Have you ever had a creative burst that started when you noticed a problem that you just felt compelled to solve? Today, we get to hear one such story as we meet Scott Fulbright, co-founder and CEO of Living Ink – an ink company that harnesses the waste-stream of algae producers to create a sustainable, and even carbon negative ink that can be used in screen printing, on paper, on textiles, and even integrated into durable materials like cell phone cases. It’s an inspiring story of one man’s curiosity leading to an innovative and sustainable solution that reduces our reliance on petroleum and petroleum by-products. Learn how you too could replace the most expensive liquid you buy with a greener algae-based source as we learn from this charismatic innovator.
About Our Guest, Scott Fulbright: Scott has spent his career developing novel products and processes at startups in the biotechnology sector. He spent the last 12 years in the algal byproducts industry including Solix Algredients. He also worked at CSU Ventures promoting the transfer of research and innovation at Colorado State University to the marketplace. During his graduate work he was a National Science Foundation GRFP, IGERT and IREE scholar developing methods to reduce the cost of algae production. At Living Ink, Scott focuses on strategic planning, fundraising and collaborating with brands (including Patagonia and Adidas) to incorporate packaging, screen and publication Algae Inks within their supply chains.
Living Ink: https://livingink.co/
TedX Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uAAegPkCKo
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Corinna Bellizzi: Hello fellow do-gooders and friends i’m your host Corinna Bellizzi an activist and cause marketer that’s passionate about social impact and sustainability. Today, I invite you on a journey to discover, one of the many applications of algae and how replacing a traditional petrochemical with an algae byproduct creates greener products that you use every day. It’s an interesting thoughtful journey that starts with one man’s passion for algae and his wandering mind, while he explore the greeting card aisle.
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As we get started, today, I have a question for you have you ever had a problem that you just felt compelled to solve. Today we get to hear one such story i’m joined by Scott Fulbright co founder and CEO of living ink an ink company that harnesses the waste stream of algae producers to create a sustainable. And even carbon negative ink that can be used in screen printing on paper on textiles greeting cards and even integrated into durable materials like cell phone cases Scott, welcome to the show.
Scott Fulbright: Thank you for having me.
Corinna Bellizzi: I’d like you to start by telling us about your background what landed you in the world of algae and how you first stumbled on the idea of making Inc out of algae.
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah so my background i’m born and raised in Michigan and Michigan has a lot of in the lakes so spent a lot of time playing around and sale and sailboats and paddle boats and there was always algae so i’ve always been exposed to the outdoors in nature and. In plants, and you know, specifically LG in college actually got a job and we were studying. Why algae blooms would occur, so in the spring, you go to the Gulf of Mexico there’s these huge algae blooms so we were trying to understand you know how basically how to stop those algae blooms from from occurring. And you know, as I was driving up from from the field work in Florida. You know I kind of thought about the problem here is that LG or so productive they grow so fast and these blooms out in the ocean, you know, can we harness that you know material for something good like bio materials or advanced materials, you know to that we all can can use, and so you know really in colleges, when I started to think about these ideas and then I went to Grad school and you know, worked really hard in the laboratory and you know writing reading just trying to think how can we make LG into like a tangible product that can really benefit the world. And yeah, as you mentioned in your intro you know when I left the lab one day I went to the grocery store to buy a greeting card from from my grandma. And you know, I was just sitting there I just you know, and I saw greeting cards since paper and ink you know and then that’s when the wheels started turning of. You know what is ink and i’d already seen that there was really beautiful LG out in the world, and so that’s when these kind of connecting the dots of hey can we turn. You know beautiful LG into different colors for ink and so yeah that’s kind of the roundabout way, I got going down the path, and here we are, seven years later, with with real, tangible product and customers.
Corinna Bellizzi: Now question for you, I mean when you think about ink ink is often made of petrochemicals right so is that the source of most of the carbon black ink that we’re used to seeing.
Scott Fulbright: Exactly yeah So if you if you look around your office or your home, right now, your computer monitor if that’s black or ink and anything that’s black rubber that you know what makes rubber black is carbon black it’s. A little tiny chunk of carbon basically made by burning petroleum. So I think of big factories that just have this input pipe of petroleum it’s just burned and that’s how we get carbon black and then you can put it into all these different applications so it’s all from petroleum there’s really no other alternatives and so there’s a large carbon footprint there and that’s kind of what we’re replacing in both ink and other applications yeah.
Corinna Bellizzi: So in my office I’m looking at my black microphone. And my black painted microphone stand and my black monitor and my black monitor stand. I mean plastic headphones are black. You know your glasses look like they’re black. Ink that I’m writing out of my pen with I mean literally all of these things.
