3 Reasons You’ve Never Heard of This Exciting AgTech Company
The agricultural industry spends about $12.5 billion in plastics each year.
Much of these plastics are petroleum-based, which are cheap and won’t deteriorate as a result of weather, bacteria, or fungi.
But that’s also the problem.
Many uses for plastic in agriculture are single-use. Items like mulch films and gardening containers are disposed of after one crop.
This disposal takes time and money. Also, “disposal” is a euphemism for moved somewhere else, like a landfill, where they remain for a very long time.
This seems like a lot of resources for a single use followed by a permanent placement in a landfill.
Formerly known as Grow Bioplastics, mobius makes biodegradable and compostable plastics from lignin. Lignin is the material that holds the structure of plants together. It’s the main reason a tree, for example, can grow tall without falling over.
There are other bioplastics on the market, most made from corn or potato starch. The problem with these is that they can biodegrade a little too easily. Like, when you still want them to be functioning as plastics.
The lignin-based bioplastics mobius has developed offer the utility of plastic with the benefit (to all of us) of being biodegradable. Sort of a “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” type of thing.
When a producer is done using the product as a mulch film or gardening container, the products can simply be tilled into the soil. The bioplastic then serves as microbe food, actually promoting soil health (bonus!).
This is a very large market opportunity with a huge gap, and mobius has found a way to fill it. Why have more of us never heard of them?
Three Reasons You May Not Have Heard of mobius
Their competitors are trash (literally). None of us likes to talk about our waste, and the agriculture industry is no different. mobius is solving a problem that is not always easy to talk about. We hear about food waste all the time, but when is the last time you read an article about plastic waste in agriculture? mobius is taking a waste product (lignin) and utilizing it to create a substitute for a petroleum-based product. The result is a more a more environmentally-friendly product that saves the farmer in labor costs and actually promotes healthier soils.
They don’t make or sell the end product. mobius’ superpower is in the technology itself. They manufacture a pelletized plastic resin. That resin is purchased by the companies that make the actual products such as mulch films, gardening containers, and food packaging. For this reason, you will likely never buy a mobius product, but you sure might use one or enjoy the product of one. Many inexperienced entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to be the next Amazon or Apple, rather than honing in on their superpower. Tony and Jeff have been really smart about where they fit into the supply chain and how they add value. This will serve them well as they scale mobius.
The technology is not “sexy”. This is not big data, blockchain, artificial intelligence, or machine learning. This is biodegradable plastics. Lignin does not generally make headlines. However, this is a real use case that solves a real problem with an impactful solution. I have said on the podcast before that I love seemingly boring businesses. This is a great example. Business is about solving problems, not making headlines.
There’s Wonder in Waste
Tony and Jeff at mobius have a saying: “There’s wonder in waste”.
We are so quick to dismiss waste products that we discard without a second thought. We don’t take the time to wonder at what they could be, or what the implications are of the waste, or how there might perhaps be a better way.
This idea of having a sense of wonder concerning products that we so quickly discard is something I hope we all take away from mobius.
The company benefitted greatly from several accelerator-type programs and pitch competitions. I wanted to talk to them about one in particular: Village Capital.
Village Capital is a unique program because it builds entrepreneurs by teaching them to think like investors. Each cohort analyzes the other startups in the cohort, and ultimately decides themselves which companies are worthy of investment. Tony and Jeff spoke very highly of their experience in this program.