Revolutionizing the Textile Industry from the Factory Floor – A Conversation with Bloom Labs

We talked with two founders of Bloom Labs — Sim Gulati, CEO and Richard Freundlich, CTO — in the basement of IndieBio last week after their company had just been voted “Killer of the Week” by their peers in Batch 14. Each week at IndieBio, the companies in our batch compete based on their top accomplishments just in the previous week as they learn to move at venture speed. Top companies are nominated by the IndieBio SF team, but the winner is ultimately chosen by a voting of their peers within the batch.

Sim’s been a part of the textile industry since before he could walk

Sim started in the textile industry as a kid, helping his family run their clothing factory in India to create export-quality cotton and polyester for big name retail stores like J.C. Penney and LuluLemon.

[Sim]: “After learning the fundamentals as well as the harmful impacts of the textile industry, I became a bit obsessed with how to circularize it. Due to my young age, I wasn’t able to realize this vision within the family business so I knew it was time to set out on my own.”

[Sierra]: Wow so you’ve been an entrepreneur for pretty much your entire life. And this moment gave you the push to start Bloom?

[Sim]: “Not quite – first I formed a company called Dropel where we were innovating fabric to make it more sustainable. I quickly realized that the innovation had to be more upstream to enable a true paradigm shift in the industry – that’s where Bloom came in. At Bloom, we are innovating at the level of the raw material for the fabric. This way we can introduce massive innovation into the textile industry without requiring it to accept major infrastructure changes.”

[Mohan]: How did you settle on protein waste as your feedstock of choice?

[Sim]: “Feedstock for textile fibers has to be abundant and scalable. There is actually over 15 billion pounds of protein waste produced annually by poultry farmers around the globe. Yeah, we humans eat a lotta chicken! We came up with the concept of how to use this feedstock for melt spinning and melt extrusion processes without having to build new capex. In our proprietary process we convert this waste into keratin pellets which can drop into existing textile manufacturing infrastructure today. While we are a startup, we can scale almost immediately with existing equipment.”

After flying planes for 30 years, Richard is ready to repent for his impacts on the ozone layer

After embarking on his mission to circularize the textile industry with waste protein feedstocks, Sim met Richard, CTO, as well as Mike Jaffe, now Bloom’s CSO, who had both previously worked together at Celanese in fiber manufacturing. Richard had actually worked on protein waste conversion technology previously in the context of sustainable food packaging.

[Richard]: “I knew the core technology behind Bloom would work as I had previously done it. Once Sim introduced me to the concept of using the process for fiber creation, I immediately saw immense potential to transform the textile industry and was on board to join full time.”

[Sierra]: “It must be so satisfying to see your technology come full circle like this”

[Richard]: “Bloom is truly providing the right solution at the right time. 30 years ago no one cared about keratin as oil was so cheap. Now that circularity is crucial to enable a sustainable future, our scalable, cost-effective solution is poised to truly disrupt the textile industry…30 years ago is also when I first began my passion of flying planes. I’m thrilled to now be giving back to our climate to more than compensate for the negative impacts of that!”

Progress over perfection: how to manage conflict among an all-star team of engineers and scientists

Each member of the team at Bloom possesses a unique skillset to propel the company forward. From experts in melt spinning to materials science to chemists – Sim has assembled a great team with expertise over every aspect of protein processing and fiber generation. Of course, managing such a team of brilliant scientists and engineers can be challenging.

[Richard]: “Different experts on our team can clash from time to time. But we have constant communication and meetings to make sure everyone is aligned on key objectives and how to meet them.”

[Mohan]: Is managing the priorities and expectations of scientists different compared to doing the same with engineers?

[Sim]: “With tight deadlines it can be difficult for scientists to deliver. We’ve recently accomplished 6 months of work in just 3 weeks to prepare for the IndieBio SF Demo Day. To get there, we’ve had to juggle plenty of unknowns and focus mainly on getting to our demo day goals rather than fully understanding the intricacies of each result. This can drive the scientists insane, but at the end of the day our focus as a disruptive startup is really on progress over perfection.”

Why Bloom won Killer this week

[Sierra]: So what earned you guys the Killer last week?

[Sim]: “Last week, we successfully processed waste protein into uniform pellets for the first time. Next, we’re going to conduct a full scale trial. This is crucial to our development as a company as we are using scalable machinery and have taken the time to fully understand all of our process variables. So we will easily be able to move to the next stage of development using existing commercial scale equipment.”

Through our short conversation we could really sense the commitment of the Bloom team to access an abundant feedstock supply, build a truly unique team, and ultimately become the low cost leader in renewable (and perhaps even nonrenewable) textile manufacturing.  We can’t wait to see how this team has progressed the next time we talk.

Stay tuned for a deep dive into our next Killer!

Animal-free leather maker Gozen raises $3.3M

Balenciaga LUNAFORM™ Maxi Bathrobe Coat

IndieBio alum Gozen raised $3.3 million in seed funding round led by Happiness Capital, with participation from Accelr8, Astor Management, SOSV. The startup is working on a Turkey-based production facility with capacity of up to 1 million square feet.

