The materials that make up the products we buy have a big impact on the planet. Did you know that beyond meat—pun intended—Wild Idea sells regenerative leather to Patagonia and other companies? We are also exploring using buffalo down for fiber and garment insulation.
At Wild Idea, we're inspired by entrepreneurs like Molly Morse with Mango Materials, a company dedicated to creating biodegradable packaging that helps solve the ubiquitous problem of plastic pollution. Our CEO, Phil, interviewed Molly and is excited to share her story with you.
Phil: Would you please describe Mango Materials and share its origin story?
Molly: Dr. Allison Pieja, Dr. Anne Schauer-Gimenez, and I founded Mango Materials. We were inspired by early-stage, scientific research at Stanford University that revealed microorganisms that were fed methane could produce a biopolymer. This motivated us to start a company based on this idea. We are passionate about driving new materials innovation to replace conventional polluting plastics. Inspired by nature, we have commercialized an innovative biomanufacturing technology that uses biology to produce circular, nontoxic, biodegradable materials. We convert waste carbon emissions into high-performance PHA biopolymers that have mechanical properties similar to traditional petroleum-based plastics but that are fully biodegrade in natural post-use environments.
Phil: You’ve built a diverse team. Can you elaborate on the importance of building a team with complementary skills and diverse backgrounds?
Molly: Having a team with diverse backgrounds enables us to be stronger together. Because of our varying skill sets and different individual strengths, we have a broader range of capabilities, even at a relatively small size. Our team combines expertise in engineering, science, and business. United in our passion for solving global environmental problems, we are highly motivated to bring our technical solution to market and prevent plastic pollution.
Phil: What is the biggest professional obstacle you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Molly: The biggest professional obstacle we have faced is raising funds to scale our process. Our biomanufacturing technology requires gas fermentation equipment that is not readily available—we have to build it ourselves. We need new, bigger infrastructure to produce larger volumes of material and ultimately drop the cost of production.
Despite the challenges, our resourceful team has tapped into a wide range of funding and partnership opportunities to get us to where we are today. We have benefited from a creative mix of grants, industry awards, business competitions, equity funding, and product revenue, as well as leveraged infrastructure partners for our lab and production sites. Our efforts don’t stop there, as we seek to validate the market with small capsule products that demonstrate customer demand and lead to production off-take agreements to help finance a larger plant.
Phil: Most venture-backed companies are led by white males. Would you please share how you’ve built a successful startup as a female founder?
Molly: My co-founders and I have encountered real challenges as women in STEM and as founders of a biotech company seeking venture funding. However, we've also received tremendous support from white male allies and others. We have both privilege and obstacles to work with and through. I think we've been successful because we understand where we have expertise, how we can innovate, and when we need to seek advice and counsel from others who have the experiences or knowledge that we don't.
Phil: If Mango Materials successfully scales, how will it positively impact future generations?
Molly: Rising temperatures and other climate impacts are devastating the livelihoods of people around the world. Plastic pollution is a global travesty. Our technology creates a world where waste facilities are gold mines, processing plants are closed loop, materials are regenerative, and products are biodegradable in nature. Production of biodegradable materials next to waste facilities around the world will provide local employment opportunities and enable more resilient, sustainable production of goods. Methane is the low-cost, scalable feedstock of the future—it is widely available and globally relevant. It is a waste gas that is generally present anywhere there are people, produced at wastewater treatment plants and landfills. By giving a value to methane, Mango Materials’ technology would reduce carbon emissions, while also offering a circular solution to plastic pollution.