Scott Fulbright: Are petrochemicals yeah. Yeah, the plastic the color and you know I think I was in Grad school and I started to get really kind of interested in I just started to look around the world, and I just started to ask like. Where does everything come from, like every day, think about how many things were exposed to like I woke up I brush my teeth, so I took the toothpaste, I put it on the plastic bristles as on the plastic handle like. And I became kind of obsessed with just thinking about where everything came from. And so you know, and then I also was kind of obsessed with algae and so I said, how can we make something that is scalable that’s cost effective that you know they can start to replace some of these because you know my take is. You know, people will say is this the future. And you know, my answer is, it has to be because, like we know that petroleum is a finite material, we know that we will run out at some point, you know, maybe it’s in our lifetime, maybe it’s you know, a couple generations away but. At some point we need alternatives to basically every material it’s on my desk right now, from my plastic bottle to my mouse to the black and my headphones.
Corinna Bellizzi: It’s crazy Okay, so I was listening to a newer podcast. Just yesterday, called SMARTLESS and it’s got Jason Bateman and a couple of other people that are hosting including Will Arnett, I think. One of the guests and they had on was Neil de Grasse Tyson. He basically made the point that if your mind isn’t blown every week you’re doing something wrong… So when you told me what carbon ink was basically and everything from my cell phone case to my headphones I mean I had that mind blown moment, and so I thought about it a little bit more. I thought about petrochemicals I thought about all of the pieces of my car that are made from plastic that are made from petrochemicals that include that carbon black. I also thought about the fact that most of the oil on this planet was actually once algae. And so it’s like this full circle problem that we’re talking about so let’s talk for a moment about how you get Ink out of the algae because. I think consumers listening, this might be thinking heck you know I’ve seen red algae I’ve seen green algae I’ve heard about these red algae blooms off the coast that are killing fish populations and things like that… So what exactly is it and how do you turn it into ink?
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah it’s a great question and something that we’re working on every day, but you know, really. At our company living there’s really two major projects, one is developing these colors so. We can develop you know, using molecular biology techniques or just going out into nature finding like you said you know red LG that exists or going to a hot spring here in Colorado and seeing you know i’ve seen yellow hot springs algae so you know you can start to kind of extract that from nature and start to kind of you know domesticated and use it for your own good so we’ve got this project, looking at colors we’ve also got the second project is doing this kind of bio based black so replacing on the black ink like you said or had phones and things like that, and really the core of what we’re doing is we’re still using a lot of you know, the same similar materials that are out there, but what we’re replacing and I think we’re one of the few companies doing this in the world is actually trying to make a bio based pigment so like we’ve made we’ve developed a purple strain of algae and our laboratory we can put it into a kind of a basic Inc formulation and print it. And when you look at that print what you’re looking at is literally just Laboratory Grown (LG) cells, so if the LG kind of like build up these different colors inside of them and we actually use that LG as like a pigment. Traditionally, that purple pigment would be synthesized or you know made from petroleum, so you know we’re really replacing all of the pigments. Both black and colors is kind of the big goal of the company so yeah using the entire LG and you know just to talk about why LG. LG is great because nature’s already made these really physically small organisms, so if people don’t know algae it’s basically like an aquatic plant but they’re really tiny, as you know Corinna because he worked in that industry. But you know it’s in some ways it kind of makes it difficult to work with, but. When we started to look at this this green algae powder or purple LG powder, we said, like this is, these are like really nice pigments that really colorful they’re really already small to work with, and we can kind of put that into these ink formulations compared to let’s say like a plant, which has like a red leaf like that’s a big red leaf, and you know how do you have to extract things you got to break it down so LG are nice because they’re really small. And their diverse there’s a lot of colors out there, so those are Those are some of the reasons why we love love algae.
Corinna Bellizzi: Now, you spoke about algae is a living organism, I mean it’s a living plant single cell that’s some micro-algae that we’re talking about here I mean heck seaweed and the larger algae algae referred to as macro algae algae as a group of organisms are responsible for what, more than half of the oxygen that we breathe every day yep.
Scott Fulbright: Exactly yeah yeah, so I would say, take a deep breath and then that’s algae out in the ocean and things like that that are allowing us to actually breed that oxygen so it’s amazing when you think about it.
Corinna Bellizzi: So when I looked at how you first got your company name living Inc I think it probably is a reflection of that first project or an early product, you did where you actually built a greeting card that looked plane, when you opened it and then an image appeared.
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah.
Corinna Bellizzi: You talk about that, I mean I know. This may not be commercially available but it’s just really kind of incredible.
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah it’s you know we call it, you know we were calling it kind of like. Similar to like a chia pet you normally get chia pet they would actually grow like over time, like it was a little ceramic thing you could put little seeds on him and grow, and you know, basically, what we’re doing is like using LG. As kind of like a little micro garden, so what we could do is, we can call it like a greenhouse but we could send you a card and on day one, it would say, maybe happy birthday you’d put it either underneath the lamp or on you know by a window with sunlight and on day two a cake would show up and day three candles on the cake would show up and then day for it say you know Happy Birthday from Scott so we could actually kind of control that messaging by using these little tiny again little LG cells. And the whole idea, there was that we would dilute them down so that you couldn’t really see him with your eye because they’re so small, but LG grows so fast that you give them 24 hours of light. And they start to multiply and then all the sudden you start to see that that you know that the LG growing and that’s what would kind of communicate the message so. It was a really, really fun project to get going, and I think really kind of connected some people with this, you know, creativity and kind of combining science and innovation into kind of a tangible product that they could see so it was super fun in complex, at the same time.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well, I think that was another mind blown moment for me, because I was thinking about algae from what I knew about it, and thinking, how does the algae survive on the paper without water or whatever to keep it going, and it really didn’t have an answer for that. The fact that you’re able to do this, even with just a simple little project is quite interesting.