At Paris Fashion Week earlier this year, Gozen partnered with Balenciaga to unveil LUNAFORM™, a lower-impact leather alternative. The animal and plastic-free textile is grown from fermented nanocellulose.

Unlike plant leathers—which are typically composed of a mixture of materials—LUNAFORM™ is created from a single process, enabling its tensile strength to surpass that of plant and mycelium-based materials. With a thickness starting from just 0.2 mm, it is stronger and finer than traditional animal leather and features a natural drape and softness that sets it apart from existing alternatives.

Ece Gozen, founder and CEO of GOZEN told TechCrunch in an interview: “I was super obsessed with science, so six years ago, I just quit my job and worked on creating the habitat for these microorganisms. We are using a fermentation transplantation system which creates the material in just 10 days. The formulation becomes solid, so we then harvest that. This is microbial cellulose, a different type of cellulose.”

Po Bronson, Managing Director of SOSV’s IndieBio, Gozen’s first investor, added in a statement: “There is a lot of competition now in animal free leather. But I believed that Gozen’s approach could surpass all others in both performance and economics.”

Gozen plans to disrupt not only fashion, but the automotive industry as well.

IndieBio’s TômTex in the spotlight for alt-leather made from shrimp shells

TômTex alt-leather
TômTex alt-leather
TômTex develops a “novel non-woven biofabric”, a 100% biodegradable material derived from shrimp and mushroom food waste. Source: TômTex

Shrimp shell-based “leather” maker TômTex (IndieBio NY03) was recently the subject of two feature articles from Bloomberg and WIRED

TômTex turns raw chitosan—a biopolymer that makes up crustacean shells, mushroom cell walls, and insect exoskeletons—into a viscous liquid that can be dyed, molded, stamped, and 3D printed. The final product can act as a one-to-one stand-in for any traditional leather item, ranging from wallets to designer pants and tank tops. The best part: TômTex’s leather-like material is biodegradable, cost-effective, durable, recyclable, non-toxic, and realistic. It has the look, feel, and wearability of cow leather, Bloomberg and WIRED both agree. 

While leather alternatives are abundant, most options, like polyurethane and PVC (petroleum-derived materials), are prone to cracking and peeling—to speak nothing of the materials’ detrimental effects on human health and the environment. In contrast, TômTex’s material is based on chitosan, one of the most common biopolymers on earth, making it affordable and easy to source as shrimp shell waste from the enormous seafood industry.

TômTex has already attracted the attention of high-end designers like Peter Do, big-name leather retailers, a sneaker brand, and an athletic wear brand. With interest in TômTex boiling over, the company is expanding to a larger pilot production space, where it hopes to scale up production. The team believes its chitosan material is compatible with widely-available machinery for developing polyurethane and PVA, simplifying this scaling process even more.

“We’re hopeful that within this year, there’ll be something that people can actually get their hands on,” Ross McBee, TômTex’s cofounder and chief science officer, said to WIRED.

By the end of 2023, the company plans to produce its alternative leather on the scale of 100,000 yards a year.

IndieBio NY Demo Day: Watch 10 pitches from Batch 5

Demo Day 2023

Yesterday, IndieBio presented New York Batch 5 for an online Demo Day, an event that highlights new companies in the IndieBio fold. Unique to this year’s Demo Day was the location of the event: IndieBio’s new 25,000 sq. ft. office, lab, and event space at 7 Penn Plaza in New York City. 

IndieBio’s managing director Stephen Chambers led Demo Day, introducing the 10 companies in New York Batch 5, and SOSV managing general partner Sean O’Sullivan offered closing remarks on the companies’ potential impact on climate change, human health, and beyond. The founders of each company presented on stage about their plans to address existing challenges within the food industry, biomaterials, femtech, industrial biotech, therapeutics, and drug discovery. Learn more about each of the New York Batch 5 companies below—and be sure to check out their Demo Day presentations, too!

BioFluff

BioFluff is developing a biodegradable, cost-competitive, and high-quality alternative to animal and synthetic furs for the luxury clothing market. As the world’s first completely plant-based fur, BioFluff’s product is free from plastic and GMOs and is sourced from organic renewable fiber plants—meaning no pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, petrochemicals or unsustainable raw-oil derivatives in the manufacturing process.  

FluoSphera

FluoSphera is devising the first-ever liquid microphysiological systems (MPS) to revolutionize drug discovery, increase the success rate of clinical trials, and propose superior alternatives to animal experimentation. FluoSphera’s MPS mimics the communication between multiple human organs in vitro to more accurately predict the effects of candidate drugs—even before they reach the first patient—and pinpoint the most promising drugs.

Edge

Edge is solving one of the main roadblocks to the cultivated meat industry: finding a growth factor without extensive downstream processing. To do this, the company has created a novel bioprocess using animal cell factories that self-supply authentic growth factors. Edge’s method doesn’t require the isolation and purification steps of recombinant protein production (common in fermentation and molecular farming), significantly cutting costs while providing a constant supply of growth factors and reducing contamination risk. 

