Professor Tuomas Knowles and CEO Simon Hombersley discuss the science behind Xampla’s materials with the Engineering Matters podcast.
University of Cambridge spin-out Xampla has today announced it has closed a £6.2m seed finance round, led by the backers of Zoom, to accelerate the roll-out of its next generation plastic replacement. The investment follows a £2m round announced in April last year.
The company has ambitious plans to replace microplastics and single-use plastics with its entirely natural plant-protein alternatives. Xampla is chaired by Jeff Seabright, the former Chief Sustainability Officer of Unilever, and is the first UK university spin-out to secure B Corp accreditation.
The finance round was led by Horizons Ventures, the private investment arm of Mr Li Ka-shing, which is a leading investor in some of the world’s most innovative companies and disruptive technologies including Facebook, Zoom, Waze, Spotify, Siri, DeepMind, Improbable, and Impossible Foods.
Xampla is also backed by deeptech investor Amadeus Capital Partners, Cambridge Enterprise, and the impact investment fund Sky Ocean Ventures.
Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures said: “We invest in highly innovative companies in Asia, Europe and the US with the potential to disrupt on a global scale.
“Xampla’s excellent core science and strong commercial advantages set it apart in the race for a replacement to plastic, and we look forward to working with the team to build the business over the coming years.”
Amelia Armour, Partner, Amadeus Capital Partners added, “Plastic pollution is a global problem which has a viable solution in Xampla’s plant-protein alternative. It has been exciting to help Xampla gain traction and we welcome Horizons Ventures as an investor who shares Amadeus’ vision for this great company.”
Jeff Seabright, Xampla Chair, said: “The Xampla team had a great first year, with excellent technical and commercial progress.
“We look forward to working with Horizons and our other investors to continue to build Xampla and deliver its significant commercial potential by addressing one of today’s most pressing problems – plastic pollution.”
A senior leader from one of the world’s biggest companies and White House climate change advisor has joined a Cambridge University start-up making plastic from peas.
As Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Officer Jeff Seabright is credited with turning one of the world’s largest multi-nationals into a leader in sustainability. But he has gone from leading the sustainability operations of a company with an annual turnover of £50bn across 155,000 staff in 190 countries and 400 household name products, to a company with no sales, no products and 10 staff. Mr Seabright said: “We’ve known we’ve had a plastic crisis for a long time. But the biggest problem with plastic is also its biggest strength. Its durability is great when you are protecting your product and a nightmare afterwards. The great conundrum has been to find a product that is cheap and durable without lasting forever on our planet.
“Xampla is the most exciting innovation I have worked on. It has potential to have a positive impact on a global scale and is a ground breaking solution for industries in desperate need of natural alternatives to plastic. I am very pleased to be joining as Chair at this critical time.”
Mr Seabright will bring Xampla a raft of environmental and commercial expertise from a two-decades long career in sustainability. Before joining Unilever he was Vice President of Environment & Water Resources at Coca Cola. He also led the Clinton White House Task Force on Climate Change. Mr Seabright will champion Xampla’s sustainability efforts as it brings its natural plastic alternatives to market. Xampla has created the world’s first plant protein material for commercial use, aiming to eradicate the need for single-use plastics. Its bio-based materials, some made from pea protein, decompose naturally and fully without harming the environment.
Xampla CEO Simon Hombersley said: “Jeff’s appointment has come at a pivotal point for the company. We are designing our products to meet the sustainability requirements of major companies like Unilever, and Jeff’s experience and leadership will ensure sustainability is our focus as we scale our business.
Xampla has become the UK’s first university spin-out to be accredited B Corp status.
B Corps are for–profit businesses which commit to create a material positive impact on society and the environment through their operations. B Corp Certification is administered by Standards Analysts at the non-profit B Lab. Xampla is a spin-out from Cambridge University, based on the ground breaking work of Professor Tuomas Knowles.
Dr Elaine Loukes, Investment Director, Cambridge Enterprise said: “We couldn’t be more pleased by the news of Xampla’s continued success. Xampla originated at Cambridge University and we continue to work closely with the team.
“Impact is of the utmost importance to us, and Xampla is a prime example of a technology created at the University being developed through a commercial spin-out to make the world a better place. We are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Xampla with Mr Seabright at the helm.”
Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations, University of Cambridge, said: “The University of Cambridge is committed to seeking innovative solutions to the climate crisis. Companies like Xampla that apply cutting-edge University research to solving urgent environmental problems – and which have the potential to achieve impact at scale – have a vital role to play in global efforts to achieve a zero-carbon future.”
Kate Sandle, B Lab UK’s Director of Programmes and Engagement, said: “Xampla is a B Corp through and through – a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability to balance profit for purpose.
“It’s fantastic that a university spin-out has been able to achieve this. I’m sure with Jeff Seabright as Chair, Xampla will go on to do even more fantastic work helping people and planet.”
See our coverage on CBS news here.
The BBC’s Science and Technology Correspondent Richard Westcott visited Xampla. Watch his report here
Xampla is a finalist in the The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technology Prize, recognising the potential of the company’s ground breaking science.
Xampla has been selected by Sifted, the Financial Times’s new media site for entrepreneurs and innovators, as one of its ‘Pioneers of the new world’.
The report lists the key start-ups ‘at the forefront of seismic change’, and highlights Xampla’s CEO Simon Hombersley as the standout pioneer in sustainability. Xampla leads the ‘Sustainability’ category for its ground-breaking work to create the world’s first plant protein material to replace single-use plastic.
