Kelpi – bio-refining seaweed to make bioplastic packaging that is marine-safe and home-compostable

Kelpi is a biotech company aiming to replace single-use plastics made from fossil fuels with biodegradable alternatives made from seaweed, founded by Neil Morris and co-founder Murray Kenneth.

Neil applied to the Sustainable Technologies Business Acceleration Hub (STBAH) – a programme delivered by the University of Bath through the CSCT and funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – in July 2020, when Kelpi was in the early stages of its business journey, but it wasn’t long before things started to fast track.

Neil is an experienced entrepreneur and co-founder Murray has fund management and small VC experience. With their backgrounds and networks, they were in a good position to move forward with their startup. However, the key area of interest for Kelpi was connecting with researchers at the University of Bath who were active in the field of seaweed-based bio-plastics.

STBAH facilitated introductions with research academics at the University of Bath, specifically with Professor Chris Chuck, who has a wealth of experience in renewable bioproducts. Things progressed pretty quickly and a founding team was formed which led to refining the intended product focus.

With any new business/product successful grant funding is vital – and STBAH was able to provide an expert business consultant to assist with grant strategy and grant application-writing support. The STBAH business consultant worked with Kelpi to help crystallise their funding plan for the year.

Neil Morris, Founder at Kelpi, said: “I just wanted to reach out, to say thank you for all that you and your team at STBAH have done for Kelpi, and of course for the wider sustainable tech start-up community. When Kelpi joined STBAH, in July 2020, we were barely out of the blocks. From introducing us to Professor Chris Chuck – now our CTO – and leading to our founding relationship with the University of Bath, through to helping us land at the heart of sustainable technology thinking in the West, STBAH has been a vitally important partner to Kelpi and I will remain grateful to you (Pete Keevill) personally and to Jason Camp, Laurent Perge and the whole of STBAH for being a catalyst for our early success.”

During the past 9 months since joining STBAH, Kelpi has achieved the following:

  • Their team now comprises 7 FTEs, with the three founders now joined by two full-time scientists and several part-time people in specialist functions.
  • They have signed (effective this month) a six-month supply contract with the University of Bath to synthesise a range of seaweed-based composite films, using Kelpi’s methodology, and test the films for their main physical and polymer properties.
  • They have been accepted onto SetSquared’s Scale-Up programme and BusinessWest’s i2s2 (Innovate to Succeed 2) programme – both validating their progress from start-up into Scale-Up already.
  • They are starting to test our launch consumer-facing product in virtual MVP testing. Once lockdown easing permits, they will conduct further in-depth consumer testing, including seeking pre-orders.
  • They are planning an EIS funding round to open in June and close by the end of the year to support their next phase of growth towards commercial production.

Kepli are keen to retain links with the CSCT and the University to become an industry partner, and more recently a formal partnership agreement between Kelpi and the University of Bath has been signed.

Under the new contract, a project team at the University will synthesise biopolymer composites from seaweed using Kelpi’s unique methodology. The team will then test these against a range of criteria, enabling Kelpi to rapidly advance a series of commercial products based on the biopolymers.

The contract allows Bath-based biotech start-up Kelpi to draw on world-leading facilities and expertise to accelerate their testing processes.

Neil Morris, Chief Executive of Kelpi, added: “This partnership between Kelpi and the University of Bath will cement our position as one of the leading innovators in the world in this sector. Our already rapid progress in bringing new bioplastic products to market will now benefit from the capability that only a globally-ranked university can offer.”

Chris Chuck, Professor of Bioprocess Engineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath, said: “I’m delighted to be able to bring the world-leading capability here at the University of Bath to work to support the highly innovative technology and passionate entrepreneurial team at Kelpi.”

The new contract comes just eight months after Kelpi joined the STBAH programme. Pete Keevill, Entrepreneur in Residence at STBAH, added: “It’s great to see a STBAH member company like Kelpi take their partnership with the University to the next stage. This is another success story for STBAH in building partnerships between university and industry to create world-leading businesses.”

Kelpi are most certainly one to watch as things develop for this innovative startup that have ambitious plans for their seaweed-based products.

Get in touch with Kelpi on their website.

STBAH is partnered with the University of Bath and the business incubator SETsquared.

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