Future Of Materials

Sustainable Development Goal(s): Innovation and InfrastructureResponsible Consumption

From being selected as one of the 100 young sustainable change makers of Generation T,by The Shift and Act4Change to winning the Startup Weekend Changemakers, during the month of November, the project of Magma Nova, a design and research studio conceiving urban-wear using micro-organisms and biomaterials, has speed up to another level.

1 Minute That Will Change Your Life

One small minutes to pitch my project at the auditorium of Vlerick Business School in front of all the participants, organisers and mentors of the Startup Weekend Changemakers, with the objective to recruit a team of divers profiles, business managers, engineers, developers, commercials, financial managers, complementary to my profile of a designer. Amongst the 35 pitched ideas, only 10 are selected, by vote, to be developed during the weekend.

A new team composes itself around Future of Materials: Gaëlle (Engineer), Sven (Engineer at a 3D printing company), Sanja (Public Policy), Iris (Business Manager), Céline (Material Engineer with a thesis in bio-materials) will help me to go from the status of an idea to the status of a real start-up.

Then on Friday evening starts the long debriefing of the current state of the project, the possible applications in design and architecture and the research that's already being done by others in the same matter. During the next hours we start to elaborate the famous Business Model Canvas, a strategy on how to go to the market fast using the Lean Methodology: what product? made by whom? sold to? why? partners? channels? exit plan? The choice goes to a bike helmet made out of mycelium, 100% bio-sourced and 100% bio-degradable, made locally, simple to produce in small series and to sell to consumers via a crowdfunding campaign. We investigate the size of the market, the financial aspects, the costs of production, interview the resellers and potential customers, the IP's, contact bio-engineers, bio-labs,...

After 54h of hard labour, 4h of sleep, the time has come to present our project to the jury of expert entrepreneurs, Roland Vaxelaire and Piet Colruyt (Impact Investors), Cedric Donck (Business Angel), Miguel Meuleman (Professor Entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School), Virginie Samyn (Managing Director at Ashoka Belgium), Céline Bouton (Co-founder at SenseCube Brussels), Marieke Huysentruyt (Founder at Oksigen Lab) and Julie Foulon (Community Manager of Start it @kbc Brussels). A demanding jury, ready to cut into pieces the wobbly projects pitched in five minutes ;)

Top chrono, here it goes: "We fouled ourselves... (thank you Régis - pitch coacher - for this one liner)... during decades we've been producing products where we didn't know what to do with them at the end of the cycle. This are plastics, concrete, you name it.... But we think differently, to consume differently... We've designed a product that is tougher then concrete.... cheaper then plastic.... and biodegradable!... That product is made out of mushrooms !! Mushrooms are the greatest transformers of the planet, they are the primary recyclers. You don't need fossil fuels or food-stocks (like with bio-plastics) to produce them. They are manufactured by nature!" Then I explain how they are produced and designed. Céline, with her background of business and material science, continues on the business model.

And BOOM, we won the first price, including:

  • A seat in the SenseCube acceleration program starting in February 2016 in Brussels. A 3-month program will give our team unique access to daily support and emulation, workshops and mentoring by the network of coaches as well as the support of the international MakeSense community to prototype, test and launch our project in the best conditions!
  • Office rental during 6 months in the coworking space of Mundo B in Brussels.
    An opportunity to benefit from synergies with Groupe One, ECORES and 35 other Belgian and European organizations in the field of sustainability.
    Includes a bright space with internet connection, printing, phone lines, kitchen, shared meeting rooms and sustainable cafeteria.
  • Voucher to register our business at Banque Carrefour des Entreprises and 18 hours of coaching with Securex. Guidance through every legal and administrative aspects: choosing our legal structure, registering our business and our business name, obtaining federal and regional licences and permits, and learning about the regulations of our activities.
  • Access to a private platform of crowdfunding via My MicroInvest.
  • Participation to the 9th edition of the Boostcamp MIC in February 2016.

The last two weeks have been filled with nice and important meetings with friends, coaches, mentors, in order to better define the goals and continue on the vibes. With Winnie, bio-engineer, we started to grow our materials in the DIY BioLab at ReaGent, an already important stage because with micro-organisms the environmental conditions are very important

How To Create A Circular Enterprise Specialized In Innovative Design Solutions?