Scott Fulbright: yeah.
Corinna Bellizzi: How did you do that?
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah so you know, we had this little greenhouse that we’d put it in, so the paper would be sitting there with a little bit of moisture because you’re right LG needs moisture. But we’re also looking at ways to kind of micro encapsulate the LG so that you’d keep them like in a little sphere, so you could keep them alive, over time, but they would still continue to grow and get denser and show more color so that was part of kind of the technology that we were developing and you know we really took that through we did a crowdfunding campaign, and you know we took it through kind of product development, the whole time we were learning like what to do and what not to do one when he started a company and to develop a product. And you know, and then you know, one of the things that really kind of drove us to do. What we’re doing now is like we wanted to really like get into like the commodity chemicals space because that’s where we know like there’s there’s an impact there, so you know, we still have kind of fun plans to do these kind of growing projects and things like that. But for us we’re kind of like you know, trying to really make an impact and some of these kind of petrochemical industry is that that that you brought up early on.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah so I know you’ve probably done way more research around inks and carbon black and usage in that particular marketplace than I ever will. So I’m just curious if you have some like top line statistics for us like how how much ink is used every day or every month and and how much, are you able to replace the current time with your production with an algae sourced more sustainable even carbon negative product.
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah so about 9 billion pounds of ink is produced worldwide, and that can be anything from screen printing you can your shirt to build boarding to your pending so pretty pretty broad industry it’s about a it’s about a $25 billion industry too so it’s pretty significant. And you know right now we’ll replace in just a very small amount of that, but you know, I will say that will work in with some of the largest brands in the world which has really blown my mind that we’ve been able to kind of get some of these really large apparel companies and and consumer goods companies to actually work with us and kind of introduce us to some of their printers or converters. And really you know not only think about doing small projects with us, but really thinking big like in the next couple years we want to convert all of our you know black ink into this this LG ink so. You know, right now, to answer your question we’re just you know getting still down below point 1% there of the overall market, but I do think that we’ve got a pathway to really kind of make an impact at scale with with some of these groups we’re working with.
Corinna Bellizzi: Are there any big brands that are openly talking about this to you know engage their consumers spheres of hey we’re making these products from LG Inc.
Scott Fulbright: yeah you know I mean it not, not a not a surprise here, but you know Patagonia was one of the first early adopters of doing projects with us and demonstrating that they can introduce us to the printer that the product works that there was a good story there and it was sustainable, so you know we’ll be doing a lot of packaging with Patagonia this year. And they’ve kind of led the way in terms of kind of validating that the technology works, and you know now we’ve had several other large brands kind of follow it behind which there’ll be doing launches so I can’t name them, unfortunately, but yeah it’s some of the biggest roads in the brands, some of the biggest brands in the world, so really exciting, but also, I think Patagonia you know what I learned through this process is that nobody really wants to be first because, like when that when you go to an unknown technology or a small company, there are unknowns there’s you know printers haven’t printed with this product before so. You know I think you know Patagonia just demonstrated a little bit of leadership to take a leap of faith and say let’s do this, and now, when we talked to the you know some of their competitors or or you know kind of other CPG companies, they say, you know they can do it, then I guess, we can do it so yeah like what we go yeah yeah exactly what we learned is that everybody wants to be second or third. So you know even you know Patagonia’s now a pretty big company, but even like. You know 5 or 10 years ago they were relatively small I think in terms of you know, the Nike and Adidas and pumas of the world. But just by having their leadership and taking some of those leaps of faith, they are kind of pushing supply chains into these directions of sustainable materials from what we’ve learned.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah well, I wonder, too, because there has been an almost a consumer movement, it seems toward something that is more sustainable and as look and feel so you’re seeing more branding. That is craft based packaging without a lot of flood coding and simple black ink on it, so I wonder if you know that also is benefiting you.
Scott Fulbright: yeah definitely you know I mean, I think the trends, right now, you know we have a one of our advisors right to Hewlett Packard for for their for their career and you know, they said that if you know if you were doing this 1015 years ago you wouldn’t have a chance, and this ink market right now that you know they said, and I think you guys can be a leader in this space in the coming years because of, you know, mostly the consumer trends which are pushing the brands, which then puts the you know their partners and printers to do things differently so I’ve been more excited than ever and the last you know 12 months in terms of how many brands are coming to us saying we want to use this, we want to find a way to work with you so yeah it’s been really exciting and I there’s a lot of hope there, I think.
