Biotech startup Shellworks uses bacteria found in soil and marine environments to create alternative compostable vegan packaging for beauty brands.
: Shellworks, the innovative biotech that wants to make plastic packaging a thing of the past, has raised $6.2 million in seed funding led by LocalGlobe. Founder Collective, True Global, BoxGroup, Divergent Capital and angels including Deepali Nangia (Alma Angels founder), Julien Callede (Made co-founder),Bryan Meehan (former Blue Bottle Coffee CEO) and Grant Aarons (FabricNano co-founder and CEO) also participated in the round. The company will use the funding to scale its technology and invest in commercial growth to put an end to single-use plastics starting with the beauty industry.
Shellworks was founded in 2019 by Insiya Jafferjee and Amir Afshar who met during their Masters at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College of London. Together they have combined Insiya’s years of manufacturing experience at brands including Apple, Bose and Ford with Amir’s near-decade of design experience focusing on natural materials to create products that would have a positive impact on the world – starting with bio-based and compostable plastic. Initially beginning with polymers derived from shellfish waste, they pivoted in early 2020 to using vegan microbially-derived material to create sustainable petroleum-free packaging, with no compromise on performance, aesthetics or cost.
The vegan, compostable alternative to plastic
Single-use plastic is an overwhelming environmental problem – 380 million metric tonnes of plastic are produced yearly and approximately 91% of it is not recycled. These plastic bottles and containers end up in landfills or the ocean, polluting the environment and harming wildlife. Whilst much has been focused on single-use plastic in the food industry, the beauty and personal care space is just as challenging. Around 120 billion units of plastic are created every year by the entire industry, of which only 14% makes it to a recycling centre. Increasingly consumers want sustainable alternatives, while brands are seeking partners that can provide this for them.
Shellworks is providing this solution with scalable, functional and compostable packaging that performs like plastic until it’s disposed of. The team formulates its new material, Vivomer, using bacterially-derived components that are grown via a fermentation process. An in-house pilot line then allows them to formulate, compound and engineer bends based on application. The result is both material and tooling ready to produce parts at scale, which Shellworks then works with external partners across the UK to create. This is all overseen by the team to ensure that no unsustainable dyes or resins are added to the products which would affect the end of life of a Shellworks product. This rigorous attention to detail doesn’t stop at the material but also extends into the design of their packaging solutions which look and feel beautiful to appeal to both conscious and luxury brands alike including BYBI, Liha and Sana Jardin with more brands set to be announced later this year.
Once a product found in Shellworks’ Vivomer packaging is finished, the packaging can either be reused or placed in a personal compost or industrial compost bin, where it is broken down enzymatically. On average, it takes around a year for a product to break down, in contrast to petroleum-based plastics which can take up to 500 years to decompose.
Taking on the beauty industry’s single-use plastic problem
Shellworks is currently focusing on the beauty industry, though the company is exploring how its packaging can suit different needs and is talking to brands regarding packaging for personal care and cleaning products. To help it scale its operations, the startup has raised $6.2 million in seed funding. It will use the funding to double its team, including hiring for its operational, science and product teams, as well as investing in tech innovation and expanding its platform of materials.
Insiya Jafferjee, co-founder and CEO at Shellworks, said: “Our vision is to break the reliance on the petroleum industry by building a new standard of packaging that is performant, cost-competitive and truly sustainable. We work at the intersection of two ecosystems, the natural and the commercial, and we’re constantly trying to play a meaningful, connected and consistent role in both. The beauty industry creates 120 billion units of plastic packaging annually and we’re committed to providing a scalable solution to tackle this and we’re incredibly grateful that we’ve identified a group of investors who share this vision.”
Amir Afshar, co-founder and CPO at Shellworks, said: “We’ve spent the last two years really refining our processes and material formulations to ensure that our products are not only sustainable but scalable. By working collaboratively with nature we want to show how promising the future of materials can be and are looking forward to launching our new range of products that both look and feel great later this year. At its core, we’re highlighting that the sustainable choice doesn’t have to mean compromise.”
Ferdi Sigona, partner at LocalGlobe, said: “We’re delighted to be backing Insiya, Amir and the rest of the Shellworks team, as they bring the science, creativity and lightning speed we’re used to in tech environments to the world of materials and packaging. It’s been amazing to hear their customers rave about the products they’ve already created, and all of us at LocalGlobe are looking forward to seeing them build an iconic materials house to end plastic waste.”