Honoring Women: Spotlight Genecis

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we sat down with 2020 Female Founders Award winner Luna Yu and discussed her company Genecis, the Cleantech winner for the 2020 competition, to learn more about her experience leading a startup and competing in XTC.

Q: Please tell us about your experience as a female founder in the world of tech. What were your most formative inspirations, and challenges, in entering this space?

Major strides have been made in equality over the past decades, which allows men and women of today to work collaboratively in all industries. I believe opportunities are no longer limited to certain groups of people - you can do anything so long as you put in the work and boldly accept the risks. My experience as a female founder in the world of tech has been nothing short of advantageous. In fact, there are now many programs that give women a unique advantage by offering female founders exclusive monetary prizes, laboratory access, mentorship, and investment opportunities.

Q: What inspired you to launch your own company?

I’ve always loved two things, science and food. When it came to food, I hated seeing it go to waste. More than 33% of the food we produce today is wasted - roughly 1 billion pounds per year. Most of it ends up in landfills, where it emits methane as it degrades, contributing to more than 7% of global carbon emissions. While there are existing technologies that recycle food waste into compost and biogas, they are not widely adopted due to their low value and operating profitability. As such, Genecis was founded to up-cycle food waste into premium sustainable materials.

Q: What type of materials does Genecis create?

We chose to make PHA biodegradable plastics because of its massive potential to overtake petroleum plastics, and the unique advantage that comes with using food waste as the feedstock in our PHA production process. Due to the heterogeneous carbon sources in food waste, we can make a variety of PHAs with unique characteristics, each suitable for different products. Through our technology platform, we are able to make hard plastics like bottles, spoons, and knives and amorphous materials, such as flexible packaging like thin film, wrappers, and bags. This cannot be easily or cost-effectively accomplished by using pure feedstocks to make PHAs today, like corn or sugarcane.

Q: We’d love to hear what’s happened to Genecis since last year’s competition. What are some key milestones you’re proud of?

It has been a great honour to be presented amongst the global winners of the 2020 Extreme Tech Challenge. In the last eight months, we have nearly doubled our company size and facilities, hit several key industry product performance metrics, and secured major product development partnerships with multinational brands, netting us almost $1M in revenue.

Q. That’s great to hear! What’s in store for the months and years ahead?

As with any growing company, it is difficult to predict what the future holds for us. Nevertheless, our aim is to continue to strive to reducing the 18 billion pounds of plastic polluting our oceans every year, through up-cycling the 1 billion pounds of food waste that are produced each year. We plan on bringing our PHAs to market in a way that will allow consumers to not have to choose between sustainability or functionality today, and eventually price in the future.

Q: What advice do you have for other women who see you as a role model in creating a sustainability-focused startup?

Building a startup company is not an easy path to follow, and there are countless hurdles to overcome. We’ve found taking a steady step-by-step approach has the biggest impact in advancing forward. It is a credit to those who paved a pathway for us and gave the women of today an opportunity to thrive and be who we are. It is now our responsibility and our privilege to do the same for the next generation.