Portland-based startup AlgoteK got its start in the fall of 2017, when co-founders David Crinnion, Tanner Stickling and Justin Lebuhn joined forces in an entrepreneurial bootcamp at the University of Oregon. With a background in green chemistry and material science, all three were interested in new and emerging markets for more sustainable materials when brainstorming ideas for a new product during the bootcamp. According to CEO David Crinnion, they began by taking a step back and looking at the whole life cycle of plastic packaging products and realized that most plastic products currently produced don’t have a designed end destination, ending up in the ocean instead. They knew that the standard options for petroleum-based plastics don’t break down in ecosystems, but there was some information available about bioplastics that were more biodegradable while also looking, feeling, and performing like typical plastic products. By the end of the bootcamp week, they had produced an algae-based plastic film prototype and AlgoteK was born.
AlgoteK’s namesake product is an algae-based bioplastic that is, remarkably, both edible and water-soluble. This doesn’t mean that it’ll dissolve as soon as you drop some water on it, though. The bioplastic breaks down due to interactions between the positive ions in water and the negative ions within the material, but the material’s contents can be adjusted to change how long the breakdown takes. Furthermore, this process only happens upon prolonged contact with water, meaning that the bioplastic has an indefinite shelf life beforehand. Given the growing amount of worldwide concern for the impacts of plastic pollution, the potential for a safe and biodegradable plastic alternative has elicited both excitement and skepticism. AlgoteK has impressed at pitch competitions and attracted potential investors interested in investing who are awaiting more product options, but the company has also heard from snakebitten critics who remember the failure of starch-based plastics a few years back despite similar excitement. However, Crinnion and the rest of the team have been able to respond to all of the feedback (both good and bad) and remain optimistic about and confident in the future for their material.
Given both the properties of their material and the clear need for products that don’t stick around in our environment forever, Crinnion believes that the best use for the material is as a replacement for single-use sheet-molded plastic products, though they’ve already been contacted by companies seeking sustainable plastic alternatives for a variety of uses and hope that the material can grow to be used for different purposes over time. As recent college graduates and young entrepreneurs, Crinnion says that the group was drawn to a more sustainable business avenue because “we’re part of the generation that has a lot of work to do”. Though a sustainability ethic has begun to shape the materials industry, Crinnion says it’s still outweighed by a push for “innovation”. That’s why he and his colleagues started AlgoteK: to better utilize their talents by doing something great for the planet with regards to plastic. The company is planning on beginning operations in full by the first half of 2019, and hopefully the rest of the industry will begin to follow their lead. You can learn more about the company and check out their progress at algotek.net.