That's the question I've been asking to all the entrepreneurs and mentors I've met so far. Some advised very interesting online manuals, Celine and Lucie recommended the best incubator program and Olivier explained me the reality of today's capitalistic economy with business angels and impact investors, but quickly I've came to realize non will help you in the daily management and hard choices your business need to be disruptive. Pierre-Alexandre gave me a very valuable advice this morning: be confident in the pioneer work you're delivering, no one else will tell you how you should handle you're own values, and it will take time to mature, you'll go though deserts with ups and downs.

The word "patent" returns regularly in all the conversations. The question is where we want to position the project? I don't know yet. That's why I've decided to openly talk (against the advice of my lawyer specialized in patents and intellectual rights, oups...) about the path we're following, the decisions we will make and the things we will discover. Why? Because we truly believe in the power of a collaborative society, based on the knowledge and involvement of people, instead of a heavy bank account and 100 patents.

"We think differently to consume differently" was one of the sentences during my 5' pitch at the Startup Weekend Changemakers that definitely had an echo in the audience and on my own later reflections. How to engage that transition to different social, ecological and economical systems, where profit, control and power are not predominant as they have been in the history of modern capitalism?

The real question is not how to produce and consume less, but how to develop new productive models which are capable of outperforming capitalist models by doing things differently and better.
- Michel Bauwens in Design Global, Manufacture Local (2015).

A radical shift has to take place from growth as the main objective of the economy towards a low-carbon, sustainable economy of sharing. To do so, Michel Bauwens, argues to buildresilience locally, with the capacity of evolving without losing its core sense of identity. Resilience, a new word I've learned thanks to Sebastiaan, can be seen as the capability of the project to self-organize and adapt.

The key aspects of resilience, according to Lewis and Conaty (2012), are:

  • diversityI understand this as the multi-disciplinary of the team members as also the diversity of products we will design,
  • modularity, assembly lines have dictated a world made of part, framing the imagination of our citizens. But you don't find material assemblies in nature, you'll find growth. So instead, I'd propose to change modularity into symbiosis, between micro-organisms and our products, buildings.
  • reciprocity, exchanging things with others for mutual (social and ecological) benefits,
  • social capital, the relations of trust and solidarity among the community members
  • tight feedback loops.

Commons-based peer production is a new collaborative and distributed of organization that fundamentally challenge the assumption of an economic production that seeks to profit maximization.

“Open design is now finding its place inside the collective imagination [...] there are no more isolated projects but a whole ecosystem is emerging through the weaving of collaborative networks”
– Massimo Menichinelli, founder of openp2pdesign.org

The emergence of terms such as "open source" and "collaborative networks" refers to a democratization of the current technological applications and the empowerment of the users of digital networks. However, the challenge is much more complex to "open" tangible objects (design and architecture), then intangible things (ideas and codes). How could designers build a new vision of collective design and open sharing of design? How can these cooperation be organized so that they provide an efficient solution to top-down structures? The sensitizing role of designers becomes also important when other practices claim the intellectual property of common knowledge through patents.

These are also questions that we're asking ourselves in the elaboration of Hackistan, bringing a community of changemakers (scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs) together to connect around a network of infrastructures (coworking, incubators, fablabs, biohackerspaces). Our mission is to provide support, visibility and prototyping facilities to disruptive innovation projects with high societal and environmental impact.

Furthermore, what happens when the things we design get shaped by organisms and challenged by its environment? What sort of embodied potential could we design into our things so that our users become authors and maybe even participants? How could living things shift the environmental picture? What would happen if things had a natural lifespan and could contribute to the local ecosystem when their task was done?

I was very inspired after a dinner with Michka - our travelling biomimicry connector. He let me understand the importance of your inner ecology, inspired by nature. What is the story you're telling that make sense?

About the author:

Elise Elsacker gave herself the challenge one year ago to drastically reduce the waste that she produces. Now she lives completely zero waste and she's writing a blog because she wishes to communicate her solutions and alternatives that can reduce the impact on the planet with simple and daily choices. 

Video Startup Weekend Changemakers

Watch the video about the Startup Weekend Changemakers organised by other Generation T member Marie-Amélie Lenaerts by clicking on the button!