Written by: Matthew McCann

Edited by: Natasha Barrow and Caroline Babisz

With the pressure of the climate emergency, there is now more consideration of a product’s life cycle and environmental impact. As a result, biomaterials are increasingly being seen as a solution to reduce reliance on animal and petrochemical-derived materials in multiple sectors including fashion, construction and packaging. You can read more about biomaterials in our recent Sector Insight here.

To find out investor’s thoughts on the biomaterials sector, we spoke to three members of our BioCapital Network; Sarah Jones - Principal at Zero Carbon Capital, Elisabetta Sakiotis - Analyst at Rockstart, and Josh Armistead-Wood - Senior Associate at Sustainable Ventures.

Sarah, Elisabetta and Josh (left to right)

How does each fund decide what companies to invest in?

For Zero Carbon Capital, Sarah explains that they apply the same thesis to biomaterials as they do to all early-stage companies they look at: the company must be developing a breakthrough scientific innovation with strong intellectual property (IP) and there must be at least a 0.5 gigatonnes per year greenhouse gas emission reduction potential. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the company must be reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 0.5 gigatonnes now, but the problem that the company is tackling needs to be huge.

Elisabetta explains Rockstart has an AgriFood-specific fund with a thesis to invest in pre-seed companies aiming to sustainably transform our global food systems across three core pillars. One of these pillars is ‘Responsible and Circular’, where Rockstart looks to invest in companies developing sustainable innovations, including biomaterials, that are creating value from waste across the entire food chain.

For Sustainable Ventures, Josh explains that their thesis, which encompasses biomaterials, is to invest in early-stage climate tech solutions with the ability to scale rapidly and accelerate progress towards net zero; where greenhouse gas emissions are equal to emission reductions. With a focus on leveraging novel IP, these solutions are often breaking new ground in their respective sectors, with the potential to deliver large scale climate impact as they grow.

So which companies have these investors backed already?

Zero Carbon Capital has invested in Biozeroc, a company developing novel and scalable microorganism bioprocesses to generate bioconcrete with negative carbon emissions.

Samples of Biozeroc’s zero carbon concrete.

Rockstart has invested at pre-seed in four biomaterial companies to date including:

  1. Agoprene is developing biofoam derived from locally-sourced seaweed and crab shell waste, initially targeting the furniture industry. 
  2. Beyond Leather Materials has developed Leap®, a leather-like biomaterial derived from apple waste sourced from the juice and cider industries. 
  3. Biotic manufactures fully bio-based PHBV (PHA) polymers as commodities, using seaweed as a feedstock. 
  4. Peelo develops innovative beeswax food packaging, offering a reusable, washable and zero-waste substitute for single-use plastics in food storage.

Agoprene Founder and CEO Celine Sandberg (left) and VP of Engineering Eva Malene Stirø (right) with samples of their biofoam.

Around 10% of Sustainable Ventures’ portfolio are biomaterial companies including:

  1. Biophilica has developed Treekind®, a plastic-free, compostable, and vegan leather alternative utilising green waste from urban parks, gardens and agriculture as a feedstock. 
  2. Mykor combines cellulosic waste by-products from the paper industry with mycelium to develop MykoFoam, a carbon-negative thermal and acoustic insulation biomaterial. 
  3. PlantSea develops soluble seaweed-based flexible films, as an alternative to single-use PVOH and PVA, in applications such as laundry pods. They also develop paper, punnets and mulch film from the residue waste of their film manufacturing process. 
  4. Radiant Matter utilises cellulose nanocrystals to develop sparkling biodegradable, non-toxic and pigment free structural colours for the textile industry, including their BioSequin™ embellishment.

Olivia Page, Co-Founder and CEO of Mykor, with a range of MykoFoam samples.

What do these investors want to see in an investment opportunity?

Sarah, Elisabetta and Josh all agreed that biomaterials are a crowded space with a lot of similar companies, technologies and applications so founders must clearly explain to investors what their biggest differentiators are. There are many differentiating factors that investors want to see in an investment opportunity.

  1. Team

All three investors agree that team is one of the most important differentiating factors, especially at pre-seed. Sarah notes “At Zero Carbon Capital, we highly rate founder quality in our decision-making and the Biozeroc team is no exception”. Elisabetta highlights Rockstart's emphasis on identifying a strong founding team with the expertise to drive the company forward. Likewise, Josh outlines the fundamental importance of believing the team is the right team to deliver, noting that each of their portfolio companies are led by experienced and credible founders.

  1. Market Opportunity

Josh explains that companies can demonstrate their differentiation by solving a significant unmet need, targeting a large and viable market or finding applications in multiple market sectors - “For example, Radiant Matter are initially targeting the sequin industry but their core technology can then also be applied to cosmetics, paints and others, significantly increasing the market opportunity.”

