Genecis Bioindustries, a Toronto-based company that transforms food waste into bioplastics, is the first company in its sector to receive an investment from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, as well as the first female-led company.
Genecis was founded by CEO Luna Yu, a 28-year-old University of Toronto environmental science graduate who previously co-founded and built two software startups.
The company’s process turns organic waste (like food scraps) into a biodegradable bioplastic through specialized bacteria that eats carbon-based waste and generates fatty acids. Those fatty acids are used as feed stock for a second group of bacteria that converts them into a polymer called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs)
Genecis claims PHAs match the performance of traditional plastics, while being biodegradable, non-toxic and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent.
The bioplastics are designed to help solve plastic waste concerns around packaging, single-use utensils, cups and plates, and medical tools and products.
Amazon’s climate fund investment
Yu’s company is the first of its kind – addressing petroleum-based plastics – to receive funding from Amazon’s US$2-billion Climate Pledge Fund.
The fund set aside US$50 million to invest in climate tech companies led by female entrepreneurs through its Female Founder Initiative to help bridge the funding gap that exists for women in climate tech.
Yu is also the first female CEO to receive investment support through the Female Founder Initiative. The Climate Pledge Fund said it does not disclose financial details of the investments it makes.
It previously invested in another Canadian climate tech company, CarbonCure, which traps carbon dioxide in concrete.
In a release, Yu said she was inspired to start Genecis by a university friend who started her own climate tech company: “I realized that if she could do it, I shouldn’t let anything stop me. I hope my path and story will encourage more women to develop their climate change solutions, too.”
Phoebe Wang, an investment partner and head of the Female Founder Initiative, said in the release: “If we want to address climate change at scale, women like Luna need resources to build their companies. By funding more companies like Genecis, we aim to send a ripple effect through the venture capital industry to encourage broader support for more female climate tech founders.”
Amazon is considering potential uses for the Genecis technology. The tech giant says Genecis’ bioplastics could allow Amazon customers to receive grocery and pharmacy items in biodegradable packaging.
Amazon has been criticized for its plastic waste by ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana, alleging an 18 per cent increase in plastic waste from 2020 to 2021 – translating into 709 million pounds of plastic waste in 2021.
The company says it is reducing its plastic waste and improving recyclability, such as investing in technologies and materials that have helped reduce the weight of per-shipment packaging by 38 per cent.
Genecis’ past and future
In an email exchange, DeLaine Mayer, head of partner success at Genecis, outlined the company's progress. In 2022, Genecis added an additional 7,000-square-foot facility in downtown Toronto to serve as its main office and R&D-scale assets, while keeping its original 8,000-square-foot lab and office space in Scarborough to house its reactors and fermentation technology.
In August 2022, Genecis raised US$10 million to accelerate the launch of its first set of products onto the market with its partners. It is developing its first demonstration unit at a StormFisher biogas plant in London, Ont., where Genecis will scale its fermentation technology, Mayer said.
She added the company is custom-designing a medical-grade PHA for a pharmaceutical partner and is working with a large food manufacturer to develop home-compostable single-use packaging for a target food product that is sold by the hundreds of millions through the name brand of "one of the largest restaurant chains in the world."
"Genecis has grown from a team of 20 in 2020 to a team of 45 and counting. We are implementing IT and HR solutions in-house as our operational and research capacity expand," Mayer said. "We’re also growing our business development, fermentation, and product development teams to enable faster and more efficient deployment of new PHA-based products while we scale our waste-to-PHA technology."
The company plans to launch products with its partners and its own brands in 2023.