This Family Office Wants to Solve Global Plastic Crisis: Q&A With Samuel Mikail
Founder, HS Manufacturing Group
Aug 9. 2019 Plastic is as indestructible as it is ubiquitous. The substance’s low production costs and exceptional resistance to biodegradation has led to immense accumulation in our environment. Now, the issue has reached crisis proportions.
The world has produced 6.4 billion tons of plastic since it was invented in the 1950s. Only 9% has been recycled and 12% has been incinerated over that period, leaving the rest to linger in the environment, according to The Economist. Scientists estimate that 90% of sea creatures have at least some plastic debris in their bodies and the total volume of plastic in the oceans will exceed marine life by 2050, according to data published in the General and Comparative Endocrinology journal.
These stark figures caught the attention of veteran entrepreneur Samuel Mikail. A trained engineer, Mikail has spent several years developing companies in the hospitality, real estate and food industries. However, he says he found his calling when he realized the extent of the global plastic waste crisis and uncovered a team that was uniquely equipped to help solve it.
Mikail’s team, now incorporated under the name HS Manufacturing by his family office, have developed PROTĒAN™, a plant-based derivative that is resistant to water, oil, and grease. They believe paper packaging coated with this substance is comparable to industrial-grade plastic and could be the catalyst that solves this looming environmental crisis.
In a recent interview, Mikail described his team’s drive to leave a lasting impact on the environment:
Could you elaborate on the journey of commercializing PROTĒAN™? What drew you to the mission?
The company was started with a specific mission in mind: to reduce global reliance on plastic. Given the regulatory and legislative push, it was the perfect time to find such an innovative solution, but we still needed proper guidance and investment for commercialization.
I came in knowing the potential, but recognized the obstacles we would face in the paper and packaging industry as suppliers and manufacturers were truly reliant on the accessibility of poly-based materials. We would have to work hard to change their minds and applications to be able to provide a truly green barrier coating solution that would provide water-resistant or grease-resistant properties for packaging products. There was no “green-washing” here.
Where does the family office fit in with the group’s structure and overarching mission?
Based on the mission, we had to work hard to assemble a capable team who would be able to rapidly meet the demands to commercialize. The family office was created to move requests and investment quickly and efficiently based on demands. It was a way for us to garner much needed attention without creating a corporate environment. To do this, we avoided the typical hierarchy and created a start-up environment where everyone could bring their ideas, energy, and talents to the table. It wasn’t always easy, but it allowed us to move faster and work better with each other.
What is the investment focus and philosophy and how much of a role does impact investing play?
Any innovative technology requires steady investments to commercialize. We focused on existing paper and packaging applications and sought out customized options through constant research and development. We had to run trials, seek out laboratories and collaborators who could help us identify commercial opportunities, while also developing new applications and responding to inquiries.
Furthermore, we knew that this technology would be disruptive to plastic, plastic films and the reliance on other synthetic materials so the mission came hand in hand. Our goal was to provide a truly green alternative to plastic solutions due to the toll on the environment while taking the social responsibility to educate buyers and consumers.
What is the key environmental issue PROTĒAN™ solves and where does the biggest opportunity market lie?
PROTĒAN™ allows manufacturers to use a cost-effective solution to replace plastic films on food and beverage items, agricultural solutions and certain industrial applications in paper and paperboard manufacturing. We have also discovered options to replace fluorochemicals in oil and grease-resistant packaging.
One of the biggest issues we can solve with this technology is introducing a truly biodegradable coating solution that enhances paper and paperboard products. The potential seems endless at this time as we have seen success with stronger paper bags, increasing water-resistance in paper straws, and enhancing yields in agriculture, packaging, and environmentally friendly food service containers.
What advice would you give to other families looking to embark on the impact investing and/or business journey?
The main reason I invested in this company was to seek out an environmentally friendly solution that would better serve the global problem of overconsumption of single-use plastic packaging. Historically, food service items were all plastic based or utilized plastic films.
However, there has been a trend where manufacturers are returning to paper-based packaging solutions. This is where we come in. We allow these companies to find successful solutions to complete their new product development.
My main piece of advice would be to find your passion and invest in companies that you can align with. There are so many companies out there with great ideas to solve problems, but they just need that extra push by an investor so that they can make a true difference.