PhD student Shaun Tan is part of the team behind EcoFibre, a company that has developed an environmentally friendly alternative to fibreglass.
Manufactured from flax fibres and corn starch, the product is recyclable and can be used to make sports equipment, car and aircraft interiors, and other consumer products.
“It’s biodegradable so it’s beneficial for the environment but it’s got excellent properties as well, so it can be used in a variety of applications,” Shaun says.
EcoFibre was created at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Advanced Composite Materials (CACM) and is based on research by fellow PhD student Oliver McGregor. They formed the start-up with postgraduate business student Carl Jones to commercialise their research.
In 2012 they won the $100K Challenge, collecting $25,000 in seed capital and six months’ business incubation at The ICEHOUSE.
Just months later, Shaun and his team had the chance to pitch to a group of international investors and technology entrepreneurs at the Geeks on a Plane competition alongside other Kiwi start-ups such LanzaTech, Manuka Health and TranscribeMe.
EcoFibre was one of three winners, and received a month’s free use of the Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco. Oliver is currently based in Germany working as a researcher that will further advance the
technology used by EcoFibre, and pending the outcome of this research the EcoFibre team will advance this venture further.
It’s been a slow-burning journey for Shaun, who first became involved with Spark during his undergraduate studies about six years ago.
He joined the committee in 2010, took on the role of CEO in 2011 and became Chairman in 2012.
“I’ve built up a range of experiences. I’ve entered the Launch Pad programme a couple of times as well and it’s finally worked out for the best.
“It’s given me a lot of drive. Knowing that there’s support and a whole network of people here at the University willing to give you encouragement to do so much more, it’s given me a lot of motivation to doing something that’s tangible.”