Mentor Capital Network spoke with Philip Calabrese, Co-founder of Boom Algae (formerly SuperiorEcotech) to catch up on how the business has been since participating in the Mentor Capital Network’s 2014 Sustainable Business Plan Collaboration.
Boom Algae (Boulder, CO) converts waste generated during the beer making process into algae-derived products. Breweries generate CO2, canning rinsewater and spent grain which can all be re-used to fuel the growth of algae. Boom Algae uses these waste streams and incorporates them into a proprietary process that produces algae which can be harvested as a dense paste rather than a dilute solution in water. This method of production offers higher efficiencies in both the production and harvesting of algae biomass. The algae paste is then sold to another company who converts the raw biomass into a 100% biodegradable and sustainable ink made from algae.
How did you and your partners come up with the idea for your company?
While we were in graduate school, we learned about a nationwide competition from the Department of Energy looking for clean energy ideas. The carbon dioxide released during the fermentation of beer is much cleaner and flows more steadily compared other sources like coal fired power plants so we saw brewery waste streams as a potential source to grow algae derived nutritional products from. Colorado was a perfect place for this – there were plenty of microbreweries and the area is home to lots of environmentally-conscious and sustainably-minded people.
What products are you looking to create?
We are looking to provide Living Ink technologies with the raw algae they need to create an algae derived ink that is 100% biodegradable and serves as a replacement for petroleum based pigments. We are working with them in order to grow their green ink strain using brewery waste streams and will sell it to them by the pound. We are also developing algae-derived nutritional products that are a complete source of protein and offer digestive health benefits alongside a strategic corporate partner that provides food ingredients to food manufacturers.
How has the journey been different than you had originally imagined?
This all started as an idea when we were in school. It wasn’t yet a functioning business when we entered the competition but rather an idea we were pitching. You learn about all the little details and pitfalls that you didn’t realize were there when you have some runway to turn an idea into a business. It’s been a lot more difficult than we had originally imagined.
What has your experience as an entrepreneur with a start-up been like?
It’s been great, extremely refreshing. In your own company, you’re working on your own ideas and on challenges that you see as important. There’s more creative control and most everything is learnt experientially. There are always times when you wonder if you’re heading in the right direction but I think that’s a part of the process.
How has your involvement with MCN helped your business?
Networks like MCN bring together people who really care about ideas or important challenges that society is facing. I’ve felt overwhelmed by how accommodating people within these networks have been and how helpful they’ve been. It’s also really motivating to see other entrepreneurs, hear about their experiences and successes. If you find the right network, you’re going to meet the right people – people who can answer your questions, leverage their networks for investors or financing, and just generally help you.
I try to pay this forward when I can, and even that can lead to exciting new opportunities. It makes me think of something that happened this year, when MCN asked me to help judge this year’s cohort. One of the business from this year’s group also had a background in algae, and through mentoring this company, we’ve had a number of conversations and have even written a few grants to pursue funding together. If this opportunity happens, it could change the direction of the company and allow us to hire someone full time, and it’s all through being part of the right network.