Creating new biocolour business through collaboration

Innovations rarely emerge in a vacuum and without a comprehensive network. This also applies to the industrial scale use of biocolourants, which requires the creation of a completely new ecosystem: finding suitable biomass but also the knowledge and the equipment for dye extraction. An entirely different but very important aspect is also the creation of new operating culture that the shift to biocolourants may require from the end users.

One of the aims of the BioColour research project is to support the creation of new biocolour business and increase networking among biocolour actors. The second BioColour entrepreneurs networking event was held on the 11th February 2021. The networking perspectives were discussed among BioColour researchers and three international guests: Meryem Benohoud from Keracol Limited (UK) working with biocolourants and cosmetics, Marita Bartelet the founder of Ecological Textiles (the Netherlands) and Padma S. Vankar an experienced biocolour researcher and chemist from the Indian Institute of Technology (India).

Presentations raised wide-ranging discussions about biocolour business bottlenecks in the industrial scale operations. One of the challenges is to find suitable equipment. The machinery needed for the extraction process is costly and that can increase the threshold for smaller companies to start biocolourants’ production. However, the costs could be lowered for one company if equipment were for joint use and shared between several operators. Especially for small companies, it might be more profitable to work together.

The raw material sources for biocolourants were also widely discussed. In order to promote the circular economy, it would make the most sense to look for by-products and sources of material which would otherwise end up as waste. In Finland, various by-products have already been mapped, but the challenge of utilizing them is often the geographical location of the material: biomass processing and dye extraction should be done as close as possible to the origin of the biomass to avoid spoilage of organic biomass and decreasing transport costs and emissions. Finding suitable material flows also requires transparency and trust. For example, in the case of biocolourants used in cosmetics, it is essential that the raw material does not contain pesticides or other harmful components that would end up to the product itself.

Sustainability and ecological aspects are a growing interest to consumers, which has led many companies to look for alternatives for synthetic colourants. Locality, roots, and cultural heritage are perspectives which deepen the story and relevance of the final product. Branding of biocolourants and the products dyed with them is an integral part of the new biocolour business.

The transition from synthetic dyes to bio-dyes can take time and bio-dyes are hardly mainstream in short run. It is important, however, to believe in the potential of biocolourants and be prepared to justify their potential, whether a partner or a supervisor of a dyeing plant. Inspiring and convincing others is a very important skill to advance innovations.

To conclude the core message of the event: a well-functioning business network is based on reciprocity, in which everyone’s participation matters. A strong network consists of complementary actors rather than competing ones.

Text: Johanna Valkola, Interaction Coordinator
Photo: Riikka Alanko