Cotton is the most widely used natural fibre in the textile industry, and it is also known as the ‘world’s dirtiest crop’. Demand for cotton is increasing and, as yet, there are no sustainable ways to produce it. This is mainly due to its use of resources with studies estimating that the industry is accountable for up to 2.6% of global water usage.
This is a problem for both the planet and humans since water scarcity will directly affect ⅔ of the world’s population by 2025. But it’s also a problem for apparel and textile companies, which will soon struggle to meet demand as competition for resources become more fierce and expensive.
As such there are growing concerns surrounding the sustainability, transparency and ethics of this complex industry.
Materra, formerly known as hydroCotton, is taking on the challenge to redefine the way cotton is produced to make it a crop for the 21st century. We help fashion brands reduce their environmental impact by growing radically sustainable cotton alongside building more transparency into the supply chain, creating accountability end-to-end.
We optimise the delivery of agricultural inputs directly to the root zones of cotton plants where efficient absorption can occur. By combining this with novel methods of recapturing nutrients and water we can reduce the volume of water and fertiliser used by up to 80%. We grow 100% pesticide-free by employing biological pest control and strategic manual pest removal.
Our initial focus is on the technology to address the intense consumption of water and fertiliser, however our long-term strategy aims to tackle many other problems, including lack of transparency throughout the supply chain. Our transparency solutions are currently at concept stage but we have gauged market interest and are looking to prototype in the field by the end of the year (2019).
Our founding team became friends through studying engineering at Imperial College and then design at the Royal College of Art. During our studies we were all drawn towards projects with strong potential for social and environmental impact. Since graduating the team has gained experience working on various sustainable design projects.
The idea behind Materra came to life during a business trip in Kenya, where Edward was working on an agritech project. Further conversations with friends and associates confirmed that the idea not only had potential for positive social and environmental impact, but also for becoming a viable business. With converging interests and complementary skills, the 3 founding members joined forces to make this idea a reality.
In the next 5 years, we aim to start growing hydroCotton globally and lease our technology to mills and farmers. We will be working towards integrating tracking technology throughout the supply chain to ensure traceability of hydroCotton fibres, from farm to end product. We will also work on developing an MVP for cotton remediation solutions to make cotton a truly circular material.
We are currently actively seeking funding to accelerate the development of our MVP, to produce samples for our commercial partners and lock down our IP. In addition to capital, hydroCotton is also looking for a plant scientist with experience in the cotton industry.
Advisors and mentors
Our core team is supported by a group of advisors supporting various aspects of our venture. Claus Stenbaek, who is Managing Director of the private equity firm Keyhaven, is supporting us with the business development side of our venture.
Filippo Grassi, an agritech consultant for startups in London, Nairobi and Milan, is supporting us with agronomy and agritech innovation.
Enterprise Lab support
Following early technical development and lab trials, Materra participated in the Enterprise Lab’s Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC) in 2019. We reached the finals, which was very influential in kickstarting the business side of our venture.
Successes and setbacks
Our major successes have been validating the concept through early technological trials, partnering with a farming expert and receiving interest from multiple multinational apparel brands and mills.
We’ve had a few setbacks in terms of the high capital expenditure for developing our MVPs. It’s also been difficult dedicating time to the company whilst also having full time jobs. Generally we have found balancing working on the business with developing the product trickier than we thought.
Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs
Get your market validation as soon as possible in order to both confirm the viability of your concept, but also to inject a new sense of dynamism and motivation within your team. Remember that launching a new venture requires a lot of time and effort, so make sure you pick a project that you truly care about.