Corinna Bellizzi: A few years ago, when I first came across you, I think it was at an algae technology summit, or something in Arizona, if I remember correctly. At the time I was like, ‘well you know you don’t have color yet so that would be a real problem with this project” and now I’m looking from a different lens and i’m like you know, a single color like just going black and the simplicity of it. I mean that could be just fine and you know you see all these direct to consumer brands doing single color monochrome outer packaging they’re shipping around and developing brands and identity around that so I think there’s a space for it now, and almost a new way because over the last five years, I think, consumers have gotten a little more simplistic and their desires to. At the same time, I think there are some beautiful pigments that can come out of what you’re doing so, I look forward to seeing that.
Scott Fulbright: The black was very fun and exciting originally now as we’re scaling that up it’s still fun and exciting but it’s black and black is black which a lot of people use black like you’re right but yeah when we start getting into these color projects, it is just interesting from a curiosity standpoint and from just a beauty standpoint it’s quite beautiful what nature can actually produce color wise.
Corinna Bellizzi: So if you have a vision for what this company can do over the course of the next few years to change how people are using ink in a market where potentially more as moving virtually less is being printed at home on printers and things like that, I mean, where do you see your impact growing and going over the next few years.
Scott Fulbright: yeah I think we’re really interested in like apparel so shirts, footwear kind of clothing. I think there’s a lot there because I think that when people wear clothes, I think you know, I think it it kind of it says something about them typically right like you might wear a shirt for 10 years or five years, whatever whatever whatever people’s preferences are but you know what we found is that clothing is really interesting because. I think it’s like a talking point like I got some shoes from Adidas few years ago that were from ocean plastic and I just thought they were so cool it was like I would like. I’d like to talk about it so not not like bragging about my shoes, but just being like isn’t this cool that this is happening right now, like. That there’s people pulling out a waste material and putting into like an item my feet, so what we like clothing, I think, packaging is one of the growing markets within Inc because there’s just a lot more packaging being done as a route really around the world, and then you know the other interesting area that we started to explore is like even like pending. You know, when we tell people that would you want to be like in your writing in your journal. And you know, rather than laying down, you know petroleum, you know chunks of petroleum on your paper you could lay down, you know pieces of of algae and your material that could actually you know, write write your story so that seems to get people excited if they can actually use it so those are kind of some of the markets that were really interested in right now, and you know the one of the things that I’ve learned is just that pete you know it’s like an educational thing right like we talked to some of the big brands, a couple years ago and I’d say what kind of ink to us and they’re like I have no idea I’ve never thought about ink I’ve never thought about pigments. And so, when I looked at their packaging let’s just say a shoe company I’m like you know your your shoe box is literally cardboard and ink that’s all it is so you know hardware there’s 100% recycle now there’s some cool products coming on the market. And you know my whole point is let’s tell some stories like let’s take this other material like Ink which has really not been thought about, and you know, including you, and I even seven years ago I don’t think I think you know until I started being company and you know and use that for storytelling and marketing, because I think that we can integrate these sustainable materials and really kind of give these companies and edge to say let’s tell a story about where these molecules came from, they were grown the sunlight not pulled out of the earth from from petroleum so that’s kind of the direction we want to go.
Corinna Bellizzi: That’s cool you know I think I’ve also heard about, you mentioned the shoes made from reclaim plastic from the ocean i’ve seen a lot of apparel or even just construction bricks made out of that style of material, but I believe i’m also seeing even shoes made out of algae now
Scott Fulbright: Yeah so. there’s a company called rejects the brand is bloom down in there, out of Mississippi actually but yeah like they’ve they’ve gotten in with. That they make an kind of an LG based evie a foam and they’ve they’ve worked with Vivian barefoot Adidas new balance, I mean a lot of the big shoe companies now have an LG foam shoe so. Again I think it’s really, You know I bought a pair of those shoes and you know when I wear them. To me it’s kind of inspiring to say I think about where this came from think about how this happened, think about all the ideas and I had to happen and things that had happened to get this LG into the shoe that I get to where now and so. I think it’s a it’s a cool example of innovation and also really promising from the standpoint that brands are actually adopting these technologies, you know I don’t think five years ago it was happening that much I think there was a lot of resistance and now. Like you said these brands are saying we got to do things that are sustainable to kind of appeal to our our consumer base.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well, and that is a regenerative brand that is a brand that can last with time you’re not going to run out of petroleum, I mean well you’re not going to run out of algae the same way, you would run out of petroleum. What I also liked in hearing your story and reading a little on it too was that you’re using the byproduct of algae the downstream the waste algae so, can you talk for a moment about that, and what that looks like.
