Interview: 2019 Bright SCIdea winners

13 May 2019

SCI speaks to the 2019 Bright SCIdea Challenge winners Plastech Innovation about their scientific idea and the future of their start-up.

Scott, Natasha and Phil from Plastech Innovation. Image: Andrew Lunn/SCI

Who are Plastech Innovation and how did you meet?

Plastech Innovation was co-founded by Natasha Boulding, Phil Buckley and Scott Bush. We are passionate about using our expertise to solve real world problems. We all met at Durham University in September 2015 when we started our PhD studies as part of the Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces (SOFI) CDT. Plastech Innovation’s mission is to contribute to a circular economy by diverting post-consumer waste plastic away from landfill and the natural environment. Our innovative recycling process turns plastic into a more sustainable sand substitute for concrete manufacture.

Why did you decide to enter the Bright SCIdea Challenge?

We entered the Bright SCIdea Challenge following a business sprint hosted by Durham University. The sprint focused on innovative ways to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. After pitching our idea to a panel formed of industrial and academic experts, we received positive feedback so decided to take the idea forward. The training provided by Bright SCIdea would help us understand how to make our business idea a reality. As scientists exposure to this type of training would be integral to develop our business acumen. The prospect of pitching our idea to a wider audience was exciting. Furthermore, the incentive of the prize money was attractive as we were currently scaling up our process and new equipment was needed.

Explain your product.

Plastech Innovation provides a solution to reduce the volume of plastic waste entering our natural environment by reprocessing it into aggregate to be used in concrete and alternative construction materials. Our product is aimed at:

  • Waste management companies, local authorities and plastic manufacturing industries who want new disposal routes for undesirable mixed and low grade plastic waste. Our disposal solution is a service that is more cost-effective and eco-friendly than current methods.
  • Construction companies who want to reduce transportation costs and their environmental impact. Our innovative plastic aggregate is a product that reduces the use of heavy natural aggregates by replacing them with a lightweight eco-friendly alternative.

Describe your experience competing in the Challenge.

During the training, we had the privilege to attend sessions on marketing, intellectual property, finances and pitching. All were extremely thought provoking in many ways. We especially enjoyed the interactive pitch training session by Victor Christou from Cambridge Innovation Capital.

The day of the final was extremely exciting and started with a photoshoot and interview, placing us out of our comfort zone from the get-go. We were second to pitch behind 2nd runner’s up Team Seta who did a great job on delivering their idea of biomaterials for tissue engineering. Throughout the day there was some interesting pitches and posters and we were extremely proud of our contribution. Towards the end of the day Plastech Innovation were announced the winners of Bright SCIdea 2019 which was fantastic!

We would like to thank everybody from SCI, the industry sponsors and the other competitors for making it a great day.

How do you think participating in the Bright SCIdea Challenge will help your careers?

The Bright SCIdea Challenge gave us the opportunity to meet and network with other like-minded young entrepreneurs. It was interesting to learn about the breadth of products/services and how they would be commercialised. In the breaks we had the opportunity to chat with industry experts, such as Dave Freeman from Croda and Robin Harrison from Synthomer, about Plastech Innovation and our ideas for commercialisation. As we are passionate about Plastech Innovation becoming a reality, these types of links will be vital to our future success.

What are your future plans?

Since the Bright SCIdea Challenge, our team has been looking into a variety of ways to raise finance to propel Plastech Innovation towards commercialisation. We are in the process of spinning out of Durham University and our ultimate goal is to provide careers for our team and make a positive environmental impact.

Competition winnings, such as the £5,000 we received from Bright SCIdea, has allowed us to increase our production output, meaning we are able to process larger quantities of waste. We are working with waste management companies such as Biffa, local authorities such as Durham County Council and concrete manufacturer Bespoke Concrete Products, who are all helping to deliver our solution to the plastic crisis.

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