First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Giovanna Laudisio: We are all well, thanks for asking. Our operations are based at the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Bath, and several measures have been put in place to protect the students, the researchers, and Naturbeads employees.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Naturbeads.
Giovanna Laudisio: I worked as a scientist and technology manager in DuPont for 7 years before deciding I wanted a change in my career, and I started to explore the technology transfer world, first at NUS Enterprise, the technology transfer office of the National University of Singapore, and then in a Venture Building company. There I developed my expertise in identifying technologies that are ready for the market. When I heard about the work that my co-founders Davide and Janet were doing, we decided that the technology had good potential, and we incorporated a company together.
How does Naturbeads innovate?
Giovanna Laudisio: Naturbeads is addressing one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: plastic pollution. For this reason, we are able to attract employees highly motivated who are innovative in problem-solving. In addition, as a startup, we constantly develop creative solutions to the problems we identify every day in our operations, where everyone can contribute, from the technicians to the chemists and the engineer. Because we are also young and agile, companies contact us with their challenges to replace plastic that major corporations would not be interested in tackling.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Giovanna Laudisio: During the first lockdown, the University of Bath had to close all the laboratories, and for this reason, we were shut down for three months. This delayed our operations, and we are still working to catch up with the backlog of materials requests we received. Testing at our customers also has been delayed as laboratories are closed, or projects are re-prioritized.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Giovanna Laudisio: We had to furlough two employees that could not work in the laboratory nor from home. This has been really stressful because we didn’t know how long it would last and how it would affect our cash flow since we decided to top up the government’s 80% to pay a full salary. However, it was the right decision. I strongly believe that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and we have a highly committed team to deliver on our customers’ requests.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Giovanna Laudisio: To be honest, I am still learning how to deal with the stress and the highs and lows of the entrepreneur’s life. I am trying to put into practice the advice of my coach, Matt, and I am supported by a great partner.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Giovanna Laudisio: There are other materials that can be manufactured in spherical form, but cellulose, which we use for our beads, has several advantages: 100% natural and very stable in different chemical environments. We leverage the R&D done at the University, and we combine it with our business approach to create a pipeline of new products to replace plastic in multiple applications. Our ambition is to be recognized as a provider of innovative solutions to address plastic pollution.
Your final thoughts?
Giovanna Laudisio: I believe that one’ silver lining’ of this pandemic has been an increased awareness of climate change and environmental emergencies. There is hope that when we finally return to normality, consumers will choose products responsibly. This will help companies like Naturbeads that are working to reduce our impact on the environment.