As concrete alone is responsible for 8% of global annual CO2 emissions, the scale of the problem Biozeroc is addressing was a key reason for investment, Sarah explains. Additionally, Biozeroc’s bio-based approach is a change in paradigm, making truly zero carbon concrete, as opposed to other solutions that only make slight improvements to current concrete manufacturing processes - opening a considerable market opportunity.

Elisabetta explains “Companies can differentiate themselves by demonstrating that they have a significant opportunity to positively disrupt markets with quantifiable impact and improvement, particularly on global AgriFood systems.” As petroleum-derived furniture foam accounts for 105 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, with one armchair emitting an average of 43 kg of CO2, Agoprene’s biofoam offers a unique opportunity to positively disrupt the furniture industry by leveraging seaweed and crab shell waste.


  1. Price Parity

Sarah, Elisabetta and Josh all agree that the price of biomaterials is a key challenge. They outline that it is hard to make a transition to something with lower emissions if you have to pay a premium on it. To be competitive in the market start-ups need to achieve price parity with pre-existing conventional materials. The investors also agree that the unit economics must be considered to demonstrate how a company will incentivise the transition to their biomaterial, it must be affordable for large-scale change. The ability of a biomaterial company to achieve price parity, or close to, is a key differentiator for investors.

  1. Market Buy-in

As many industries where biomaterials may be applicable are entrenched in decades or even centuries of traditional processes and products, Josh explains there is frequently a requirement to educate the market on biomaterials. Aside from price, Josh outlines that “Many other factors, including regulation and consumer sentiment, can be leveraged to incentivise the market to adopt novel technologies and materials”.

The investors agree that a company can differentiate themselves by evidencing market buy-in through engagements with potential customers, including strategic partnerships, to demonstrate market need and possible commercial traction. As biomaterials are a fairly R&D-intensive sector, Elisabetta also notes the need to “Engage with end-users early to demonstrate a clear route-to-market and prevent getting wrapped up in long R&D cycles”.

Highlighting the benefit of early engagement, Josh points to some portfolio’s strategic partnerships used to validate and differentiate their solutions including Radiant Matter’s collaboration with Stella McCartney and Biophilica’s collaborations with ID Genève and VYN.

  1. Material Performance

Naturally, potential customers will want any novel biomaterial to perform the same or better than what’s currently used. Elisabetta highlights the challenge of material testing; “Especially when engaging with potential customers who will all have their own specific requirements and demands, to ensure your biomaterial competes with those currently available on market.” Whilst having the time and flexibility to go through these product trials and adapt your material accordingly can be a bottleneck that companies must be willing to navigate, demonstrating that your material performs well enough for customer engagement is a key differentiator for investors.

  1. Process Development and Scale-up

As many biomaterials depend on feedstocks in some shape or form, Sarah touched upon the challenge of “Selecting the right feedstock for your process that comes from a sustainable source, with ongoing and reliable accessibility, with an abundance of availability and at an appropriate price.” Companies can differentiate themselves by demonstrating their feedstocks meet these criteria, indeed a key differentiator for Rockstart is when companies utilise bio-based feedstocks, often derived from AgriFood industry waste streams, and transform them through innovative processes to high-value biomaterial products.

All three investors highlighted the challenge of scalability, outlining that companies must be able to produce enough biomaterials to actually replace the petrochemical-based materials currently in use and demonstrate to potential customers that their production processes are able to fulfil large quantity demands.

With novel and often complex production processes, demonstrating the ability to take biomaterial production from lab-scale to an industrially-relevant scale is a critical differentiating factor. Both Elisabetta and Josh offered examples from their portfolio, Beyond Leather and PlantSea respectfully, who are now able to produce their biomaterials via industrially-applicable high-volume roll-to-roll manufacturing, rather than in small sheets.

What advice would these investors give a biomaterials startup?

Aside from addressing the above points to truly differentiate themselves, we asked each investor if they had any other advice for a biomaterials startup.

Targeted Fundraising Strategy

Sarah advocates adopting a fundraising strategy focused on finding the investors who understand your sector; “Look at investor’s portfolios and see if they’ve invested in biomaterials before and target those that have, whilst staying open-minded to everyone else.”

Alternative Sources Finance

Touching upon the funding gap for biomaterials, particularly in the UK and Europe, Josh and Elisabetta both suggest exploring alternative or supplementary sources of finance to venture capital investment. Elisabetta outlines some possibilities to consider include non-dilutive grants, a loan or co-manufacturing agreements with corporates and potential customers.


Sarah encourages companies to always be transparent and never oversell - “This will facilitate and speed up the investor’s due diligence process.” Agreeing with Sarah, Josh encourages all companies to “Be open and honest throughout the investment process, outlining exactly what they need from investors.”

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