2016 marked another fantastic year for Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. Among the five finalists was Ioniqa Technologies, a Dutch company focused on creating value from waste and in particular, developing Magnetic Smart Materials for recycling any kind of PET to produce ‘virgin’ raw materials. We caught up with co-founder and CEO, Tonnis Hooghoudt to find out what’s changed for the firm since their Postcode Lottery Green Challenge adventure.


What's happening at Ioniqa right now?
Where we are at the moment is we’ve completed a multi-million funding round. We're also building a ten kiloton plant here in the Netherlands, which will be operational in April next year. We’re at the point of launching the technology at an industrial level, with Unilever as our launching customer: they will incorporate our technology for packaging of one of their products, beginning the second half of next year. What we are doing is recycling PET waste to raw materials, which then will be pulverised by a third party who will deliver the plastic particles to Unilever for packaging. It's a very exciting time for us as we are moving away from demo level, to a full industrial plant, so a big transformation.

Sounds like a lot has changed these past two years!
Our plans haven’t really changed. The main issue has been timing: it took longer than we hoped to complete funding, for example, and also testing materials in the market took more time than anticipated. During Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2016 we were in the middle of that, we were trying to put everything together in order to launch. That's what we’ve done over the past two years.

How did Postcode Lottery Green Challenge help that process?
The competition gave us three important building blocks: it provided us with introductions to several companies; resources in terms of advisors and coaching; and communications. The €100,000 finalist prize was significant but just the money wasn't the most important thing. Sure, it helps you survive a little longer, but as valuable was input and introductions. In a sense, it's also a kind of quality stamp - as recently as a couple of weeks ago, someone referred to us being one of the 2016 finalists!

Your success also coincided with a growing awareness of the urgency surrounding plastic recycling.
It’s definitely something I've seen over the past years. Of course, the problem was always there - but people are becoming much more conscious about the impact of plastic, how it pollutes, and also the finite resources for raw materials. The growth in awareness has been enormous and that has helped us launch and attract the attention of major brands like Unilever and recently The Coca Cola Company to work on a solution. Because in the end, the brands are important in creating a pull in the market.

How does this changing landscape shape future plans for Ioniqa Technologies?
We always knew: we're not about operating big plants worldwide; our core is to detect applications for our technology, and then scale to use as an application in the market. That's the objective of the plant in the Netherlands. For a long time, although everybody is very interested, to actually buy the material and incorporate it in their processes they need to see it live, working in a plant. So we envision that the process of launching will be the basis for further scaling. Plastic waste has a big variation and for now, we are focusing on coloured plastics which represents the 90% of the plastic currently not being recycled. We're also looking at polyester textiles - that market is enormous and very diverse, so that's something we will also develop. Beyond the licensing for existing plastics, there's also new plastics to consider such as bio plastic which use sugar or cellulose as a base.

Any tips for companies trying to decide whether to enter Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2019?
Do enter, it’s important! But also think about the phase your company is in - it's not applicable to every start-up, because you need to have some maturity already. We’ve now stopped entering challenges like Postcode Lottery Green Challenge because it does take a lot of time. That investment is worth considering, and looking at the returns in terms of network, resources and communications, it’s time very well spent. The process helps sharpen your message to the market, what you’re about, and your value proposition. With Postcode Lottery Green Challenge organisation, we found the culture and atmosphere to be very positive, and very, very supportive.