Young Innovators Success Stories: Alex Newnes, PlantSea, Wales
Seaweed solution to cut agricultural plastics
Alex Newnes secured the Young Innovators Award 2020/21 from Innovate UK and The Prince’s Trust due to his innovative approach to developing eco-friendly alternatives to single-use and non-recyclable plastics as the co-founder of PlantSea.
When he joined the programme, he was making rough-and-ready proof of concept designs in his kitchen and had no business background to draw on.
With the tailormade business support package delivered by Innovate UK EDGE and Innovate UK KTN, the past 12 months have catapulted him to a path of success and he is now confident in turning his ambitions into reality.
Alex’s upbringing in rural Wales inspired in him a desire to reduce the amount of plastics used within the agricultural sector and PlantSea is now focused on finding solutions derived from seaweed.
The funding provided by Innovate UK through the award was crucial in enabling the team to purchase materials and equipment to experiment with producing prototype materials.
This work led to PlantSea winning the BioAccelerate programme at Aber Innovation, which gave a further financial boost and provided a vote of confidence.
Alex says, “This proved that all the hard work we put into pitching and developing our business idea was moving us in the right direction.”
He adds, “Shortly after we were awarded an Innovate UK award from the ISCF Future Plastic Packaging Solutions competition with PlantSea-Pack, a dissolvable packaging concept promoting refills for personal care products.”
“This 18 month project is funding the development of one of our key target materials solutions and we are working with a strong consortium of collaborators to bring this product to life and to market.”
These milestones have led to Alex being able to set up his own laboratory to enable continuous research and development.
“The development of innovative bio-materials is not a short journey but, through the Young Innovators Award, we have been able to stock this lab with vital equipment to enable us to move at pace so we can ultimately reduce plastic pollution and offer low carbon packaging solutions.”
The team is now in discussions with highly-skilled collaborators in industry, manufacturing, and academia, which has enabled Alex to establish a route to market for a number of his innovations across multiple market sectors.
Alex says, “We are now investment ready and currently seeking private investment to enable us to bring these concepts to market.”
Alex advises other young innovators embarking on their own journeys to be brave in asking questions, be open about the challenges, and listen to as much advice as possible.
For him, the support of his Innovate UK EDGE Innovation Champion, working with him through the Young Innovators programme, has been crucial to the past year’s successes.
“Receiving tailored advice to support business development but also overcome specific challenges has been invaluable. When times are tough, having someone to call on who has been through it all before can make a massive difference to how you manage those situations,” Alex says.
“The programme has also helped expand my network, including with the other young innovators through the Innovate UK KTN bootcamps. We have made some great connections that have turned into exciting collaborations and provided insight into industry and manufacturing that was otherwise difficult to come by.”
Alex now describes himself as highly motivated, focused and confident.
He says, “I am much more able to plan, focus, and get the most out of the opportunities now compared to the start of the Young Innovators programme. I don’t think people ever stop growing and I am excited to see the person I become throughout this journey.”
In the next 12 months, Alex hopes PlantSea will have secured private investment, have the capacity to hire staff, and have developed prototypes to put in the hands of end users.
The transformation of PlantSea has already been phenomenal and for Alex, his personal development also continues apace.
“I have no background in business. I studied ecological sciences and nothing that I had done before co-founding PlantSea prepared me for what it would be like to run and grow a start-up. With this limited understanding and awareness comes uncertainty, anxiety, and a lack of confidence. But my understanding of how to functionally run a business has come on leaps and bounds.”
He adds, “I am learning new things and growing my confidence every single day. This will be a long journey.”
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