This article was published on 7 July 2020
For the BioFab team, being a C-Prize finalist during COVID-19 has presented challenges, but also opportunities, says team member Michael Khuwattanasenee.
Disruption has been everywhere in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including for us as one of the finalist teams competing in the C-Prize 2019 Challenge.
Interviews planned with potential customers during the competition phase couldn’t initially take place, as they were scheduled for what ended up being the first week of lockdown.
We have since managed to undertake face-to-face interviews, however, as alert levels lowered. And for BioFab, the environment post-COVID-19 has provided us with an opportunity to pivot our business offering to address aspects of the ‘new reality’ we all find ourselves facing.
Why and how have we done this?
BioFab targets a major source of non-compostable waste – polystyrene – by creating a sustainable replacement product.
Our technology creates packaging and building materials from agricultural waste and eco-friendly mycelium – the vegetative root structure that produces mushrooms.
This licensed process involves putting wood chips or hemp fibre in a mould, which forms a structure for mycelium growth. The resulting biomaterial can be produced in just a few days, to any shape required, and be as light as polystyrene and as rigid and strong as plywood.
While our vision is to become a fully circular sustainable material market leader in the construction and packaging industry, during the Challenge process we have focused on pivoting to develop sustainable building materials with strong and resilient local supply chains.
The NZ construction industry currently accounts for 20% of the nation’s total carbon footprint. We believe the new reality that we are currently facing post COVID-19 gives us the prime opportunity to make more sustainable decisions in all aspects of the economic recovery.
Now, more than ever, we must ensure we are not mortgaging the ecological and economic future of the planet and its citizens.
How has being involved in C-Prize helped us on our journey?
Our Challenge mentors have been amazing, pushing us out of our comfort zones to really explore the potential applications for our technology. They’ve also been instrumental in connecting us with contacts in the construction industry to discuss how our technology can meet their needs.
While connecting face-to-face with potential customers was out of the question during lockdown, we found many business owners took more time to work on their business, in the absence of being able to work in it.
For those businesses with a sustainability focus, they’ve been looking more closely at the future vision they have for their operation and what new opportunities and technologies – such as BioFab’s – they could adopt to bring their vision to life.
Having access to other business experts during the Challenge has also been eye-opening. Personally, I found a session with leadership development and business activation coach Julie Treanor interesting – giving me new insights into myself, and sparking conversations about our relative strengths and positions in our team.
What’s next for BioFab?
We are now well positioned to complete product testing and have shown strong progress towards proving viability of our product. To achieve our goals we will require ongoing support from Callaghan Innovation and its partners to successfully navigate our regulatory pathway and grow our commercial capabilities. We look forward to the journey continuing.
We’ll be sharing journey blogs from our C-Prize finalist teams in the lead up to the announcement of the 2019/20 C-Prize supreme winner.
Please note - With the recent move to place Auckland in COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and the rest of New Zealand in Alert Level 2 from 12 August, we have had to postpone the final C-Prize award evening scheduled for Friday 14 August. As the situation is still developing we are still considering how best to deliver the final judging and awards event. We will update as soon as we have more information to share.