Vision Realized: Dreaming of a Biofabricated Future—and Finding Yourself There

Heading out the door of our Green Island, NY headquarters, scrambling to get to the airport to board a hastily rebooked flight, this one enroute to the Netherlands, where I will be a judge at the Dutch Postcode Lottery’s Green Challengebusiness plan competition September 14th, I paused and had one of those moments where you realize you have just traveled through time. I’m sure it’s not just entrepreneurs who experience this sensation, but for me this time it was triggered because of where I’m headed; I just looked around our office and thought “wow, it actually happened.”

The last thing I packed was the round seat of a new MycoStool™. A second seat has also been shipped, tightly secured in Ecovative mushroom packaging. The team also produced and shipped 300+ mini-desk organizers; gifts for guests at the groundbreaking of the Postcode Lottery’s new headquarters. Insulation manufactured at our Troy facility (or perhaps by a partner in the Netherlands) will one day line its walls.

Why am I so excited? Well, for starters, we actually grew these stools, the seat, the cushioning, the mini-desk organizers, and even the packaging it all is protected with. These are products found in your everyday life that would normally be made using synthetic chemistry. Polystyrene for the packaging, which is polluting our oceans and bio accumulating in our blood, urea-formaldehyde, the cancer causing glue that is used to hold furniture together, and polyurethane the squishy foam in your sofa, that requires a whole other cocktail of chemicals to help make it “fire resistant”.

Instead, we have made furniture with MycoBoard™ panels, supported with MycoFoam™ packaging, and the leather-like seats resiliency comes from MycoFlex, a 100% mycelium foam. Ecovative’s architects, mycologists, engineers, artists, designers, all worked together to turn an idea into a new industry. And it is actually happening.

Back in September 2008, I made a similar scramble for the airport, though this time I was flying standby, hoping for an open seat so I could make it to the Netherlands. On that first trip to the Postcode Green Challenge I nervously rehearsed our presentation 10’s if not 100’s of times, each time getting feedback and guidance from my college classmate, friend, and co-founder Gavin McIntyre. We were among the five finalists in the Green Challenge that year—and we couldn’t believe it. We arrived as a company with a big idea, 2 employees, a lot of data, and a strong desire to disrupt the Polystyrene market. We left with a check for 500,000 Euros, the imprimatur of being selected as the winner of the premier green business competition in the world, and an invaluable ever-expanding global support network.

Winning the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge was one of the key nucleation points in Ecovative’s history (short of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Burt Swersey's “Yes, finally, this is something important” reaction to our Inventors’ Studio class project, and his original investment, both of which brought us to that September day in 2008).

Winning not only gave us the resources to move out of the Rensselaer Incubator and into our future: building our first plant, in Green Island NY. It also brought us a global audience to share our vision to mainstream the manufacturing of healthy materials, biofabricated with living organisms.

Eight years ago the Green Challenge fueled the next stage of our growth. Today, as I head back to the Netherlands as a jurist reviewing new entrepreneurial ideas to create a safer, healthier planet, I remain in awe of what our team has accomplished, and what other entrepreneurs have done in this field

Gavin and I built the company on the breakthrough idea to use mycelium—“nature’s glue”—to grow high performance products that are safe, healthy, and certified sustainable. Ecovative was the pioneer and is now world leader in mycelium-based biomaterials. 

Fortune 500 companies like Dell trust our Mushroom® packaging to ship their goods. Furniture manufactures like Gunlocke use our MycoBoard™ panels to construct their award winning furniture. We are working with giant particleboard mills to convert their production process to incorporate our mResin™ technology, instead of toxic glues. Innovative designers like Daniele Trofe use our GIY Mushroom™Materials to produce MushLume lamps. And Ecovative—80+ and growing—is positioned the launch a new line of safe, healthy, sustainable grown furniture in October, all predicated on the principles of the circular economy—and enabled by biology. The worlds most advanced technology.

The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge is described as

“being inspired by President Clinton to look for those dedicated entrepreneurs with brilliant green business plans. Plans that are ready to speed up the transition towards a low carbon economy. The answers to the issues of our time are already in front of us. But it takes entrepreneurs like our former finalists to raise those answers and get them out into the world."

It is fair to say, for us, thanks to them: vision realized.

- Eben Bayer