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Product | People | Potential – our chat with Scindo

We caught up with Gustaf Hemberg, Co-Founder & CEO of Scindo as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Scindo is creating a novel biological process to turn low-value plastic landfill waste into high-value molecules.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand 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 Gustaf, great to meet you! Please can you kick us off with an introduction to yourself and Scindo.

Gustaf: I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Scindo, a cleantech start-up tackling the issues surrounding plastics recycling. We are creating novel enzyme functionality to breakdown some of the toughest plastics challenging recyclers today. I have an educational background in chemistry and chemical biology, where I worked with Ben Davis, investigating the incorporation of novel unnatural amino acids in natural proteins. After completing my master’s degree, I worked in finance, but was constantly thinking about the ways enzyme chemistry could replace unsustainable synthetic routes in the chemical industry, so I went back to Oxford, and Ben Davis, for my DPhil, with the idea that would eventually become Scindo. We made some interesting discoveries during the project, and as a result Scindo was founded in April 2020.

Zoe @ADLIB: How did the origin of Scindo come about?

Gustaf: One of the primary issues with synthetic, manmade materials such as plastics, is that they tend to be incompatible with natural enzymes responsible for biodegradation. At Scindo, we are evolving enzymes to create a ´natural fit´ with unnatural plastics, enabling biodegradation. We received pre-seed funding from SOSV, an American VC fund, and were selected as one of ten companies to participate in the IndieBio accelerator programme in New York this summer.

The company was co-founded by Juliet Sword who has a background in consulting, and has been key to help steer the project framework from an academic to a commercial setting.

Zoe @ADLIB: Have you been impacted by COVID?

Gustaf: Scindo was founded just before COVID came into full force, so we have primarily been impacted by lab closures, which has meant that we have had to collaborate with a number of third parties to proceed with our product development during lockdown.

Zoe @ADLIB: What has been your approach to understanding and implementing product-market fit?

Gustaf: We drew out a complete value chain for the plastics sector, from production to disposal. We then spoke to all the major clients at every point in the chain to understand their pain points, needs, and whether there was an actual need for the product.

Zoe @ADLIB: Can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome at Scindo?

Gustaf: If you are not from the VC world it can be tricky to get introductions to the right people. It is key not only to ensure that the start-up gets appropriate funding, but you need to find the right people to support you and help de-risk the business model. Getting good advice on what achievable milestones are, can help show that you are doing the right thing with the capital raised and that you are consistently moving the company forward.

The second challenge is to build the best possible team, with limited resources, to feasibly achieve your milestones. We have a strong founding team, with complementary skills and experiences, which we have then supplemented with extremely experienced advisors.

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?

Gustaf: You need to have a deep understanding of the market you are trying to break into. Speak with key players to understand what problem they want to see solved and whether your product will be the solution to help them. Many people come with a brilliant technical solution without a proper business model or understanding of their addressable market, which can be off-putting to investors.

Thank you so much for your time.