Eben Bayer (left) and Gavin McIntyre are the co-founders of Ecovative Design, a company that builds a completely organic and natural Styrofoam replacement.
In 2007, Ecovative Design was little more than a business concept circulating in the minds of a pair of engineering students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The students, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, were long on ideas and short on cash. They had designed an innovative material — a type of insulation produced entirely from agricultural byproducts and demonstrating strong performance capabilities — but lacked the critical startup funding to bring the technology into the research pipeline and eventually to the commercial marketplace.
The dreams of Bayer and McIntyre would crystallize less than a year later, when the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance issued the students a $17,000 grant for research and development on the new material. The same year, the students entered their technology along with a working business model in the ASME I-Show, winning the first-place award of $10,000. The grant money from NCIIA and cash prize from ASME represented some of the financial underpinning enabling Bayer and McIntyre to launch a small business, which today employs 63 people in two production facilities in New York.
Bayer (left) and McIntyre at the 2007 ASME Innovation Showcase, where they won the $10,000 top prize.
Flash of Brilliance
The creation of Ecovative Design in 2007 began an entrepreneurial journey for Bayer and McIntyre, in which the partners had to deal with myriad and often complex business issues ranging from technology development and manufacturing to licensing, regulatory requirements and marketing. “Through it all, we never lost focus of our core competencies in materials science and sustainable product design,” McIntyre said.
Their product is an eco-friendly replacement to traditional plastic foams used in packaging and other applications. Derived from renewable agricultural byproducts and mycelium, Ecovative Design’s material provides structural stability, strong energy dissipation and other attributes, while releasing low or no volatile organic compounds. The material is also completely flame-retardant.
So began an entrepreneurial journey for Bayer and McIntyre, in which the partners had to deal with myriad and often complex business issues ranging from technology development and manufacturing to licensing, regulatory requirements and marketing. “Through it all, we never lost focus of our core competencies in materials science and sustainable product design,” McIntyre said.
“Using mycelium to design a structural material was a flash of brilliance on the part of Eben,” recalls McIntyre. “While at RPI, he noticed fungus growing on wood chips and was impressed at the ability of the fungus to cling and grab. That observation led to more scientific inquiries and further testing and experimentation.”
During manufacturing, the mycelium digests the agricultural byproducts, assembling them together to yield a structural material capable of tight binding. Ecovative will alter the density and texture of the material to fit specific applications.
Right now, those applications are mainly protective packaging. Dell uses Ecovative products to package its server hardware. Steelcase and Crate & Barrel, a pair of high-end furniture retailers, ship tables, bookshelves and other home furnishings safe and snug in packaging made by Ecovative Design.
Ecovative Design's award-winning material is an eco-friendly replacement to traditional plastic foams used in packaging and other applications.
Bayer and McIntyre seek to expand the applications of their biomaterial to other businesses and industries. Ecovative currently is working with the automobile industry on the design of plastic foam replacements for car bumpers, interior door panels, dashboards, and other components. In laboratory tests, the biomaterial foams have displayed improved energy-absorbing characteristics over the polypropylene products currently in use in the industry, and are also fire-retardant and completely recyclable.
Also in development at the Ecovative facility in Green Island, N.Y., are products for the construction industry, including foam insulation, structural insulating panels, and acoustical tile. Like the other materials in the company’s portfolio, the building products are fire-resistant and environmentally safe. Future R&D projects include biodegradable apparel and liquid-absorbing mats for home use.
“We see our products contributing to a healthy ecosystem,” said McIntyre. “Our company principal is to create products that are good for the planet while benefiting the people who use them.”
With 63 employees on staff ranging from biologists and mechanical engineers to business development managers and marketing specialists, and patents in 35 countries, McIntyre and Bayer have come a long way since the 2007 IShow. Winning the first-place award still resonates with the two businessmen.
“We were in the early stages of development at the time, and receiving the cash and also the recognition of judges who are themselves successful entrepreneurs and technology innovators served to validate our ideas and get us on our way,” McIntyre said.
For a presentation of the latest in innovative student designs and prototypes, make plans to attend the 2013 I-Show, scheduled for June 22 and held in conjunction with the ASME Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., June 21-26.
—John Varrasi, ASME Public Information