and I’m looking forward to showcasing the growth Xampla has seen since I was last here.
What’s new with you? Are there new partnerships, products, or funding rounds you would like to shout about?
Gelatex: During Rethinking Materials we got connected to many companies from various industries and had discussions about the use of nanofibers in their applications. We even got a few pilot projects starting and some paying customers. These collaborations are still in an early phase and we have NDAs signed, so unfortunately I cannot share more right now. However, I can say that Rethinking Materials helped to get the conversations started with these partners. This in turn, also helped us to close our seed round of €1.2M in autumn 2021. We just recently moved to our new office, are actively expanding the team and our production capabilities and are also about to start to implement ISO standards. Part of our R&D team is focused on developing the best cost-effective and scalable scaffolds for tissue engineering and cell-cultured meat, while part is working on customer projects from various fields such as filtration, food, cosmetics, tissue engineering, and more.
Xampla: Since making our very first hire at Xampla in January 2020, we are proud to have grown to a 25-strong international team of industry-leading scientists and innovators and have continued to scale up throughout 2021. Last year, the 15 years of University of Cambridge research behind our natural polymer film was made public in the prestigious academic journal Nature Communications. Later, the first rolls of the material came off production lines and the product is now in consumers’ hands for the first time.
Our first commercial application has been in partnership with recipe kit brand, Gousto. Xampla developed the world’s first edible stock cube wrapper made from pea protein. This product sold out within just one hour of Gousto announcing the partnership, showing the consumer demand for such innovation. Gousto has told us that if this product was rolled out across all their meal kits, we would replace a staggering 17 tonnes of plastic every single year.
We are working on further partnerships behind the scenes and will have more announcements to share over the next 12 months as we work with brands to develop breakthrough technology for their customers to enjoy.
It is fantastic to have you back as a partner for the 2022 summit, what are you hoping to get out of the event this year?
Gelatex: The pleasure is ours! We are looking forward to meeting new partners and find synergies with other companies from materials field to collaborate with. First, we would like to meet with new sustainable polymer producers as they could be a potential supplier to us. We met a few last year and are always open to test new raw materials. But more importantly, we are looking to meet companies who we could help. Nanofibers could be used in so many different applications but until now their use has been very limited because of production technologies. Now for the first time we can produce bio-based and biodegradable nanofibrous materials for even up to 90% cheaper compared to what was possible before. This means that products like biodegradable filtration materials, scar-reducing wound care materials, cell-cultured meat that feels and tastes like real meat, highly efficient ultracapacitors and many more could now become accessible for everyone. We want to start conversations and make everyone think what could be possible if production technologies and high prices would not be the limitation.
Xampla: With industry movers and shakers from 44 countries represented at Rethinking Materials, this is a critical space for us to meet those who will drive the transition away from plastic.
Our ambition is to work with big brands to get them to say ‘goodbye’ to the most polluting plastics – films that are very hard to recycle, and the hidden plastics inside products like dishwasher tablets and laundry liquids.
We can only do that by building confidence in our technology and ensuring those making big decisions at household brands see Xampla as a partner for the future.
We also see the summit as a place to learn from others. The race to replace plastic won’t have just one winner, just as there is no single solution to the plastics crisis. This is an opportunity for us to benefit from others’ expertise and ideas, just as we hope it is an opportunity for others to benefit from ours.
What’s next for the materials and packaging industries? Have you seen something new you are particularly excited about and do you have any predictions for the future?
Gelatex: Certainly, sustainable solutions in all industries aren’t a temporary trend. Rather, it’s a necessity, born out of the dire situation we put ourselves at. New materials will keep emerging and new solutions will become more and more prevalent as we move forward. Innovative high performance as well as biodegradable materials will be developed thanks to nanotechnology and more cost-effective and scalable production technologies that can enable this future.
Xampla: A recent Xampla survey of 2,000 adults found that half the public want to help the natural environment by cutting their plastic consumption in 2022.
We believe that big brands will be increasingly concerned with meeting this consumer demand. The worst polluters that are not being captured by recycling infrastructure, such as plastic flexible films, will continue to be phased out of packaging as brand managers seek sustainable alternatives.
This surge in demand means that the race is now on to find a natural replacement that offers the same benefits of plastic for consumers, without the associated waste and pollution caused by production and end-of-life.
After 15 years of research at the University of Cambridge, Xampla is accelerating this trend with innovation that allows us to produce a film made from plant protein offering the same performance as plastic but is completely edible and safe to eat if it finds itself in the ocean or natural environment.
As we partner with household brands and roll this innovation out at scale, we are confident our technology will be used to replace traditional single-use plastic films across a range of different packaging products.
Both Gelatex and Xampla will speak at Rethinking Materials, live in London on May 4-5, 2022.