Rethinking Materials is dedicated to spotlighting pioneers of sustainable materials and circular solutions. Over the years the event has connected early-stage innovators with brands, investors and producers searching for next generation materials.

Pierre Paslier speaking at Rethinking Materials 2023
Pierre Paslier speaking at Rethinking Materials 2023

Notpla is a company that needs no introduction. Aside from participating in the summit every year since 2021 (and joining us again for the 2024 iteration) Notpla has moved from strength to strength – winning the Earthshot Prize 2022, Tom Ford Prize 2023, and in the same year receiving recognition from the Dutch government as the first and only plastic-free material compliant with the European SUP Directive. Recently, Notpla founders co-launched the Natural Polymers Group in partnership with other companies which have participated in Rethinking Materials (including Loliware, Traceless and Xampla) with the mission to establish nature-based materials as the mainstream solution to plastic. 

Pierre-Yves Paslier, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, discusses recent successes, driving strategies, and advice for start-ups fundraising in today’s challenging landscape.

Tell us about your key milestones since you were involved in Rethinking Materials in 2022?

It’s been a busy year! A few things to mention:

  • A major milestone was achieved when the Dutch government recognised our seaweed packaging as the first and currently only plastic-free material compliant with the European SUP Directive. This historic recognition came after 9 months of intense due diligence, and the fact that hundreds of products claiming to be plastic-free on the market failed to secure this recognition motivates us to keep pushing boundaries.

    Notpla - Coatings
    Notpla – Coatings
  • Winning the TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Prize validated our Notpla Film as a scalable, biodegradable alternative to conventional plastics.
  • Launching our first commercially ready Notpla Film product with MACK for detergent sachets marked a turning point. This first Notpla Film formulation is ready to shake up PVOH film on an industrial scale.
  • Co-launching the Natural Polymers Group – a global coalition seeking to establish natural materials as a key solution to reduce plastic pollution.
    Teaming up with 6 materials innovators, the group launched with a joint publication with the World Economic Forum ahead of the UN Global Plastics Treaty negotiations, with the aim to steer policy and public opinion to scale natural packaging solutions to reduce plastic pollution.
  • Unlocking a 50 million unit per year production capacity for our coated boxes by working with an external manufacturer, and launching our boxes in 9 countries, with large hospitality partners like Just Eat, Compass or even COP28 who switched to Notpla!

    Notpla - Coating Circularity
    Notpla – Coating Circularity

What advice would you offer start-ups who are fundraising in today’s challenging economic and regulatory landscape?

We certainly don’t have the secret formula as we’ve been facing the same difficulties as everyone else. But here are some tips I would offer startups fundraising in the current challenging economic and regulatory environment:

  • Focus on profitability. In the current downturn, investors are clearly more risk-averse and focused on business fundamentals. Show your shortest path to profitability and reduce cash burn where possible.
  • Highlight resilience. Demonstrate how your business can withstand economic shocks. Model out contingency plans for economic turbulence.
  • Lean into regulation. Position your business to benefit from regulatory tailwinds rather than be hurt by them. For example, the fact we’re validated as plastic-free by the Dutch government is a big futureproofing certification that investors are really responsive to.
  • Consider alternatives to VCs, look for long term investors like Family Offices or Corporate VCs who are more stable than VC funds who struggle themselves to raise their next fund. And of course non dilutive funding is gold, so grants are a big relief in this difficult time.
  • Consider deep partnerships. Strategic partners can provide commercial validation, distribution channels, infrastructure, and even funding.
  • Be flexible and persistent. Recalibrate your plan if needed. Markets shift, but great companies adapt.
Notpla - Films
Notpla – Films

Looking back at the activity the past few years, both regarding market dynamics and your company’s internal development, what is driving your strategy?

I think there are 3 main factors we really focused on in the past couple of years:

  • Diversifying Product Offerings: expanding portfolios to serve wider needs and provide plastic-free alternatives across more use cases. It’s hard to predict the market so putting all your eggs on the same basket is very risky. We like the concept of anti-fragility, and have seen how a complementary offering is creating exponential value.
  • Externalised Manufacturing: Rather than large vertically integrated operations, we’re optimising capital intensity with asset-light models using contract manufacturing, strategic partners with existing infrastructure, modular scalable systems. This provides flexibility, agility to meet shifting demand without heavy overhead. Allows staying lean and innovating faster.
  • Truly Plastic-Free: With scrutiny on sustainability claims, packaging buyers realize greenwashing allegations can deeply damage brand value specially given alternate options now gaining steam. Demonstrating true circularity, biodegradability, non-toxicity by going beyond the low level certification schemes that are abundant in our industry. Transparency and government level validation has been a big strategic focus for us to helps rise above the rest of the market.
Notpla - Water Soluble Films
Notpla – Water Soluble Films

What are the main obstacles and challenges you anticipate as you move forward with your start-up? How do you plan to address and overcome them?

Funding: It’s much harder to raise than a couple of years ago, takes longer and pulls founders away from building the business. Adapting round size and exploring alternative sources than before is going to help overcome the additional pressure this is putting on startups.

Regulation Changes – Evolving single-use plastic policy still has ambiguity built-in. Continued lobbying from big plastic players is slowing down change. Creating coalitions like the Natural Polymers Group is helping us providing policy feedback at a higher level.

Greenwashing: There still is relatively weak enforcement of the Green Claims Code in the UK and Green Claims Directive in EU. This means that lots of unsustainable solutions like microplastic dispersion coatings for example are still able to market themselves as the real deal. Things are changing but we’re still not in a level playing field when it comes to enforcing regulations.

How do you view the current fundraising landscape?

In general I think it’s going to continue to be a tough fundraising landscape for the next 18m, especially for the growth stage where there’s a natural gap in the number and diversity of funders with the right remit to back proven commercialised technology and bring it to the level where PE can inject late growth stage capital.

It’s a pity because there’s a great pipeline of innovative solutions that could accelerate much faster, and every quarter all this dry powder is not being deployed, it’s more plastic pollution that we’re not tackling.

“Rethinking Materials offers great networking opportunities. It’s a rare opportunity to catch up on relevant trends and meet with like minded innovators, investors, brands, and policy makers. I’m thrilled to be participating in this year’s summit in London.” – Pierre-Yves Paslier, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Notpla

Start-ups, apply to pitch in 2024!

Join Rethinking Materials on May 14-15, to meet a community of over 300 materials pioneers for thought-leadership sessions, start-up discovery, investor insights, and targeted networking. Find out more.