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Fungal packaging growing into direct replacement for expanded polystyrene

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25 May 2022

BioFab, a biotechnology company founded by a team including University of Auckland alumni, are making a sustainable alternative to expanded polystyrene. They are using New Zealand fungi to grow a compostable and functional fungal mycelium packaging material they call mushroom packaging. This breakthrough technology for the construction and packaging industries is just their first step on a mission to encourage a world where waste streams regenerate, rather than destroy, our natural environment. 

BioFab’s patented technology is derived from the natural process of mycelium (the vegetative part of mushrooms) growth, which is capable of building macrostructures. Their packaging has been tested to be just as high performing as polystyrene, but without the associated toxicity or need to go to a landfill at the end of its use. Because it is made up of agricultural waste and eco-friendly mycelium, the material can be safely returned to the earth and will decompose within 30 days.

Founding team member and Chief Scientific Officer Jessica Chiang, who is currently studying towards a PhD in biomedical science at the University of Auckland, oversees BioFab’s R&D activities and ensures that they are aligned with the venture’s long term vision. While studying, she was inspired to get involved with innovation and entrepreneurship through Velocity, the University’s student-led entrepreneurship development programme run with the support of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Chiasma, another student-led organisation that fosters the connection between universities and STEM industries. She is also currently chair of UniServices Momentum Investment Committee, which has extended her opportunities for building leadership capability. 

She says, “Through these programmes, I developed an interest in research commercialisation, seeing the process of applying scientific ideas and research into the real world to benefit the environment and society. In 2017, I submitted an idea to the Velocity Innovation Challenge where I won the Bioscience Award. That award gave me confidence in my idea, which inspired me to submit it to a global biotech leadership conference where I ended up getting the top prize. Now, the very same idea has been implemented into the R&D strategy of BioFab.”

Jessica has found that a number of her skills as a scientist have been transferable to her career as an entrepreneur. However, innovation and entrepreneurship have also opened up a broader world of work for her to explore. She explains, “In science, we tend to dive into a narrow research topic. In entrepreneurship, I love being able to work with multiple aspects of the R&D project and look at the bigger picture. 

“The most surprising part of being an entrepreneur has been how many skills I have been able to bring to a business with my science background – skills like being resilient, resourceful, creative, and motivated. For example, the financials of starting a business isn’t easy. It can really feel like you’re stuck with an uncertain future and no guaranteed end date to this dubiety. The traits of resilience and flexibility that came with my scientific training really helped me get through those difficult days.”

Jessica encourages other students who are curious about innovation and entrepreneurship to reach out to others working on projects that they are interested in. She says, “In New Zealand, I’ve found that everyone is super friendly, always up for a cup of coffee, and willing to give advice to students. This paired with hard work and patience means that opportunities will come for those who are prepared.”

Biofab is currently capital raising to build a pilot plant and scale up their production in New Zealand. They will then be aiming to build more production plants in other locations and replace expanded polystyrene with their mushroom packaging across Australasia. Being part of the founding team, Jessica is excited to continue contributing to Biofab’s growth. In the long run, she aspires to use her science training to keep innovating creative biotech solutions that solve environmental issues, and be a part of impactful businesses implementing real change in the world.

University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education
University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education

social media

25 May 2022

BioFab, a biotechnology company founded by a team including University of Auckland alumni, are making a sustainable alternative to expanded polystyrene. They are using New Zealand fungi to grow a compostable and functional fungal mycelium packaging material they call mushroom packaging. This breakthrough technology for the construction and packaging industries is just their first step on a mission to encourage a world where waste streams regenerate, rather than destroy, our natural environment. 

BioFab’s patented technology is derived from the natural process of mycelium (the vegetative part of mushrooms) growth, which is capable of building macrostructures. Their packaging has been tested to be just as high performing as polystyrene, but without the associated toxicity or need to go to a landfill at the end of its use. Because it is made up of agricultural waste and eco-friendly mycelium, the material can be safely returned to the earth and will decompose within 30 days.

Founding team member and Chief Scientific Officer Jessica Chiang, who is currently studying towards a PhD in biomedical science at the University of Auckland, oversees BioFab’s R&D activities and ensures that they are aligned with the venture’s long term vision. While studying, she was inspired to get involved with innovation and entrepreneurship through Velocity, the University’s student-led entrepreneurship development programme run with the support of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Chiasma, another student-led organisation that fosters the connection between universities and STEM industries. She is also currently chair of UniServices Momentum Investment Committee, which has extended her opportunities for building leadership capability. 

She says, “Through these programmes, I developed an interest in research commercialisation, seeing the process of applying scientific ideas and research into the real world to benefit the environment and society. In 2017, I submitted an idea to the Velocity Innovation Challenge where I won the Bioscience Award. That award gave me confidence in my idea, which inspired me to submit it to a global biotech leadership conference where I ended up getting the top prize. Now, the very same idea has been implemented into the R&D strategy of BioFab.”

Jessica has found that a number of her skills as a scientist have been transferable to her career as an entrepreneur. However, innovation and entrepreneurship have also opened up a broader world of work for her to explore. She explains, “In science, we tend to dive into a narrow research topic. In entrepreneurship, I love being able to work with multiple aspects of the R&D project and look at the bigger picture. 

“The most surprising part of being an entrepreneur has been how many skills I have been able to bring to a business with my science background – skills like being resilient, resourceful, creative, and motivated. For example, the financials of starting a business isn’t easy. It can really feel like you’re stuck with an uncertain future and no guaranteed end date to this dubiety. The traits of resilience and flexibility that came with my scientific training really helped me get through those difficult days.”

Jessica encourages other students who are curious about innovation and entrepreneurship to reach out to others working on projects that they are interested in. She says, “In New Zealand, I’ve found that everyone is super friendly, always up for a cup of coffee, and willing to give advice to students. This paired with hard work and patience means that opportunities will come for those who are prepared.”

Biofab is currently capital raising to build a pilot plant and scale up their production in New Zealand. They will then be aiming to build more production plants in other locations and replace expanded polystyrene with their mushroom packaging across Australasia. Being part of the founding team, Jessica is excited to continue contributing to Biofab’s growth. In the long run, she aspires to use her science training to keep innovating creative biotech solutions that solve environmental issues, and be a part of impactful businesses implementing real change in the world.


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