CEO Simon Hombersley told the site:
“Covid-19 is in fact placing severe restrictions on corporate budgets, creating a short-term barrier to achieving long-term sustainability objectives” and that Xampla is at “the vanguard of helping corporates meet the needs of shareholder, consumer, regulator and planet alike”.
Sifted journalists began a world-wide search in April for the start-ups with most potential to make the ‘new world’ an improvement on the old. In highlighting Xampla as particularly compelling, the publication noted the company’s breakthrough could herald ‘a mass evolution in sustainable plastic’.
Jamie Rowles, Head of Investments, Sky Ocean Ventures
The devastating impact of plastic pollution is a subject that’s high on Sky’s agenda. Since its launch in 2017, our Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, encouraging people to #PassOnPlastic, has touched nearly 50 million people. And, through our #BeAnOceanHero initiative with WWF, we’re inspiring millions more to join us in the movement to protect our oceans and planet.
As a media and entertainment organisation, we’re in a powerful position to issue a global rallying cry. And we’re taking action as a business too. We’re systematically ridding Sky of single-use plastic, and we’ve recently made an ambitious commitment to be net zero carbon by 2030.
Individual and corporate action is vital, but it’s not the whole answer. To break its addiction to single-use plastic, the world needs innovators and inventors – people with bold ideas that will revolutionise materials, reinvent processes and power the circular economy. So, through Sky Ocean Ventures, our impact investment fund, we’ve committed £25million to accelerate the most promising ideas that can address the ocean plastic pollution crisis.
When we met Xampla, we’d already invested in some exciting start-ups making plastic replacements from other naturally abundant materials. But two words in Xampla’s pitch really stood out: ‘plant protein’ – this is a first-of-its-kind approach and we were excited to see such a significant leap forward in our ability to manipulate nature’s most diverse and abundant building blocks.
The scientific pedigree behind Xampla’s plant protein breakthrough is undoubtedly impressive – Professor Tuomas Knowles’ lab at the University of Cambridge is world-renowned for its understanding of the biophysics of biopolymers. This foundational level of research is reassuring for an investor and we are happy to also utilise our dedicated match-funding with Innovate UK to translate this research into commercial reality.
Our mission is to bring commercial products to scale that can make an impact on the environment; it’s our raison d’etre. So great science needs to be matched by a clear commercial plan for scale. We always challenge ourselves to create a high bar for future materials. We’re looking for approaches that are not just as good as the plastics they aim to replace, they must be better to create a compelling reason for customers to adopt the solution. We cannot rely purely on making a sustainability-led choice.
What excites us about Xampla’s material is that it can do things that plastic can’t. It has comparable functional properties in terms of barriers but it’s consumable, which opens up all sorts of opportunities for food grade applications. Crucially it decomposes quickly and naturally, so it can provide the kind of single-use benefits that we are accustomed too, without plastic’s pollution. And all this from a natural, sustainable and renewable source. This is what the future of materials should look like across industries and we’re excited to a part of bringing this to the widest possible audience.
Of course, a key reason to invest revolves around finding teams committed to working with the industries they’re going to change and this is very much the Xampla ethos.
We’re delighted to be one of Xampla’s seed round investors, and committed to helping them move swiftly from prototype to launch and growth. It could be a truly transformational product, changing the way millions of products are produced and packaged.
A Europe-wide ban on washaway plastic ingredients in everything from fabric softener to cosmetics and fertilisers moved a step closer this week.
Today’s endorsement of the proposed restriction by a key EU Committee intensifies the pressure on FMCG brands and other industries to find alternative ingredients or face product bans. During consultation, Cosmetics Europe stated that the proposed restriction could affect more than 24,000 formulations, resulting in loss of revenue for the industry of over 12bn euros per year.
The Committee also recommended the ban include strict testing of alternatives to ‘intentionally added microplastics’ to prove they can biodegrade in soil, marine and freshwater environments. This will ensure only genuinely environmentally-friendly replacements are allowed, which signifies a big step towards reducing washaway plastic use.
Simon Hombersley, CEO of Xampla, a University of Cambridge spin-out developing a plant-protein alternative to microplastics said:
“Washaway microplastic ingredients like these provide many benefits to brands and consumers, but currently at a huge cost to the environment. We are committed to helping manufacturers move from these traditional plastics to new high-performance alternatives that don’t harm the planet at all.
“With today’s announcement, the Committee is highlighting that only genuine natural alternatives to microplastics are acceptable. We welcome this. We will be launching the world’s first plant protein microcapsule later this year, and early testing shows it decomposes in a matter of weeks.
“Europe is leading the way in this legislation, but given that products have customers across the world any changes to formulations introduced in Europe are likely to be implemented worldwide, which is even better news.”
The endorsement of the proposal came from the European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC), which assesses chemicals’ risk to the environment and human health, and the likely effectiveness of proposed legislation. It found the restriction would prevent 500,000 tonnes of polluting microplastic ingredients in Europe alone entering soil, rivers and the ocean over the next 20 years.
At the same time, the Agency’s Committee for Socio-economic (SEAC) analysis agreed its draft opinion on the costs and benefits of the proposal for society. It supports the wide scope of the proposal, noting that ‘microplastic pollution is irreversible and that early action to reduce emissions can be beneficial for society’. A 60-day consultation of SEAC’s draft opinion will start soon. The consolidated opinion of both committees is expected to be ready by the end of 2020.
The ECHA announcement is at https://echa.europa.eu/-/rac-backs-restricting-intentional-uses-of-microplastics