Today is the proverbial demo day for the “Techstars Sustainability Accelerator” being offered in Denver in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, and one of the 10 participants is Knoxville-based mobius.
The start-up, whose tagline is “There’s wonder in waste,” was co-founded by Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle. It is focused on making biodegradable plastics and polymers from industrial organic waste for applications in horticulture and agriculture. We’ve posted a number of articles about their journey, the most recent post on teknovation.biz being this one from about six weeks ago.
Now, 13 weeks after beginning the program on July 29, the finale for the accelerator starts later today. If you are interested in watching the event and pitches, they will be streamed on YouTube starting at 6 p.m. MST (that’s 8 p.m. EST) at this link.
Ahead of the finale, we asked Bova several questions. Here they are with his corresponding answers.
- Going into Techstars, what were you hoping to accomplish? We’ve done a couple accelerators before, and arguably we were too early to take advantage of the resources available then. This program seemed to be perfect timing for the stage of our business, and we were super-excited about the format of the program to connect us with mentors and subject matter experts that would work with us throughout and really be an engaged part of our team, rather than just show up for a day here or there. Our plan going into the program was to focus on three areas: (1) improve our ability to tell a compelling story about both the impact and economics of our big vision; (2) formalize and accelerate a formal business development process; and (3) prepare to fundraise by combining the first two focus areas.
- As you prepare to graduate with your doctorate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, what would you say have been the two or three greatest outcomes for mobius? I’m working towards a graduation date for next Spring and am incredibly grateful for the flexibility my advisors and committee have given me to work on both things at the same time. Since we started the company as Grow Bioplastics in 2016, we’ve really come a long way. I’d say there are three great outcomes we’ve accomplished so far. First, we’ve gone beyond just our “two beards and a pitch deck” phase where Jeff (Beegle) and I were going around to pitch competitions and bootstrapping the cash we needed to really start. We’ve now got an actual office, a respectable lab (albeit in a garage still!), and have done meaningful product research and development work. Second, we’ve grown our team. We now have four full-time employees, one part-time employee, and one intern. It’s been amazing to have not only created jobs here in East Tennessee, but also to have found incredibly high-caliber people that share our mission and are putting their hard work towards making our vision a reality. Lastly, we’ve been incredibly grateful to have raised the funds needed to bring these innovations to market. Our list of competition wins, grants, and investors has grown, and we recently passed the $1,000,000 mark for total funds raised across all of those categories. That’s not something we were sure we could do when we started, but I’m incredibly happy that we’ve hit that milestone.
- How has Techstars better positioned mobius for commercial success? It’s been a hugely successful accelerator for us. We like to say that Techstars is the “graduate school” of accelerators because of the depth we went into different concepts and the breadth of the Techstars network that helped us along the way. The program has dramatically improved how we communicate and share information internally and has made our team more efficient in completing our R&D and business goals. One of the core concepts that is taught by Techstars is the practice of using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). OKRs are a goal-setting and tracking framework that were first used by Intel in the 1980’s. It can be used by any start-up and can create more clarity and focus around creating goals for the company. It also forces companies to dig beyond a list of to do’s and focus on what can be learned from completing each objective.
During the program, we’ve also been able to interact with investors, entrepreneurs, and mentors who’ve taken a hard look at everything we’re doing and help us do it better! We foresee a lot of ripple effects from this program continuing to benefit our company and operations even when the program ends in October.
Lastly, we’ve made great progress on our initial three goals. We’ve been able to draft some more compelling content around the big vision for the company, our brand story and mission, and the potential impacts for people, planet, and profit. We’ve also been able to engage deeper with some of our current pilot customers and bring on a few new ones which has helped us build out that business development process and systematize things. Lastly, we’ve had some of the best coaching about the fundraising process for a start-up and know better now than we ever have before not only how to run an investor meeting, but really how to plan and execute the entire process. We hope to put all of this into action soon and move on to the next phase of our work!