Jack (Tato) Bigio of UBQ Materials tells us about the conversion of 100% household waste into a novel thermoplastic material.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jack (Tato) Bigio: Thank you very much for asking. We are doing well, feeling very lucky to be in Israel these days, where the vaccine distribution is in such advanced stages. We are doing everything to stay safe and wish us all a healthy and rewarding 2021.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded UBQ Materials.
Jack (Tato) Bigio: For many years, I worked at an international project development company, being at the leading team as SVP Operations and Finance. This gave me broad experience in structuring international projects that basically started from scratch. To bring these ventures to fruition, we had to be creative, daring, entrepreneurial transferring, know-how, financing, technology, and expertise from county to country. We often worked in challenging conditions in developing countries and had to envision the pieces of the puzzle in order to create the infrastructure for the establishment of advanced industrial factories, infrastructure projects, and processing plants. Over time, this led us to become one of Israel’s largest companies. I was lucky to be then appointed as President and CEO of a NASDAQ-traded investment company. These were five enriching years, working with leading financial institutions and strategic partners; this position was particularly interesting because we had over 40 startups in various development stages and different industries amongst the many holdings we managed. Ten years ago, I met Yehuda Pearl, an entrepreneur, a prominent businessman from New York, and also a Rabi. He is the founder of the leading hummus brand Sabra that was later acquired by PepsiCo. When we met, Yehuda was involved in the very early stages of an idea to convert household garbage into usable material. We established UBQ Materials in 2012 and developed the idea into a proprietary process technology that can efficiently convert 100% household waste into a novel thermoplastic material that is usable in current manufacturing industries. What this means is that we can divert landfill-destined waste and turn it into a material that can substitute oil-based plastics, wood, or minerals in standard processes. A few months after establishing the company, we met Albert Douer, co-owner, and CEO of an international family-owned plastic conglomerate – he understood the enormous potential of UBQ™, a circular solution that up-cycles waste into a sustainable and valuable material. Albert joined our team to become a leading investor and a most valuable strategic partner.
How does UBQ Materials innovate?
Jack (Tato) Bigio: UBQ Materials is the only company in the world that can take the mixed material streams of household garbage destined to landfills – anything from food leftovers to paper, cardboard, dirty diapers, and mixed plastics – and without the need to separate, convert these materials into one consistent thermoplastic raw material for the plastic industry. We call this material UBQ™, a sustainable, bio-based alternative to conventional plastics, the most climate-positive thermoplastic on the market, as certified by sustainability leader Quantis from Switzerland.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Jack (Tato) Bigio: As has been the case for many other companies, we have weathered through significant challenges throughout 2020 to keep our operations running smoothly. Through the hard work of a remarkable team, our partners’ commitment, and some luck, we overcome most of these challenges and are continuing in our development and the normal course of business activities. It is no doubt that this pandemic has helped people realize how important it is to keep our environment clean and safe and the importance of working together on a global scale to cope with big challenges, the depletion of our natural resources, and climate change.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Jack (Tato) Bigio: No, fortunately, we continued to work and have actually expanded our team.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Jack (Tato) Bigio: UBQ began commercializing its UBQ™ material in late 2018 following years of research and development of our process and material and upon completing the necessary standards and certifications to abide by the highest standards. Since then, we have expanded our business development and sales team and incorporated advanced support systems from our ERP in the factory to our CRM, aiming to meet top standards of excellence in support of our growing customer base, which includes leading companies such as Mercedes Benz, McDonald’s, Mainetti, Motherson and others.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Jack (Tato) Bigio: During this period, we did not receive any specific COVID-19 government grant. Luckily though, during the last 3 years, UBQ has secured Israel Innovation Authority grants to expand the scope of its research in order to advance new generations of UBQ™ materials. Your final thoughts I believe one of the biggest lessons that COVID-19 brought with it is that we have to work together, as a global community, in order to overcome challenges. Today’s climate emergency is one of the biggest challenges, and therefore, we need to adopt technologies, processes, and materials that support a more sustainable way of life so that we can leave a better planet for our children.