Published on
15/5/2024
24/5/2024

What I’ve learnt: Carlo Fedeli, CEO of FlexSea

Carlo Fedeli, CEO of seaweed biomaterials company FlexSea, shares his business journey so far – and his innovative vision for a more sustainable future.

A turtle eating plastic in the ocean
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FlexSea was born out of a brainwave in the pandemic with the sole mission of using seaweed as a natural alternative to single-use plastic packaging. After it won Battle of Minds in 2022 – a global pitch competition run by BAT in partnership with BTV to discover and fund the next generation of changemakers – BTV invested into the start-up. Since then, FlexSea has become a leading supplier of seaweed-derived polymers that can be used in traditional processes to create rigid and semi-rigid packaging to replace harmful plastics. Here, Carlo sits down with BTV to talk about his vision, mission and ambition for the future.

For those who haven’t heard about FlexSea before, can you give us a bit of background on the company?

“FlexSea is a company whose concept I conceived of during lockdown in 2020 and was officially incorporated by myself as CEO and Thibaut Monfort Micheo as CTO and co-founder in 2021. Our mission is to use a renewable and sustainable marine natural resource, seaweed, to produce novel biomaterials that are naturally home-compostable to replace single-use plastic packaging. Our core ethos is that the packaging of the future is born in nature, serves its purpose and returns to nature in a harmless way. 

Today, FlexSea supplies a ‘plug-and-play’ solution in the form of a pellet that can be readily used in traditional plastic processes such as injection moulding to create rigid and semi-rigid items.

Additionally, FlexSea repurposes waste seaweed created throughout its process to produce high-end natural polymers, with applications spanning a range of products and markets. Seaweed is a resource that’s too valuable not to utilise to its full potential!”

What are the key differences and benefits of FlexSea over other biodegradable and biobased plastics?

“The current single-use plastic industry is dominated by petroleum products. There are other bioplastics on the market today, such as PLA, which is only industrially-compostable, and PHA/PHB, which, while being home-compostable, is incredibly expensive in its production method and derived from land crops such as sugarcane and corn that require scarce resources such as arable land and fresh water. Seaweed needs none of these, grows much faster – it has 45-day cultivation cycles – while we have absolutely no petroleum product or terrestrial source in ours. 

While there are other companies developing bioplastics from seaweed, what makes us different is that we use red seaweed, which is more abundant, richer in biopolymers and easier to cultivate at scale, whereas others use brown seaweed that’s wildly harvested and represents a smaller raw material pool.”

How does the brand deliver cut-through in the market?

“We don’t want to revolutionise how the world interacts with plastic, but rather how plastic interacts with the world. For this reason, all our products are compatible with existing machinery and processes, while our materials can be tailored to fit specific end application needs, retaining their biobased and home-compostable unique selling points.”

Why is traditional plastic packaging such a problem?

“Amongst plastic’s biggest strengths is its biggest weakness: it’s incredibly cheap and durable. It’s very easy and quick for companies to source a traditional polyethylene or polypropylene with minimal investment and no risk. We’re seeking the innovators with the courage to join us towards making seaweed biomaterials commercially and industrially available at scale.”

What are the key challenges for sustainable plastic to replace traditional plastics?

“There’s no ‘silver bullet’ for one material or even one company to replace all plastic, neither would it make sense. There are some applications where plastic has a place, and it’s the role of FlexSea and other innovators in the ecosystem to collaborate and replace plastic where and when it makes sense.”

As the CEO, can you tell us your story, from conception to launch, and where you currently are on your journey?

“I started off prototyping the first FlexSea formulations on my balcony during the Covid lockdown. What was initially an interest quickly turned into a hobby and even quicker into the idea of a start-up. Although I don’t have formal training in chemistry, I’ve always been passionate about it and self-studied. To this day, I understand the science going on behind the scenes at FlexSea, to the point of being able to make suggestions and have input with the technical team.

Holding the first prototype in my hands of a FlexSea transparent film, I decided to research a business case around it, and fast-forward a year, I called up my old friend Thibaut and quickly co-founded FlexSea.

My background is in management – I’m a business school boy! – while Thibaut is a materials scientist and engineer. It’s the essential mix of technical and business acumen you need in a start-up team.

We started developing further prototypes while actively fundraising and gaining initial market traction and managed to secure our first seed funding – a mix of private investor and VC money – in April 2022. Following this, we increased our team size and improved our product offering, culminating in our seed funding round in the summer of 2023.”

What opportunities excite you most about partnering with BAT in the development of non-tobacco products in the form of your seaweed biomaterials?

“First and foremost, the opportunity to be able to cooperate with such a large company that has the ‘weight' to help bring a solution like ours to the market. BAT is connecting us with its network and testing facilities to help speed up our R&D and go-to-market trajectory.” 

What are your future plans for FlexSea?

“We’re moving into a much larger commercial plant in the UK’s midlands area, which will be the main home of FlexSea. This will allow us to house heavy industrial machinery and start pilot scale production.

With our Series A funding round coming up next year, the plan is to set up a large commercial and production operation in Europe as well as the UK, and to expand the portfolio of materials that we sell, making plastic packaging a thing of the past and seaweed biomaterials a true solution.”

To find out more, visit flex-sea.com

Written by
Jamie Price
Sustainability Investment Associate
Written by
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