John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past nine years. He knows their ups, their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for the CoFounders of c2renew, Chad Ulven and Corey Kratcha.
- Will you please tell us your c2renew elevator pitch?
C2renew is a biocomposite materials manufacturer. We take different types of waste products, e.g. agricultural waste (hemp, flax, cotton, wood), food waste (spent grains, coffee), and more unique waste products (upcycled landfill waste) and mix that with varying types of plastics (bio-based and/or petroleum) that are sold to injection molders or extruders for shaping into final products.
- To give the readers a visualization, will you please describe some products that were manufactured out of your materials and solutions?
We have produced materials for several different companies and applications in various industries, a few which are local to ND would be materials with Bogobrush, Earthkind and 3DFuel. Applications our biocomposite materials go into range from consumer products (toothbrushes, repellant holders, golf tees) to product packaging (CBD oil) to additive manufacturing (3D printer filament).
- Like some primary sector companies here, especially those in the B2B space, a lot of what they do or make is behind the scenes, and the average person has no idea they exist or what they do. However, what they do is an integral part of helping those other, more visible, companies create their products. Being one of those behindthe-scenes companies, how do you engage with new clients and/or how do they engage with you?
New customers often come to us via online searches for a specific composite material. For example, we will get a cold email that will indicate the company is looking for a hemp composite and they came across c2renew while searching for it online. We also get a fair number of referrals from people and companies we have done work with or for. Even though we have had some success this way it is still challenging to grow our presence when we are so behind the scenes. Therefore, we always appreciate the opportunity of being highlighted like we are for this article.
- It’s quite interesting, the integrated ecosystem we have here locally in additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing). Some examples are what you are doing with the composite materials; 3DFuel manufacturing the filament; FAME 3D (LulzBot) manufacturing printers; plus activity at NDSU. And being on the inside of all that, what are your impressions of the uniqueness and potential competitive advantage of this ecosystem?
We aren’t aware of many places that can take a waste stream and turn it into a viable product through the entire production process within such close proximity. A hypothetical example of that would be hemp being processed in southern North Dakota, sent to c2renew and converted to a composite, moved over to 3DFuel and made into filament, and then shipped to an agricultural manufacturer that uses it on a Lulzbot printer to make a mounting fixture for one of their equipment lines. In this hypothetical, a part that would be made on demand within 40 miles of where everything originated. That would give local manufacturing a whole new meaning.
- From prior conversations, I know you have thoughts on the concept and further opportunities of these vertical or collaborative integrations, especially as it relates to both agriculture and sustainability. Will you please say a few words on what you think that could mean for our region and companies like you?
North Dakota has a unique advantage compared to other places as it relates to agriculture, technology and sustainability. Where else do you have a research university known for its agricultural prowess, a collection of the world’s largest agricultural equipment manufacturers, the best and brightest agricultural producers anywhere, some of the sharpest technology minds to create innovative digital technology, and oh by the way, a state government focused on bringing these together to create massive change in sustainability. The answer is only in North Dakota. We are fortunate to be a small part of that opportunity. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to get to the finish line. This is an area we are passionate about and could go on for three more pages in this article about.
- Chad, you balance working part-time on c2renew while also being a fulltime professor at NDSU. How do you personally balance that, but also how does it work at NDSU to help foster that marriage of in-stitutional research & innovation with commercialization?
NDSU has really grown and evolved as a university over the past decade or so to be very supportive of the entrepreneurial efforts of its faculty and staff who want to see and participate in the transition of technology from the laboratory benchtop to industrial and commercial use. NDSU has established policies and practices, such as conflict of interest management, in order to help everyone involved navigate these unique situations. More excitingly, broad multidisciplinary collaboration amongst different disciplines of science, engineering and business is encouraged by the administration for faculty and students alike to spur innovative ideas that can positively impact the state and surrounding region.
- Speaking of NDSU, I know your company has been a proponent of the value of using interns. Will you please tell me your process of finding & managing interns as well as the value of these efforts?
We have always worked with NDSU to find the best and brightest employees to work at c2renew, usually starting as interns or parttime positions and hopefully growing into full-time employees at some point. NDSU has an excellent Career and Advising Center that companies can work with to recruit and interview students for internships and full time positions. We are so proud of where our past student interns and part time employees have ended up, ranging from major agricultural equipment manufacturers to national labs to faculty positions at the university.
- This focus has primarily been on c2renew and your materials side of things, but you also have your sensor business. To not totally neglect that, will you briefly explain to the readers your capabilities and services with that?
We have always looked for ways to build on c2renew’s core technology and the sensor business was born out of that. One of the primary features of the sensors we have created is that they don’t need to be retrieved after being placed in the soil because they were made from a bio-based substrate. As we continued to build out that technology, it allowed us to expand the capability of the sensor and explore other industries and opportunities. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are excited about what will come out of these efforts as well.
- If you could go back in time to Chad and Corey from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
always trust your gut and don’t doubt yourself.
- What can we do as a community to help c2renew succeed?
As was discussed in an earlier question, I think there is a great opportunity to expand the additive manufacturing ecosystem. The right mix of partners are here to take this segment of the industry to new heights. We would love to connect with anyone interested in learning more about materials for additive manufacturing or sustainable products.