Scott Fulbright: yeah so um there’s companies really around the world that grow algae will call LG farms so. About 12 inches of water these ponds, where the algae moves around and in the LG like I said multiply exponentially over time days, weeks and so some of the groups we’re working with they then harvest that LG like you to harvest any other crap although it’s a little different because it’s in the water. And then they they kind of extract their molecule ventures so some of the groups we work with will pull out a blue molecule for like a natural food product. And then the remainder of that LG is considered you know, a byproduct or waste product material, and then we actually you know take that waste product or byproduct depending on who the sources. And we put it through our process we’re also working with a couple groups who are using LG. To remove nutrients from wastewater treatment so tertiary wastewater treatment they’re using LG not for the sake of using LG for materials, but because LG is really good at using nutrients. So, rather than having nitrogen or phosphate run off into the environment and cause algae blooms they actually grow algae on site of the wastewater treatment Center.
Corinna Bellizzi: They eat the nitrogen.
Scott Fulbright: exactly they eat up the nitrogen phosphate and then they grow, but now they have all this energy because they’ve absorbed so much of this nutrients so we’ve actually started to build some relationships with those groups which we think and take that algae and put it into our process, so now we’ve got this really fully circular economy where you know, maybe one day, you know you drive in a car from a big car company where. You know, we were actually working with someone that was growing LG off of waste from a car factory, we then took that algae made carbon black and then put it into the bumper of your car, so you can start to see how it, you know, there is this opportunity to have these really nice circular economy stories put together, it does take a lot of work, though, and partners.
Corinna Bellizzi: And I think a lot of the technology are talking about a lot of the research, a lot of the funding behind algae growers came initially because there was so much funding from the government looking at petrochemical replacement right they were trying to get fuel out of algae. And so it’s interesting because you know government funding for something to replace gasoline, which was a petrochemical. I guess that gas was going to be more expensive other technologies have kind of erupted around it and it looks like perhaps Hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric cars, maybe the wave of the future, as opposed to gasoline dependent vehicles so then all these researchers pivoted. From like looking at this fuel application so what else you can do with algae and the applications are kind of crazy like I’ve seen 3D printing with algae and different colors where you can make models out of it look, just like plastic, I think you mentioned packaging earlier, I was thinking about a standard supplement bottle and I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it’s on the horizon right.
Scott Fulbright: yeah absolutely you know, and I think part of our technology comes into play a little bit, because when you extract when you try to make a fuel, or you try to make a plastic from algae you do have these by these byproduct streams and this is where like where we come in, where we’re like you know, maybe you know. Look at what our colors project is pretty sexy in terms of using nature and colors the the bio based black is a little bit less sexy, and the way we’re taking these waste streams and putting it into you know these different processes that we’ve developed so you’re exactly right I think there’s a ton of potential, and I think that there’s been a lot of incremental breakthroughs with some you know much larger breakthroughs, but you know. The whole point of what we’ve been trying to do is having people grow more and more algae and then also be able to make an economical so using every fraction of that LG whether it’s the blue molecule or us making a bio based black or maybe even making kind of an algae based plastic for cosmetics bottle in the future, I think it is actually starting to come together in I think fuels your right was the starting point it’s just that fuels is it’s such a large market and it’s such a low margin industry that with so much kind of volatility that fuels was probably not a great place to start. And that was always you know my mission is like I want to make LG based products that people can experience that are tangible that are they actually can make an impact because they are cost effective so that’s always been my mission, but I think you’re right, I think that as time goes by, you will start to see more and more products coming from algae.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah it’s just it’s so interesting to see as an entire marketplace and you know that initial funding largely did come from governmental agencies and energy commissions and things like that, and now. You know we’re just continuing to discover what we can do with it, I love the innovation of also growing algae to deal with waste treatment plants, I mean that’s so awesome.
Scott Fulbright: Yeah, when we started this conversation my experience was working with these algae blooms down in the Gulf of Mexico and so why not try to capture those nutrients. At the location, rather than let them get into our ecosystems, whether it’s the Mississippi river or the Gulf, so it just makes total sense. And I think you know again you’re spot on with these brands and consumers starting to kind of drive the conversation a little bit more, rather than just nickels and dimes and things like that so yeah i’m more hopeful than ever and i’m usually a skeptic so that’s yeah.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well it’s good to hear that skeptical end now, obviously I mean you started this company from kind of a wild idea and you’ve come a long way already, but I wonder if you had the ability to go back to your younger self and give yourself advice What would it be.
Scott Fulbright: that’s a really good question I haven’t thought about that in a long time. I you know I think I think the one thing that i’ve been learning is you know there’s this combination of hard work and luck and so we’ve been lucky in a lot of ways, and I think, we still need a lot of luck to to do what we want to do, but I think the one thing that I have been learning is just if we put in the work. You know, good things will happen, I think that you know I don’t think when I was younger I don’t think I realized it that much but. I think I was always anxious and I think now like there’s always going to be anxious moments when you’re trying to build a brand and a company, but just by continuing down this path of like working hard and just keep going. Good things will happen and, like every week here, you know I always say there’s there’s like three things that could have gone better and there’s three things that you know we’re amazed that it happened, and so you know just you know, keep going keep your head down and don’t get too lost in, you know, as you said the other day, like seeing that mountaintop like I dream all the time, but I know that, like there’s sometimes I don’t even know how to get there, I just know I where I want to get to and it’s been amazing at my journey. How many times there’s just been these like for to have this like I don’t know how we’re going to get there and then like a month later, like a huge breakthrough happens like oh my gosh we’re there you know so yeah I think for me it’s just been hard work and consistency of showing up over over now, which is years, which is crazy that’s been you know there’s it seems like it hasn’t been that long.
