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[Korean Startup Interview] EARTHFORM : Eco-Friendly Packaging and Buffering Material Production Using Mushroom Mycelium and Agricultural Byproducts

2024-05-17 6 min read

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[Korean Startup Interview] EARTHFORM : Eco-Friendly Packaging and Buffering Material Production Using Mushroom Mycelium and Agricultural Byproducts

Reading Time: 6 minutes
  • funding Stage : Seed
  • Raising Amount : KRW 500 M
  • Desired Fundraising Timeframe : 2Q 2024

ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) management and environmentally friendly initiatives promoting sustainability are accelerating globally. Companies are expanding the “plastic free” mantra by introducing alternatives like bioplastics, reusable packaging, biodegradable seals, and eco-friendly cushioning materials. There’s a vibrant ecosystem supporting the discovery and nurturing of outstanding social ventures in related fields. Among startups pioneering the plastic-free movement, EARTHFORM stands out for its innovative use of mushroom mycelium, an unconventional raw material for packaging and cushioning.

EARTHFORM aims to tackle the rampant use of disposable items and the consequent carbon emission issue. Focusing on replacing styrofoam, it utilizes agricultural byproducts and mushroom mycelium to create packaging and cushioning materials that decompose within 50 days under normal soil conditions, leaving no harmful residues and usable as compost.

The driving force behind EARTHFORM’s success in achieving product scale without external investment lies in CEO Jeong Seong-il’s network and expertise gained in the manufacturing sector. With over a decade of hands-on experience and recognition through patents and technology transfers, EARTHFORM has developed over 20 mycelium-based products, showcasing diverse shapes and suitable packaging solutions for various industries.

To propel its next phase, CEO Jeong Seong-il emphasizes EARTHFORM’s clear technological roadmap and business strategy. Despite being a small team without extensive marketing or branding, EARTHFORM consistently receives inquiries for production and material, fostering collaborations that expand its network and customer base. Jeong Seong-il also notes the advantage of being ahead of the curve in addressing the lack of clear solutions to stringent legal regulations among major corporations.

Replacing Styrofoam with Eco-Friendly Materials

The problem EARTHFORM aims to address is the indiscriminate use of disposable items, particularly the serious issue of carbon emissions associated with EPS (Expanded Polystyrene), commonly known as Styrofoam. EARTHFORM focuses on being a substitute for EPS, the most widely used form of Styrofoam. EARTHFORM typically decomposes within 50 days under normal soil conditions, with the advantage of producing no harmful substances during natural decomposition.

Introducing EARTHFORM’s eco-friendly production process, the first step involves inoculating mycelium in a mixture of agricultural byproducts such as sawdust and natural extracts developed by EARTHFORM. This mixture is then placed in molds and allowed to grow. Once the mycelium has sufficiently grown, the material is removed from the molds and dried, resulting in a sturdy eco-friendly material. Disposal and recycling methods include composting, reusing as raw material after collection, and minimal carbon emissions during landfill or incineration, making it environmentally friendly in all aspects. Moreover, simply breaking it up and disposing of it in the backyard can enrich the soil.

Firmer than bricks yet softer than sponges

EARTHFORM’s main advantage lies in its ability to establish a resource circulation system using raw materials that would otherwise incur costs and energy for disposal. EARTHFORM’s raw materials include agricultural byproducts such as sawdust from dead trees, shellfish shells, potato skins, and beer residue, which can be easily processed into raw materials with simple grinding and sterilization processes. Through this resource circulation system and the production and consumption of eco-friendly products, EARTHFORM contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change.

EARTHFORM has currently developed over 20 mycelium strains for productization, offering a variety of product recipes with diverse physical characteristics suitable for various domains. Additionally, EARTHFORM has collaborated with two of the top mycological institutions in South Korea. They collaborate with the Rural Development Administration in technology transfer and joint research projects and source mycelium from the National Institute of Forest Science, which holds nearly all mycelium species on the Korean Peninsula, to accelerate research.

Accelerating Growth in the Packaging/Buffering Market

EARTHFORM is the first in South Korea to produce mycelium-based material products. Since last year, they have delivered 12,000 packages for a perfume brand and are expanding their monthly delivery contract size. In the latter half of this year, they plan to manufacture five types of cosmetic brand packages that can synergize with EARTHFORM’s core values. They are expanding the utilization of mycelium-based materials not only in eco-friendly packaging and buffering areas but also in interior design and Visual Merchandising Display (VMD) areas.

The eco-friendly packaging and buffering market is experiencing rapid growth. EARTHFORM aims to target the 1.3 trillion won market of environmentally sensitive cosmetic brands and small household appliances in the domestic eco-friendly packaging and buffering market until 2026.

EARTHFORM’s business model targeting related markets is simple. In the B2G sector, they provide EARTHFORM manufacturing solutions tailored to each region, offering a stable revenue source through a licensing business. In the B2B sector, they offer finished product delivery business providing companies with customized stories and planning for eco-friendly packages. After advanced development, standardized mass-produced buffering materials will become the main product.

Aggressive mass production backed by diverse manufacturing experiences and remarkable technological achievements

The primary reason why EARTHFORM, an early-stage startup, can aggressively enter mass production is its specialized manufacturing history. The CEO operates a processing factory capable of various processing methods for materials and areas, providing custom-made solutions for architects, artists, and various startup companies’ technological needs. Over the past 10 years, he has accumulated practical experience as a diverse product manufacturer and automation equipment expert, possessing the experience and know-how to stabilize businesses even without external investment. Based on this strength, EARTHFORM demonstrated its business capabilities and market potential over the past year without additional fundraising.

Furthermore, the EARTHFORM team is led by a veteran CTO with a master’s degree in botany and over 10 years of research experience in related fields. They lead the research and development of core technologies related to mycelium.

So far, EARTHFORM has completed two patent registrations, four applications, and five technology transfers (from the Rural Development Administration). They have been engaged in business activities with major corporations, including conducting joint research with Samsung Global Technology Institute under an NDA, collaborating with Amorepacific Open Innovation, and executing joint planning projects in the interior and VMD (Visual Merchandising and Design) areas with SPC Research Institute, and are conducting on-site verification with the Rural Development Administration and joint research on mycelium with the National Institute of Forest Science. They have passed waste process testing standards, ROHS regulations, and biodegradability certification tests. They completed four mass productions in 2023 and secured five new mass production orders this year.

Three reasons why we need investment!

First, we have a clearly defined technology roadmap and business strategy. We have achieved all milestones proposed to the team members early last year and have had a successful year. Now, we believe we need a good investment partner who can provide not only internal team momentum but also significant synergy for mutual growth.

Second, there is a demand from our customers. Despite being a small startup with limited aggressive marketing or promotional strategies, EARTHFORM receives production inquiries every day. We are discovering the potential of EARTHFORM materials not only in the core business areas but also in various domains we had not considered before, proving its possibilities in diverse fields.

Third, the trend of the eco-friendly packaging and buffering market is not only global but also increasingly focused on a worldwide scale. Consequently, robust legal regulations are being enforced, and there is active movement from relevant agencies and major corporations. To align with this trend, EARTHFORM is collaborating with two of the most reputable research institutions domestically and preparing for the future with the largest-scale product manufacturers in Korea (Samsung, Amorepacific, etc.). With the expected explosion of results in 2026 when legal regulations are fully enforced, and joint research and planning are simultaneously conducted, we believe EARTHFORM has tremendous potential.

[Korean Startup Interview]


스타트업 투자의 숨은 말 '다코스'
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