Have you ever wondered about clean technology? Exactly what kind of amazing material would you have to use in order to create eco-friendly but sturdy furniture? It looks like this start-up has found the answer with mushrooms and it’s not just limited to furniture. Meet Mycoworks, a start company based in San Franciso, currently receiving funding and mentorship under Silicon Valley’s IndieBio start up accelerator program. They turn mycelium and agricultural byproducts into leather. This new kind of leather is grown rapidly from mycelium and agricultural byproducts in a carbon-negative process. I had the pleasure of interviewing the CEO, Dr Sophia Wang about Mycoworks.
How did the idea for your product come about? And how did this translate into a start up?
Our products – leather and solid foams grown from mycelium – were developed in response to explicit interest expressed by the automotive, footwear, and leather industries. We founded the company in order more effectively partner with the corporations that were interested in exploring applications for our technology in their products.
How do you see your clean technology products being used in the future?
This material technology could possibly serve industries ranging from aero-astro-automotive to biomedical and bioelectronic devices, as well as more immediately realizable applications in interior design, furniture and cabinetry, and footwear and fashion.
How much are the products/services priced at? How has the response been so far?
At commercial scale volumes, products made from this material technology will be competitive with or cheaper than conventional analogs. The inputs for this technology are low value, abundant byproducts of the agricultural, biofuel, lumber, green waste, and recycling industries, so raw material costs are plentiful and cheap.
The response has been highly enthusiastic: industries ranging from apparel and footwear to automotive and green building are very keen on integrating this material tech into their products.
What are the future plans for your company?
We are prototyping products made with our leathers and solid foams and working on scaling our operations to be able to meet the nearly endless demand for this material. We anticipate serving multiple industries in the future, but will focus on applications for our material as an alternative to conventional leather and polymer foams in the footwear and apparel industries.
What are your achievements so far?
We have been issued a process patent related to structural applications for mycelium composites and have received seed funding from the IndieBio accelerator program. Our materials and technology are currently being showcased in partnership with the ETH Zurich/Singapore-ETH as part of the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Our institutional collaborators include Stanford’s School of Bioengineering and U.C. Berkeley, and we will soon be able to share the names of our commercial partners.
Any advice for biotech/healthcare startups? How has your startup journey been as a (co-)founder?
Phil and I both entered the world of biotech/biomaterials entrepreneurship by way of the arts and humanities (and Phil’s path also includes professional experience as a chef and folk knowledge of herbal/Traditional Chinese Medicine).
So my main observation is that visionary insights and contributions to the field of biotech might very well emerge from interdisciplinary thinking and training. I also think ethics and long-term thinking are crucial for young biotech/healthcare companies, because the work we are doing is for the betterment of human lives, care, and bodies, individually and as a collective, and for the landscape of resources we all share
Personally I find this one of the strong points of the start up, could you give a little more insight into the challenges of balancing this very noble cause and building a profitable company?
Basically this is based on a great model where we recycle plant or wood waste from other industries which is abundantly available so our basic needs such as resources are met and we are also very particular about our collaborations.
With every opportunity and partnership, especially when it involves commerce and funding, Phil, Eddie, and I check that the values on which we are building our company align with the opportunity at hand. How and why one contributes to the operations and enrichment of larger institutions and systems are important questions to answer.
For more information about Mycoworks do check them out at the following website (scroll down to check out their cool promo video!)
Philip Ross, CTO: Artist, inventor, and scholar who invented the field of mycotecture over 20 years ago when he began growing structures and forms using fungal mycelium. More background can be found via these press/video features: http://www.mycoworks.com/#press
Sophia Wang, PhD., CEO: Artist and scholar who began working with Phil in 2007 on projects at the intersection of design, biotechnology, and philosophy.
Holds a PhD in English from UC Berkeley on contemporary American experimental poetry and professional experience in fundraising, program management, performance, and curation.
Eddie Pavlu, MEEE (Master of Engineering/Electrical Engineering): Senior Advisor: entrepreneur and inventor with over 17 years of executive leadership; former President & CEO of Elliott Laboratories, which he led through successful acquisition by National Technical Systems, a publicly traded global testing company, where he served as Vice President of Operations.