Corinna Bellizzi: It’s 7years, right? How many rounds of funding, have you had?
Scott Fulbright: we’ve we’ve raised some grant funding about $1.5 million from grant funding and then we just raised $2 million from private investors to kind of help scale up and and and really fulfill on some of these larger commercial orders that we’re getting so. We bootstrapped it a lot, you know, like I said we did a crowdfunding campaign with that growing Inc, which was the original kind of goddess goddess kind of off the ground, a little bit. We went around and we’re scrappy winning like business pitch competitions for like $4,000 and putting it together so, yeah we were we were we’ve been pretty scrappy, which is good and. And now I kind of have to get out of that mentality, a little bit because, now our our time is becoming more valuable than maybe it was seven years ago when we were Grad students and just kind of figuring things out so for me that’s been a learning thing of hey like. You know let’s not let’s not spend time building this machine, maybe we should just go out and buy one.
Corinna Bellizzi: That’s evolution right — something that can be repurposed from something else I mean who knows, maybe there’s like some chocolate manufacturing machine, you can use ya know it we’re still very creative, but you know yeah just trying to yeah even like one of my teammates the other day said, you know I’ll go drive this over to our customer and I just said, you know.
Scott Fulbright: Three years ago, I would have said yes let’s do that now Mike let’s get it, you know let’s get ups pick this up because we got we got to do so yeah just just learning how to be you know more efficient, but you know it’s just phases of business, and you know we’re in a we’re in a phase of business and hopefully if if we chatted in the year will be in a whole different phase of business.
Corinna Bellizzi: Now I think offline one of the things you said is with your co founder you just wanted to be sure, you were each learning something every day, so I wondered if you could talk about that for a moment, just like the purpose, when you started it and what keeps you going when it’s tough.
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah that’s a great question you know, one of the things that really took the pressure off of US early on, was you know we were in that we’re kind of entering that startup world. And a lot of that startup world is actually there’s a lot of hype, and a lot of excitement and dreams and you know we everyone talks about how apple was started or Microsoft and so there’s a lot of that in the startup world. A lot of my friends that I that i’m friends with the startup world you know it’s it’s not stories like Microsoft it’s like long years of grind not not that they didn’t grind but you know. That it’s just slow growth and troubles all the time and things like that, so you know early on, rather than thinking about an exit or you know, all these amazing things that could happen to us, we just said, you know the number one priority at the business in our in our kind of collaboration together is to just learn something every day. And if we learn something every day, whether that’s through failure or successes and you know, over seven years you’ll you’ll have a good knowledge set, and I think that you know we’ve had that mentality, ever since like the second week of starting the business, and now you know. Yesterday I was in the production facility and we were going through some things and it’s just like hey we’re learning, this is good, this is good, and I was telling my team like whenever there’s a challenge, or something didn’t work I’m like this is amazing we get to figure out why this didn’t work and in a couple weeks it’ll be working which we’ve had that track record, so we can feel confident saying that so yeah that took a ton of pressure off and, you know, we don’t think about the exit we don’t think about you know how we are in 10 years we think about let’s learn something today let’s learn something next week and good things will happen.
Corinna Bellizzi: One of the things I’m learning in graduate school, as I go through entrepreneurship classes for my MBA right so it’s a grind it can be a grind them and one more quarter left kind of can’t wait right. One of the things that we talked about is the fact that businesses founded with co-founders tend to be more successful. Or, they tend to survive that business phase before failure, where you know company suddenly you know just gives up and goes home. So I wondered if you could talk about you know how you essentially came to say we as two people are going to do this and then what that’s looked like over the years, because I mean you’re seven years in now.
