This episode of the Extreme Tech Innovators podcast series features a conversation with Luna Yu, CEO and Founder of the 2020 Global Winner of Extreme Tech Challenge, Genecis Bioindustries of Canada.
Genecis is a great two-for-one play. Many are those who try to convert food waste into useful products and also many are seeking natural substitutes for petroleum based plastics. Genecis orchestrates bacteria to convert food waste INTO a high-value plastic (polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHAs) substituting for petroleum feedstocks. Genecis’ PHAs are compostable, ring-biodegradable and recyclable.
Luna launched GENECIS in 2016 after the completion of her Bachelor and Master degrees in Environmental Science from the University of Toronto, including studies of naturally included circular feedstocks and adaptive re-use. In the course of those courses, Luna learned about biogas production which, like biodiesel before, uses microorganisms to convert organic waste to a clean fuel, albeit quite inefficiently. That got her hooked on bacteria-conversion. In fact, in the podcast she describes her journey from gas to polyhydroxyalkanoates and how Genecis’s first scale-up project is with a major biogas producer to reduce the inefficiencies she initially encountered, and provide a more profitable derivative to boost their commercial success.
On the entrepreneurial side, Luna had long been interested in commerce as a way to “make her mark”. While at U-Toronto, she launched two startups in web and service provisioning, to develop her commercial chops, but they also reinforced that she preferred deep science and biology, so that drew her back to aspire to be an “extreme tech founder”. When her bacteria-conversion journey took her and her classmates to PHAs, she knew she had found the market opportunity on which to stake her claim.
As it has turned out, polyhydroxyalkanoates have turned out to have a wide range of high-value medical uses and Genecis’ latest demonstration project is digesting the leftovers of insulin production (similar to wine pomace) to create the PHAs used to make recyclable insulin dispensing pens, a double circular win.
Luna and Genecis applied and won a number of startup competitions before XTC. She became a serial competitor at first to get the non-dilutive capital that is hard to come by but essential for successful bootstrapping. Later, her team appreciated the networking value of these engagements. She cites the example of a synthetic biology pitch competition that they did not win, but through which they met Dr. Jim Barber, founder of the earliest and most successful PHA startup – MIT spin-off Metabolix (now Yield10 Bioscience) – and he became one of Genecis’ closest scientific advisors.
Similarly, XTC introduced Genecis to many investors worldwide and generated lots of useful publicity. When the company wanted to close a very quick pre-A round this autumn, nearly ⅓ was booked with investors met via XTC. From pre-revenue at the time of winning, Genecis has progressed to its first $1M in revenue and $10M in committed purchase orders.
We congratulate GENECIS and Luna Yu on the continuing success in developing the tools and processes we need to create the sustainable and circular supply chains of the 21st Century.
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