Cass Materials is transforming the packaging and insulation industry from a history of industrialization to a future of environmentalisation.
Founded: 2020 in Australia, moved 2022 to Sweden
Number of employees: 1
Funding raised: 500,000 in grants
Revenue (2022): ~50,000 SEK
Who are you and why did you found Cass Materials?
Hi, I’m Gary, and I have a Degree in Horticulture from the University of West Australia. After leaving a 20 year career at the University, I decided to start Cass Materials in 2020. We aim to create eco-friendly and biodegradable materials for the textile industry using natural and renewable resources.
I’ve always had a passion for wine, and that helped create the world’s first dress made entirely from the bacterial fermentation of red wine to nanocellulose, in 2006. This project sparked my interest in sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to material used today in the textile industry. It was the ability to use the technology we learnt with the wine dresses and applied it to other textile applications, such as the insulation and packaging industries, that was exciting.
Back in 2006 was still very much the era of fast fashion with frequently changing clothes at its core. How has that industry changed since then?
When we started making Fermented Fashion wine dresses back in 2006 sustainability wasn’t really on people’s minds yet. But looking back, it’s great to see how much has changed over the years since we started talking about the impact fast fashion has. I remember when we first released our dresses, people would comment on how smelly they were, describing them as “smelling like the morning after the night before.” But we intentionally didn’t try to clean them up or make them less smelly because we wanted to confront people with the question of what they were willing to put up with to make more environmentally friendly textiles. I’m proud to have played a small part in promoting a more eco-conscious approach to fashion.
That’s great to hear. Coming back to Sweden today, what is Cass Materials doing?
I’ve shifted my focus to work with microfibrillated cellulose from trees and waste from the forest industry because currently it’s more economically competitive than bacterial nanocellulose. In short, I am developing bio-based foams and fibres for packaging, insulation and other applications. These foams and fibres can be customised to fit any product perfectly.
Cellulose based materials in general and packaging in particular is quite a competitive market. What makes your product unique?
Our product has two unique selling points that really set it apart from anything else on the market. Firstly, it is completely fossil-free, meaning it has no fossil fuel derived plastics in the foam materials whatsoever. This is a huge selling point for environmentally conscious customers looking for products that align with their values.
Secondly, our product contains zero detergents. This may not be immediately obvious to the average person, but in other processes detergents are very important for creating the bubbles that are required to manufacture foam products. However, many of the detergents used are harmful to marine ecosystems. So, by completely eliminating detergents from our process, we can provide more sustainable and more environmentally friendly products.
So as an early-stage start-up, what is your current production scale and what is your goal for scaling up?
Currently, the technology is still in the lab-scale phase. Scaling up the technology will require funding, and the goal is to have a pilot plant running in the High Coast Innovation Park that can produce hundreds of square meters of foam per day by the end of the year.
When looking a bit more into the future, do you see anything that would limit the scalability of your technology?
There is no technological limit in scaling the process but at some point, feedstock availability will become an issue. To solve this, it makes sense to connect to more and more pulp and paper mills around Sweden, Europe and beyond so that all their fibre waste goes through the Cass technology and thus becomes foams for sustainable packaging and insulation.
From now to when Cass Materials is a profitable company, what do you envision to be the biggest challenges on the way?
Besides funding, one of the biggest challenges will be to go from a pilot plant to an industrial setup. This would include transitioning from a batch process to developing a continuous, highly automated system which handles large volumes. Additionally, the process needs to be optimised to be more cost-effective. Collaborating with engineers and accessing resources to support these efforts will be critical for success.
On the other hand, recruiting highly skilled professionals will be exciting. With a technology background I also need to onboard a CEO or business manager who can help me navigate the corporate and commercial side of the business.
Overall, I think there will be many challenges along the way, but I am confident that we can overcome them with the right team and resources to build a successful business.
Speaking about the commercial side, what could be your first product that I can buy off the shelf?
The general public may come across Cass Materials being used for packaging foams instead of polystyrene when purchasing furniture or other products. For instance, well-known brands may want to use our environmentally friendly packaging foams to showcase their home wares or perfume bottles etc.
What do you think in your best-case scenario, how long will it take until I can actually buy the first product that comes in your packaging?
I’m going to shoot for the stars and hopefully land in the clouds; so I will aim at two to three years.
What has been the greatest success you have had so far with Cass Materials?
My biggest success would be coming to Sweden to progress this technology to where it is today. It’s not often that a man with a dream in the suburbs of an Australian city gets a chance to work in a place that is well-known for its cellulose technologies. It’s been an absolutely brilliant and unique experience for me.
Such a transition is never easy. Have you ever reached a breaking point where you considered giving up on your work?
Not really, because I am a very optimistic person. However, we all have our downtimes when we question whether it’s worth it. There have been several moments like that, especially since I moved here on my own for the long term. Even though my wife is here at the moment, when you don’t have your family support around, you tend to question whether it’s worthwhile. Rides the lows to enjoy the highs!
At the end, can you give us your three key learnings for founders or executives of early-stage companies?
First, be careful who you start a company with. It’s important to have trust and compatible personalities between co-founders. Having agreements in place can also prevent potential conflicts.
Second, have a prototype in place as soon as possible and consider if the world needs your product or service and if they are willing to pay for it. Don’t underestimate the time and cost it will take to bring your idea to reality.
Last, the first years as founders can be tough. Be prepared to bootstrap your company and not to pay yourself a wage for some time. This means you have to have a plan in place for how you will support yourself during the early stages of your company and be flexible with your life responsibilities. But most importantly, don’t be afraid to pursue your idea and dream. If you don’t do it, no one else will do it for you and the world may miss out on a great invention and you will miss out on an exciting journey.
This is great advise! Thank you very much Gary for sharing your insights!