P | P | P – our chat with Chip[s] Board
We caught up with Rowan Minkley, the CEO and Co-founder of Chip[s] Board, as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Chip[s] Board is dedicated to developing bio-plastics and bio-plastic composites for the ever changing design sectors.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Zoe @ADLIB: Hi Rowan, great to meet you! Please can you kick us off with an introduction to yourself and Chip[s] Board.
Rowan: I am the CEO and Co-founder of Chip[s] Board. Chip[s] Board is a bioplastic technology company focused on using industrial food waste from manufactures and converting it into durable bioplastics, making compostable and recyclable materials. We are tackling the issue of plastic pollution and food waste and merging them into one solution.
We currently have a laboratory facility in East London with a team of seven, but are looking at scaling up our facilities, so we can begin manufacturing materials for our customers. We are in late-stage development and have a significant amount of interest from end-users in the fashion and interior design industry.
We are unique, as the founding principle to everything we do is focused on how we can improve the environmental credentials of bioplastics. The step of using virgin food crops to make bioplastics is a great step from petrochemicals, but using second-generation biomass (food waste) is a significant step forward for sustainable manufacturing.
Zoe @ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of Chip[s] Board?
Rowan: Chip[s] Board was founded at University with my Co-founder Rob. We were both studying design, I come from a strategy background and was an executive chef so saw the abundance of food waste in a commercial setting, whilst Rob is a more material based designer.
The idea was born when we were looking at the lack of materials in the field of design that were sustainable. The majority being petrochemical plastics or resin-based, so we thought we would explore what could be done using food waste. We started using potato peelings from the kitchens that I was running and doing some rudimental chemistry to see what we could do with these biomaterials and developed some early prototypes. The drive from ourselves is looking at the lack of material on offer for designers and understanding the abundance of food waste.
Zoe @ADLIB: Can you share some challenges you are currently facing?
Rowan: One of the challenges we have is operational costs, so raising for these and making sure we have budgeted for a sufficient team, equipment and space is vital to our success. If you have ties to a University, then definitely make the most of them as they have access to equipment that is very expensive.
Zoe @ADLIB: What has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit?
Rowan: For us, it was a market pull. We built some initial publicity through competitions we won or partnerships that we have done on prototype products. We have been contacted by a large number of fashion and interior design companies saying that they want to work with us, which is very exciting and is great to see that brands in these markets are proactively looking for new materials to use.
It has been really good to look at the supply. We have been working with McCain’s chips by-products for over 2 years. McCain have been on board with the concept, so the food industry as well is honing down on this issue and seeing the most viable solution, which is great.
Zoe @ADLIB: What challenges have you had to overcome to create Chip[s] Board?
Rowan: A lot of challenges have come from lack of equipment early on. We work with polymers, biological material and mechanical processing, so it has taken a while to build up an end to end laboratory facility, but by doing this we have been able to hone in on the equipment that has the least environmental impact. This has been exciting but has been one of the things that has slowed us down.
The other thing is scale. Working at laboratory scale on a bacterial process is challenging, as we are limited by the amount of material we can make from our bioreactors, which ultimately limits the number of companies we can work with. This is why we are looking to scale up, so we can get a supply contract signed and progress to the next step of manufacturing.
Zoe @ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?
Rowan: In terms of investment, I would recommend budgeting 25% more than you thought, as there will always be something that you need to outsource that you have completely missed off. It is important to look at R&D tax credits, you have to wait a year to get back the money you have spent so far, but that mixed with VAT returns has kept our R&D ticking over. If you can bring on corporate investors, either a customer or supplier from your target audience, that really shows that they believe in what you are doing.
Thank you so much for your time.