A company called mobius is the winner of the third-annual “AgSharks” competition. The company produces biodegradable polymers from agricultural, food and forestry wastes.
S2G Ventures and the Western Growers Association created AgSharks to help agriculture- and food-startup companies take their inventions from development to commercialization.
The mobius startup’s first technology is a platform for biobased materials that can be used as drop-in replacements for petroleum-based polymers. Tony Bova is the CEO and a co-founder of mobius, based in Lenoir City, Tennessee. Co-founder Jeff Beegle serves as chief science officer. The two men met at the University of Toledo where Bova earned a degree in chemistry and Beegle earned a degree in bioengineering.
One of their first projects was developing a biodegradable plastic mulch. In graduate school at the University of Tennessee they were encouraged to participate in a business-pitch competition. From that university's competition they created a business plan and in 2016 launched their company.
“Our goal was to become a raw-material supplier of bioplastics,” Bova said.
They converted to feedstock wastes from lumber companies and cellulosic biorefineries. The feedstocks are used in the production of plastic mulch and plastic flower pots among other products. The startup’s co-founders applied for the AgSharks competition two years ago; in November they competed with innovators from five other young companies. For winning the contest, mobius is receiving $250,000 in investment capital from S2G Ventures and access to Western Growers Association members to pilot their innovations.
S2G Ventures is a venture fund that invests in the food and agriculture industries. Western Growers is comprised of farmers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. The association’s members provide more than half of the country’s fresh produce and tree nuts.
“We were happy to be selected as a finalist,” Bova said. “Winning was an even greater surprise.”
The award will be used to add an engineer to fine-tune manufacturing processes at mobius and to conduct trials of the bioplastics in controlled greenhouse trials, he said. The initial effort will be on producing biodegradable plastic mulch. But the polymers also could be used as biodegradable coatings for seeds and crop nutrients, and potentially in the production of silage bags.
“Some of the greatest ideas for uses come from our conversations with farmers and other landowners,” he said. “They know their problems and we want to hear from them.”
Matthew Walker, a managing director for S2V Ventures, was one of the AgSharks judges. The agriculture and food space is a good place to invest, he said.
“The competition showcases emerging technologies and helps to find companies that can help farmers be more profitable as well as meet the needs of consumers,” he said. “We’re taking early-stage risks to find solutions to problems.”
Startups chosen for the competition align with the venture-fund company’s objectives to support positive environmental, social and economic outcomes. They also are chosen to make life easier for players in the supply chain, he said. Mobius offers a solution to reducing consumption of petrochemical-based materials, which have a negative impact on the environment.