Scott Fulbright: yep yeah you know my co founder and I we went to Grad school, together, we met her first day of Grad school at a chemistry class. And I met him and I just said, I like this person, I think this person is smarter than me which I always want to work with people who are smarter than me and I’m super motivated and you know we work next to each other on our own research projects in Grad school and we were always just kind of like we both wanted to start a company really to make an impact and I never been about the money it’s always been about how do we compete in a petrochemical industry with bio based materials, and so we used to walk by each other in the hallways and our goal is to come up with like one idea, every time we saw each other, and it would be the most off the wall ideas like a water bottle that you can put coffee in the bottom, and you know all these. I just said, you know if you do that, every day, like you’re bound to come up with something at some point, no matter who you are what you’re doing so, you know, after after years of really bad ideas you know I thought to this idea in the greeting card I have like hey we know we can we can make pigments from algae we can do some we can make ink and we can do these things and you know, he kind of was like I don’t I don’t quite… I’m not wrapping my head around this I don’t really know what you’re talking about and I was just excited i’m like we you know what this is something I think there’s something here. And so we joined an accelerator program at Colorado State University. That was like one on one entrepreneurship like what’s a patent what’s an llc right and it’s also daunting at first, and you know what we’ve learned is like. Every week is a little bit uncomfortable, but that means that we’re learning, something that we’re pushing ourselves and so stuff that we thought was daunting seven years ago, like, how do you start an llc to me now i’m like that’s five minutes and like $15 in the state of Colorado. It’s not that big a deal, so I think that that’s been kind of fun it’s kind of overcoming those mental hurdles of like oh that’s so complex to do that’s like no you just got to do it, and you know my co founder and I were so aligned at like we just do it. You know, we strategically plan, and then we just put our head down, and we do it, and so that’s kind of you know. With God is going and it’s just been really fun because, looking back yeah just like it’s not done to there’s Dante and stuff right now, but the stuff we were doing was not you know it’s not anymore, to us, but until you do it, I don’t know how you learn it.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah well, it sounds like a very creative process, I wonder what you think he’d say about you, you said he was smarter than me right, like I knew he was smarter than me I like to surround myself with people are smarter than me I I think that’s a good way to live it keeps you humble, but what do you think you’d say about you.
Scott Fulbright: that’s a good question I should ask them after this, but you know, I think one of my strengths, is just like working with people, I think I think throughout the years i’ve had a lot of different jobs and a lot of different industries and I think one of the things I really enjoy is being with people different types of people and embracing that so and I think he would think that i’m probably. Hopefully relatively easy to work with and flexible and creative and open minded, I think, are some of the strengths, that I have with him, but you know you know the other morning. We were on the phone I had to step up my house, because we have such a small house, but at 4:45am we were on the phone just talking and you know it’s just one of those times, where you’re just going like. This isn’t even like work like this is a friend of mine who were like doing this together and it’s just like challenge that we both want to succeed, you know and so I think I don’t know I don’t know if I I don’t think we would be where we are, I don’t I don’t even know if living, it would be a company if it wasn’t for having a Co founder that we could really kind of like. You know when I’m high he’s low and just kind of balance each other out, you know, and so, hopefully that’s what he would say say about me that I’m easy to work with.
Corinna Bellizzi: Well, I think you leave a really strong impression in a very good way and that’s just me to you, I mean I met you a few years ago, and never forgot so I think is the creativity of what you’re doing and also your enthusiasm is it’s contagious and that’s going to help you be successful, the reality is it’s just an incredible idea.
Scott Fulbright: Thank you, yeah well, I appreciate that you know, and you know the other thing that’s interesting I hadn’t really heard about co founders companies being more successful, but you know, in some ways, it makes sense because like we wouldn’t go down this path, if we didn’t have all of these passions whether it’s sustainability having an impact starting a business challenging ourselves like we have these common interests but like our first kind of seed funding that we ever got from a local partner here in Colorado we know them for the year so they knew us, but you know. What he said to me when he when he said yes to our investment was just like I you know I don’t i’ve never met anyone that’s like so passionate about what they do. And so I think when you start something. You know you either start it and you go this isn’t for me, or you kind of go yeah like I’m going to do this and then you know, seven years later you’re like i’m deep in this like i’m passionate about it, we are doing it we’re learning every day and we’ve got this big vision so that kind of makes sense that co founders, you know and founders have some success there.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah well i’ve been thinking about it a lot and I think one of the things that probably makes them more successful. As kind of the secret sauce allies under at all is something you alluded to, when you were telling the story of the founding of living Inc you had to convince him that it was an idea worth spending his time and energy on at first he wasn’t seeing it. And so now essentially you have a check and balance in place someone who, quite possibly has different strengths and your own, but also that can be a reflection and that can check your wild ideas for actual feasibility right yeah.
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah. Definitely both technically business wise. And just kind of emotionally right we both have young kids we both bought houses, you know it’s just like we’re going through the same types of things so yeah I think that’s been you know when you start your own business or organization that’s part of the fun part is you get to kind of pick who you work with, and you know, ideally, we all want to work with people that we we get along with, and we weren’t.
Corinna Bellizzi: Working yeah so you look forward to going to work and.
Scott Fulbright: You know there’s never a time that i’ve ever had a call with him or anything that were dreaded or have been like oh that was terrible it’s always been like hey here’s my problem and then he’s like hey here’s three solution ideas I’m like thank you for those because I was not thinking that.
Corinna Bellizzi: Really great well I’m happy for you, I think that’s tremendous now. I would love for you to just have the floor for a minute if there’s anything you, you would love to share perhaps a question I didn’t ask or something that you would just like to leave the audience with.
