Seaweed pods for personal care products tackle global plastic crisis
Squiish, a Norwich-based startup are developing a clean and green biodegradable packaging solution for personal care products.
New startup company Squiish Ltd. received EIRA and Santander grants through the University of East Anglia (UEA) to develop a clean and green biodegradable packaging solution for personal care products. They initially plan to target the use of single use plastic bottles in the hospitality sector for bathroom products such as shower gel and shampoo with plans to capture market share across the sector with creative business models as the company grows.
Having completed a positive market analysis and identified a preferred business model, the company were awarded an EIRA Innovation Voucher to commission an academic expert from UEA to produce an independent technology review of their proposed product, in order to help them develop a strategy for its protection and manufacture.
The market for non-plastic shampoo containers was valued at $10.2M USD in 2018 and a recent uGov poll revealed that 46% of UK consumers feel guilty about the amount of plastic they use and 82% are actively trying to reduce the amount they throw away.
The innovative product concept envisages single-use ‘pods’ that are disintegrable / dissolvable under a flash of warm water. Alginate-based materials originating from seaweed were identified as a class of materials offering the key characteristics and functions the company were looking for.
The challenge facing the company was to develop a process for the manufacture of its soluble pods in a way that would be both scalable and commercially viable, while at the same time capable of protection from competition.
Dr Sheng Qi is a Reader at UEA’s School of Pharmacy. She has over 15 years of formulation and advanced materials research experiences and published over 70 peer-reviewed publications with 5 book chapters in this field. The translational nature of her research has equipped her with good understanding of the commercialisation pathway of novel technologies.
In parallel, a professional Patent Agency was also commissioned to carry out an Intellectual property search in the area to add value to the findings from the technology review.
The combined aims of the review were to identify a strategy that the company could adopt for both product development and patent protection.
The technology review completed with the EIRA Innovation Voucher has been a gateway project and provided the company with the confidence they needed to drive forward their technology development programme.
The findings, while commercially sensitive, have given the company the key information needed to decide the next steps for the technology development.
“The EIRA innovation voucher was a vital piece of support for our first research and development project. We started Squiish just before the pandemic began, so the fact EIRA have been willing to support us through the crisis meant that we could take our business from the concept stage to being able to have our first prototype developed by the end of the year.” – Squiish Team
Based on the findings received to date, the team plan to move to the next phase of the company’s development and commission a lab-based prototype membrane. The membrane will then undergo tests for determining its suitability for extrusion of the single use pods. This work will be carried out as a collaboration with UEA and in the laboratory of Dr Sheng Qi.
A prototype membrane will be used to form test pods and guide the selection of high throughput equipment for large scale manufacture.
“Squiish has also received incredible support from the Enterprise Central team at the UEA. In our short time as a company we have written and rewritten business plans, launched concept surveys and pitched to a panel of investors.”
“The results from our EIRA-funded project will inform and guide our next project, that is currently being carried out in Dr Sheng Qi’s lab in the School of Pharmacy. Without the help of the EIRA funding the first project, we would effectively be going in blind in our attempt to make a prototype.”
“EIRA has helped us to reduce risk and maximise the chances of building a product that could give us significant IP in the near future. We hope to keep a close relationship with the EIRA team and hopefully work together again when we begin to scale the company.” – James Beavis, CEO