Forte Protein

Forte Protein is building a technology platform to sustainably produce bio-identical animal proteins such as ovalbumin and lactoferrin within plants like lettuce or kale. These proteins can be ingredients for non-GMO, vegan, kosher, and gluten-free supplements, gels, dairy and meat alternatives, and energy drinks. The company can also repurpose their plant waste as feedstock, fertilizer, biofuel, extracts, and other plant compounds to bring in an additional revenue stream. 

Atlantic Fish Co

Atlantic Fish Co is developing cultivated seafood that is both delicious and sustainable. The company harvests cells from fish, feeds nutrients in a bioreactor, and uses scaffolding to yield the texture of a whole fish filet. The resulting seafood is real fish-cell-based cuisine without the environmental and health consequences of conventional fish farming.  

Vader Nanotechnologies

Vader Nanotechnology designs new organisms and enzymes that break down plastic and chemical pollutants. Using automation, image processing and computer vision, and analytical chemistry, the company chooses organisms that can grow on plastics and chemicals that resist natural degradation and optimizes these organisms’ performance. 

Vitarka Therapeutics

Vitarka Therapeutics has developed EndoPore, a drug-delivery solution that uses synthetic biology to create pore forming proteins (PFPs) for targeted, cytosolic delivery of RNA therapeutics. Vitarka Therapeutics is exploiting PFP’s naturally-evolved mechanism of endosomal escape and its mechanism of stabilizing RNA.

Pneuma

Pneuma is creating a living, breathing textile, OXYA, seeded with microalgae that consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. By engineering living materials that can photosynthesize and make oxygen, Pneuma hopes to promote healthier, more sustainable apparel and home-ware industries. 

Bioeutectics

Bioeutectics is making green solvents mainstream with its non-toxic, biodegradable, and sustainable solvents. Using a combination of eutectic technology and green chemistry, Bioeutectics is customizing products for industries spanning food, pharma, and personal care. 

AIMA

AIMA is innovating period pain management with CBD-infused products—the first to be tested being OVY. This vaginal suppository acts as a safe and effective pain management solution for menstruators with dosages based on personalized pain response.

The New York Times spotlights IndieBio’s MycoWorks as leader in alternative leather

MycoWorks
MycoWorks
MycoWorks creates a mushroom-based material that has the softness and resiliency of leather, but is vastly more controllable and sustainable. Source: MycoWorks

IndieBio’s mycelium-based “leather” maker MycoWorks (SF03 2016) was recently the subject of The New York Times spotlight, “Are Mushrooms the Future of Alternative Leather?”.

The article charts the company’s history beginning with artist Philip Ross’ use of mycelium, a root structure of mushrooms, in one of his exhibits in 2007. While preparing for the show, Ross met and collaborated with Sophia Wang, who was a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, at the time. The two experimented with “mycotecture” materials created by manipulating mycelium for six more years before Ross joined up with Wang and co-founded MycoWorks in 2013.

MycoWorks creates material with the appearance and texture of leather but without any animal parts. The development process is significantly more sustainable, too, combining sawmill waste with mycelium to develop customizable thin sheets. The final product, Fine Mycelium, can then be finished by third-party tanneries, and does not require chromium, a toxic substance typically used for animal leather tanning. 

The New York Times reported that MycoWorks, currently based in Emeryville, California, holds more than 75 patents and employs more than 160 people in the U.S., Spain, and France. The company has also secured partnerships with high-end fashion brand Hermès, furniture maker Ligne Roset, and General Motors’ investment arm GM Ventures.

Speaking at a MycoWorks exhibition showroom in New York, CEO Matthew Scullin remarked that Fine Mycelium “can achieve the same quality and performance as animal leathers without the need for any sort of plastics.”

IndieBio’s mushroom “leather” maker MycoWorks has caught the attention of high fashion and automotive clients

MycoWorks
MycoWorks
MycoWorks manufactures “leather” materials from a sustainable alternative to animal leather: the mycelium from mushrooms. Source: MycoWorks

Fortune recently went deep on IndieBio’s mushroom “leather” maker MycoWorks, in the article “Mushroom ‘leather’ realistic enough for $4,200 Hermès handbags has raised over $187 million from investors like Natalie Portman, John Legend, and GM”

MycoWorks (IndieBio 03) engineers mycelium mushrooms to develop durable, non-animal materials that compare to the look, feel, and even smell of the finest animal leathers. In addition to its $187M venture funding, MycoWorks recently broke ground on a facility in South Carolina to ramp up production of the company’s Reishi Fine Mycelium leather-like material. High-fashion client Hermès has sourced MycoWorks’ mycelium material for luxury handbags while GM has expressed plans to use Fine Mycelium for the upholstery in its electric vehicles, the article noted.

Material science Ph.D. Matt Scullin, who joined as MycoWorks’ CEO in 2017, told Fortune: “Brands are making very significant changes to address what is really a growing demographic of people who want to buy sustainable products that have provenance and traceability and a lower carbon footprint, lower water use—and mycelium does all of those things.”