Scott Fulbright: Yeah you know I mean the thing that I, you know when you and I talking a little bit before this just you know what what kind of was in my head was just how do you. Even start it was something that was thinking about in you know when you you go, how do you how do you when you see these huge companies like, how do you even or even small companies like, how do you where do you start and I, you know, I think that. That was thinking about that a little bit and just you know, once you kind of have that vision. Just like just kind of start he’s going to do it, you know, and this is like very random, and you know very i’m not sure if it even relates, but I just was thinking about like when I was in graduate school. And I started to kind of have this this realization that people are what make the world work like ideas are great technology is great patents are great, but like. It comes down to people and decisions within brands and within printers and within you know all these different things so it’s always been my journey with living it’s always been about people, people people when I look at like what move the needle of success it’s always about somebody it’s never about this major technical breakthrough, I mean that helps obviously but you know there’s a lot of great technologies or ideas out there that just never get there because, whether it’s the founders or the you know stakeholders don’t don’t get there, so one is it all comes back to people, but the other thing is like I remember when I was in my basement of plant sciences at Colorado State University and I decided like I’m going to make my LinkedIn account because, like I’ve started to realize people are kind of what makes people who hire you people are you get jobs and things right. And I remember X and the LinkedIn and it was like it was like you know it came up with like here’s some people, you might know it was like my one roommate from college in like like my dad or something. And I was like well like I’m in this basement in Grad school, no one really cares about what I’m working on right now I don’t really have a network. And I just remember at that point, like I’m going to click yes be up front, you know, whatever connect with my roommate and yes connect with my dad I got two connections and I just said, you know this is gonna be a fun journey. Hopefully decades and decades of a career, where I get to build a network and go into different industries, and so it just kind of looking at that mountain going where do you start it’s just you got to start somewhere, you know. Put the ego aside and say i’m going to do it, you know and with living Inc like I was gonna have to remind my co founder like when we hire a new person or we’re working with someone who’s maybe not as experienced us in this kind of startup world like. Where we were when we started like we gave terrible pitches when we first started like at business pitches you know, like, I mean it was a good idea, and it was cool but like when I look back at the graphics or whatever I’m like that’s terrible but like. How are you ever good at something if you don’t like if you’ve never done it so. I think, putting that ego aside, you know it’s something that I told myself early on it’s like you can’t have an ego we got to get feedback because feedbacks the most valuable thing that we can get right now. And I don’t care if that person thinks I am terrible at what I do maybe I am and that’s fine but I’m going to get better every day like we talked about throughout this episode. And, seven years later, like, I feel very comfortable going on stage or going and give a you know put together a presentation so yeah just starting somewhere and just knowing that hey. You know you got to just go you just got to start it and every day just work on it so that’s that’s my random thoughts of. Am I trying it’s the grind. And I, you know that this whole overnight success story and startups and billion dollar unicorns and stuff like that, like it’s fun to read about it’s good it’s good reading. You know I don’t know many people that said that was really easy and fun and overnight like you know everyone I talked to in my network it’s almost like therapy for each other, say how’s it going like oh here’s my challenges and like we you know what, no matter what industry you’re in. If you’re doing a young company, a lot of it’s the same challenge is trying to get customers to adapt to what you’re doing try to get through trials and things like that so. I’d like to talk to my my some of my friends in the startup world to kind of make sure that you know, keep me balanced that, like everything I’m doing is normal I’m not missing thing it’s just like you said it’s the grind.
Corinna Bellizzi: The grind and it may not differ that much from industry to industry. Exactly, I think, also it’s important to keep in mind that those billion dollars stories, you know they don’t necessarily tell you about the time before they they got that big funding round. The almost position, the story in a very particular light in order for it to be crowd consumptive right like Oh, this is a great story and it’s inspirational but the story behind that is often and usually that there was a lot of grinding behind it.
Scott Fulbright: yeah yeah yeah exactly a lot of crazy stories to get to get off the ground and keep going so yeah no, I agree, and I think that. I’ve kind of validated that with like I said, with my own kind of network and stuff with just it’s just it’s just hard work, and I think that everyone would agree on on on that no matter who the founder is.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah well Scott, I just want to thank you so much for sharing your story with our Community here. I really appreciate what you’re doing to help reduce our reliance on petrochemicals and plastics hey build a better world with something that’s regenerative renewable and abundant like algae right.
Scott Fulbright: yeah I appreciate it thanks for having me and thanks for doing what you’re doing, which is sharing great messages to the world, so thank you.
Corinna Bellizzi: yeah stick with me for just a minute now i’d like to invite you to act. It doesn’t have to be huge it doesn’t have to feel like a Herculean efforts you don’t have to create the next incorrect placement company. But it could be as simple as sharing this podcast with people in your Community or those that might be inspired by the story we’re telling. So, to find suggestions you can always visit our action page, as I, as I shared with you guys at the beginning of this call. You’ll find causes and companies that we encourage you to support, and I invite you to join the conversation, be a part of the Community we’re building tell us what you think what ideas you have or how we can build a better world. You can find us on social spaces at care more be better or just send us an email to hello, I care more be better, I want to hear from you. Now, if you like, what we’re doing you can support the show just by sharing it with your friends like subscribe comment, give us five stars Thank you listeners now and always for being a part of this pod and Community because, together, we really can do so much more.