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Leveraging ocean derived materials to create bio-innovative plastic alternatives for a sustainable future

 

With the global plastic industry at $580B USD, the time for a better alternative to traditional plastic is now. Algeon Materials is committed to fighting climate change and reducing plastic pollution by creating sustainable bio-plastic alternatives from ocean-derived materials like kelp, which absorbs up to 20x the carbon of land based forests.

Kelp is a completely renewable resource requiring virtually zero inputs. It doesn't require arable land, freshwater, or fertilizer to grow,” said Kim Pendergrass, Co-Founder. The material degrades in weeks versus hundreds of years like traditional plastics. The whole process is completely regenerative.”

Meeting her co-founder Rose Greeley Fein in Rady School of Managemnet’s MBA cohort last year, read more on their journey through the UC San Diego entrepreneurial ecosystem, pushing the map for the blue economy movement. 

 

What excites you about your work?

 

When we started Algeon Materials, we wanted to make sure it was a company with a mission that mattered.  The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provided a framework for creating a business that would make a difference. We both came from industry prior to our MBA program, and it became clear that we both shared a passion for the environment and tackling climate change head on. 

Quickly identifying the dramatic rise of single use plastics, we were introduced to kelp from another student in our cohort. Kelp is in so many things we use everyday - from pharmaceuticals and fuel alternatives to personal hygiene and fertilizer. We are excited about the opportunity to create an earth friendly plastic alternative.

 

How did you first get involved with The Basement & the UC San Diego entrepreneurial community?

I knew about The Basement when I applied to UC San Diego. I actually applied to my graduate program because of UC San Diego's entrepreneurial community. I had done my research, sitting in on a variety of programs and knew it would be a good fit. 

We took advantage of many offerings on campus, including StartR Rady and StartR Impact, as well as participated in NSF and ICorps Bootcamp, a fantastic joint program with the Jacobs School of Engineering and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This is where we really started looking at market analysis - i.e. who would be the right target customers, what would products be, size of market, etc. 

 

“It was important to go somewhere where female entrepreneurship was celebrated and supported. I felt comfortable that Rady took women in big business seriously.”

What we quickly learned is while everyone is talking about sustainability, nobody really knows how to do it. Rady’s entrepreneurial environment fosters this experiential approach, particularly the rich caliber of faculty. It has been incredible learning from them, particularly other women founders. It was important to go somewhere where female entrepreneurship was celebrated and supported. I felt comfortable that Rady took women in big business seriously.  

 

What campus resources helped you throughout your student entrepreneurial journey?

We are really excited to be selected for Scripps’ startBlue 2022 cohort. After finishing up StartR Rady and Impact, we were looking for an accelerator locally that focused on the blue economy. We had already had some interactions with the team at Scripps, and we were ready to dive into the nuts and bolts of what it meant to be involved in blue tech.

“The majority of the earth’s surface is covered by water. When we think about the terms blue economy, it is really about encouraging better stewardship of the ocean.”

The majority of the earth’s surface is covered by water. When we think about the terms blue economy, it is really about encouraging better stewardship of the ocean. What people can accomplish when people put that concept first is truly amazing - from preserving coastal resources and coastlines to reducing plastic waste. There's huge room for growth! 

 

How did you balance being a full-time student while also running a startup?

Having professional work experience prior really helped me be organized. During the pandemic, I moved my MBA to flex time so I could focus on working the full work week on the company. I would highly recommend blocking out time so you can have focused time to work on your passion. 

 

What role have mentors played in your success/journey?

Our mentors are invaluable to us - whether formal or informal mentors. Because our experiences in industry have been specialized, it’s really important we can call our mentors to get a temperature check to see if we are on the right track.

They have really helped us hone in on our target market, to sell to plastic manufacturers as an alternative material in the consumer packaged goods industry - from personal hygiene containers to other limited use plastics.

 

What advice would you give to another UC San Diego student thinking about starting a company?

My advice? Start now! Don’t wait until you have the perfect idea or perfect plan. Don’t get overly attached to your ideas - be prepared to pivot and change. Spend more time in design thinking. Don’t rush the end of the solution. Make sure you really truly understand the problem and alternative before you build the solution. 

“My advice? Start now! Don’t wait until you have the perfect idea or perfect plan. Don’t get overly attached to your ideas - be prepared to pivot and change.”

Always ask - “what is the problem I am passionate about solving” and go from there!

 

 

Learn how Algeon Materials is leveraging ocean derived materials to create sustainable solutions at https://www.algeonmaterials.com. To email Kim, reach out at kim.pendergrass@algeonmaterials.com