It all started out as a class project.
David D’Angelo was intrigued by the concept of biodegradable forks, knives, spoons and other utensils, a technology his father stumbled across while running factories in China.
So, D’Angelo presented the idea to his entrepreneurship professor Teresa Menzies, who “really liked” the pitch. As his course assignment in his fourth year, he wrote out a formal business plan.
“At first, I was just doing it as a class project,” recalls the 21-year-old. “As I started to get into it, I got more passionate about it. Eventually, now, it turned into my current business.”
As he begins his business, D’Angelo will focus initially on producing biodegradable cosmetics containers.
“It’s really never been done in the cosmetics industry before,” he says. “There’s never been a biodegradable or compostable jar that you could put anything into.”
Also, says D’Angelo, the demand for cosmetic products is consistently high, relatively insensitive to economic downturns, and has a higher profit margin than utensils.
He notes that with a rising volume of organic-based cosmetics being produced, “this is a perfect fit.”
But the big question is how do you produce a container that’s biodegradable but will also hold creams and other materials without disintegrating?
Coat the container with a substance that will preserve the integrity of the container.
That’s where Paul Zelisko, Brock’s only polymer chemist, comes in. He and D’Angelo are finalizing the terms of a project to come up with such a coating.
Zelisko explains that the coating has to meet strict criteria, including protecting the package, not interfering with the chemical composition of the cosmetic it is holding, and the coating itself has to be biodegradable.
“You don’t want this thing essentially turning into compost on the store shelf or in your bathroom,” says Zelisko. “The last thing you want is a cold cream that turns black when it’s in contact with the coating - it won’t sell that well.”
Zelisko says that within the next six months, he’ll be conducting experiments to understand how various polymers interact with the containers and how to apply them to packaging, among other things.
Polymers are chemical compounds or mixtures of compounds consisting of repeated structural units that occur naturally or synthetically. Examples of natural polymers are cellulose, shellac and amber.
“I’ve always been a big fan of science with practical applications,” says Zelisko. “In reality, there’s a lot of fundamental science that needs to be developed. It just so happens that at the end of the day, somebody gets a product, or the university gets a license that they can work with.”
D’Angelo, is equally enthusiastic about his partnership with Brock.
“As I grow, Brock is going to grow with their business incubator,” says D’Angelo, who plans to run the company with his father and long-time family friend Bob Birrell. “We want the relationship to be mutually beneficial.”