It was almost a decade ago Jeremy Lang had an idea for a better cellphone case.
It was in 2012 when Lang told Yorkton This Week he recognized plastic simply does not deteriorate in landfills, and he felt then there was an alternative.
"I read somewhere that pretty much every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists today, and less than eight per cent of plastic is recycled," he told YTW. "This made me have a closer look at the amount of plastic we use and potential alternatives."
Lang said there is an option.
"Bioplastic is becoming an eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastic, but its uses have been limited to single use items, such as utensils, due to its brittle characteristics," he said. "Historic research has shown that flax fibre could be used to strengthen conventional plastic, but there was no research on using flax fibre to strengthen bioplastic. I wanted to see if flax fibre and shive could be added to bioplastic to increase its strength and make it applicable to more consumer products."
Thinking about flax straw was a natural for Lang who went to the University of Saskatchewan where he received his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 2000.
"Saskatchewan is one of the largest oil seed flax producers in the world and I always found it odd that we often burn the flax straw (and flax fibre) because the fibre makes it difficult to manage in the field, yet they grow flax specifically for the straw and fibre in Europe," he said.
"There has been a lot of research conducted at the University of Saskatchewan to attempt to find ways to make better use of the flax straw in Saskatchewan, but no consumer products have been produced here to date. I wanted to try to find a way to use our flax straw in a consumer product."
The idea would become the basis for the company Pela. After much research, trial and error, Lang created a material called Flaxstic™, a unique blend of plant-based biopolymer mixed with flax shive, an annually renewable waste by-product of the flax oilseed harvest in Canada.
Pela’s flagship phone case completely breaks down into carbon, water, and organic biomass. Meaning that you can put it into the compost when you’re finished with it, noted a recent company release.
Pela also develops other products made of environmentally sensible materials that educate and inspire a global community of people who are committed to making a positive impact on our planet.
Originally based in Saskatoon, but now transitioning to Kelowna, BC., Pela has taken another step in its growth, signing a major partnership deal announcing it has closed a $5M round of funding. Marcy Venture Partners, the consumer focused VC fund co-founded by JAY-Z, Jay Brown, and Larry Marcus led the round with Toronto-based Kensington Capital.
The capital is being used to fuel rapid expansion of the company’s leading products in phone protection, Lang told Yorkton This Week Thursday. He said thanks to growth the firm will go from the current 25 staff at its Kelowna location to 40 in the near future.
“It gives us the resources to grow,” he said.
The partnership is one being seen as advantageous by both sides.
“Pela has incredible values and offers incredible value in its products,” said Larry Marcus, Co-Founder and Managing Director of MVP, in a company release. “Matt Bertulli and the team are tapped into the tuned-in, conscious and discerning consumer that cares about what they buy. Their products offer a powerful combination of utility, design and sustainability.”
“Part of what excited us about partnering with Marcy Venture Partners is their experience in identifying and amplifying cultural trends,” said CEO of Pela, Bertulli, who Lang took on as a partner to help grow the business. “To us, there’s nothing more important than continuing to be a leader in a large global movement toward sustainable consumerism and we’re very excited to have the support of MVP.”
Certainly the cellphone accessory market is a massive one, at about $20 billion annually worldwide, said Lang.
While Pela has grown 3,609 per cent in the last five years, in 2018 they also made significant strides toward creating a waste free future. From preventing 42,504 pounds of plastic from entering the waste stream, protecting 6,462 feet of coastline, 4.5 million miles of ocean and contributing $95,439.66 toward one per cent ‘For The Planet’.
Lang said the next step in growth will be getting their products to a broader audience. While primarily relying on online sales to-date, Pela is poised to take their cases to retail outlets.
“We’ll be in Target in the United States soon, which is pretty exciting,” said Lang, adding it is one more avenue allowing more people to be aware of the environmentally sustainable option.
“Most people when offered a more sustainable option will take it,” he said.