“For us, it was one of the only challenge that identified precisely with our message and goals for the future.”

Year on year, Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge attracts some of the brightest minds and most in-novative solutions to sustainability. 2018 was no different, with US-based biomaterials company AlgiKnit taking home a €100,000 finalists prize. Focused on the future of fashion with durable yet quickly degradable yarns made from kelp, the start-up recently announced a $2.2 million investment from Horizon Ventures and SOSV. Here, co-founder and Director of Innovations, Tessa Callaghan, talks future plans and the team’s competition experience.

It's been quite a year for AlgiKnit! What's been happening since you were announced as finalists earlier this year?
It's been very exciting! This year has been a complete whirlwind. Right now we’re buckling down and making things happen. Since the competition, we’ve really been delving into the complexities and logistics behind our planning, and in particular, nailing down our supply chain.

You hit the headlines recently for receiving backing from Horizon Ventures - congratulations!
Horizon Ventures is a really impactful fund. They have portfolio companies in truly innovative and groundbreaking technologies, and whose missions really resonated with us. Being able to partner with someone with their level of experience and dedication when it comes to our field is particularly encouraging.

Does this funding bring you closer to manufacturing AlgiKnit garments?
Timelines fluctuate, but we're working towards some exciting goals within the next 18 months. We're currently focused on conversations and engagement as we continue to expand our network to discover who shares our narrative, and who wants to join us on this journey as we move forward to launch our first products. That's a really exciting opportunity not just for us, but also for brands and consumers. Increasingly, we see a plethora of brands taking more risks in terms of their material choices. This new and growing industry has yet to reach full market penetration, but watching other companies in our realm succeed with brand collaborations and launches is extremely motivating.

Why was Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge a good fit for AlgiKnit?
For us, it was one of the only challenges that identified precisely with our message and goals for the future. AlgiKnit is in such an interdisciplinary field: it’s partially fashion, partially science, sustainability, and marine ecosystems… It can be difficult to find challenges and competitions that really apply to all of those fields. So Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge was our opportunity to excel and show all the different variables that go into our company, particularly as it relates to sustainability and creating a better global future. But what really inspired us to do it, and drove us to work so hard on the application, was seeing some of the previous winners. People like Mango Materials [winner, 2012], Ecovative [winner, 2008], and bioMason [winner, 2013] are icons to us, and really inspiring in the field. Seeing their progression after going through the competition made it feel all the more relevant for us.

How did the competition help move AlgiKnit forward?
It helped us expand our visibility and network, and provided opportunities to connect with different people across our supply chain. Additionally, it really helped to solidify our credibility in the market and show that we're not just a project: we were able to stand alongside four leaders in world-changing innovations. That was really beneficial for us not just externally, but internally, as a team, as well.

Aside from finishing as a finalist, what was the best part of the competition experience?
The support - not only from the other finalists, but from everyone involved. It was the most positive, motivating and encouraging group of people. This is something that separates this challenge from a lot of others - it’s very personable, very caring. It's not just about promotion, it's really about making a change and working together. Being able to meet and connect with the other four finalists was especially inspiring: that realisation that there are others working to change the world, that we're all work-ing on the same mission - and that their success is our success.

What would be your advice for start-ups thinking about entering the 2019 edition?
Take the time to go for it! It's by far worth it. We spent so many hours working on the application, but the questions you have to answer are things that really need to be delved into and defined regardless, as you’re growing a company and communicating externally. So really it's not just them who are asking, it’s the world that will be as well. Being able to communicate, tell your story, and additionally being able to consider the business and sustainability cases is so important.