In 2017, Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge awarded a total of one million euros to five fantastic start-ups worldwide. In particular, it was our very great pleasure to meet Thomas Brorsen Pedersen, CEO and founder of biomaterials firm, pond. Its bioresin systems replaces crude oil in the production of plastics for compostable, durable solutions made from natural fibres such as flax, hemp, or textile waste.

Applicable to a range of sectors, pond isn’t just revolutionising the plastics industry, it’s also bringing change to everything from furniture production to automotives. As runner-up, Pedersen and his team were awarded €200,000 to further build and develop pond. But just as valuable, he says, was the world-class mentoring the company received, and in particular, access to an ever-growing network of inspiring individuals and start-ups.

What’s been happening at pond since you were one of the five finalist of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge 2017?
A big step has been building up our first production site. We completed our first batch production - for a client in North America - in December last year and it's now producing material for customers. So it's running, we're in the market: that's a major thing, and it's definitely due to the prize money from the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge. We're also starting up several joint ventures with global market leaders in different industries. The first, pond textile, started around half a year ago and is a joint venture with Bestseller, a fashion e-commerce operation. It’s owned by holding company, Heartland, and stocks around 20 different brands. In that project, we’re focusing on substituting the polyester fibres used for garments, as well as looking at different applications like buttons and zippers. It will have a major impact: in creating fully organic substitutes for crude oil-based polymers like polyester and nylon, it will also limit micro plastics that get released into the environment every time you wash your clothes.

Clearly the potential is huge - what other areas and applications are you currently exploring?
We primarily work with major brands where we can substitute existing use of raw materials, so it really could be anything. For an agricultural company, for example, we’re now substituting a crude oil-based system in plant propagation media meaning that their products will now be fully organic. We’re also working with several automotive clients on car components, as well as major furniture brands. We’ll also soon be in the market with a water sports application: the world’s first compostable surf board, also with a major global brand.

And how did the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge facilitate these ventures?
It played a major role, especially because of the prize money. Having prize money like that is crucial to a company like ours; it meant we were able to survive. As a finalist, we also benefited from the DeepDive mentoring program with Rockstart. Placing runner-up was overwhelming, but then to receive that support afterwards was really great. We’re also in discussions with the DOEN Foundation regarding how they might be able to support us in the future.

But it also had an impact beyond your company, I understand…
Yes. Danish national television broadcast the finals in a programme that went out to half a million people across Denmark. It actually caused quite some disruption on a political level - people were asking how it was it that a Danish start-up had to go to the Netherlands to receive this level of support, shouldn’t we have our own prize? So it’s had a big impact on the community here, and gave us an opportunity to promote the power of funding for startups.

Prize money and mentoring aside, what were your other takeaways from the experience?
It allowed us to enter into this family of new, former and future finalists. This family will grow every year, and it creates a network. Maintaining this is important, and I was recently invited to join the DeepDive session of the newest group of finalists. We can all learn from each other - and we’re even in discussions with a recent finalist about how we could collaborate.

Any advice for companies considering entering the 2019 edition?
It’s not enough to have an idea; you need to be able to showcase what you do. You need to be impact driven to be part of this competition, and you need to be looking at creating major impact. And if you don’t make it to the finals, apply again next year!