The Genealogy of Samsara Eco

Innovation happens because of people. This is how a few of them made an infinite plastic recycling company

The chaotic froth of interactions that led to a wireless internet

Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, once shared this drawing with me. It shows how WiFi came to be invented.

Look at it! Messy, but marvellous. It is the froth of innovation in action.

‘Innovation’. Post-it notes, hackathons and demo days. Smoke without fire perhaps? This story is about innovation and how it happens in the real world rather than the diagrams in slide decks many of us have created. For example, here’s one I have built before for our Venture Science work.

The simple model for Venture Science company building. Look at how straight and perfect the experience is. If only it was that simple!

If only it were that simple. But it can be helpful to think in this way to get a plan together which puts the people on an initial road. The actual process is messy, hard and hopelessly inefficient. A process that needs people who are committed and aligned to make it to the starting line and who know it is an art as much as it is a science. People that have learned that it is worth strapping on the flip-flops to start the journey up the icy hill because the thing they imagine must exist.

At the top of the hill in this story is a promise of a world that can infinitely recycle plastic, ultimately ceasing the production of plastic from fossil fuels and removing the 9 billion tonnes we have created since Wallace Carothers invented nylon in 1935.

This is the story about how Samsara Eco was born. Most of all, it is a celebration of the people that got it there.

Inspired by the Genealogy of WIFI above, here is an attempt at the Genealogy of Samsara.

The messy forth of interactions and relationships that led to an infinite plastic recycling company.

Ready without knowing it

The people of Samsara came together before Samsara was an idea. They came together from projects that never happened, from ideas that we wanted to do together but could not get up the hill. Nevertheless, we learned that we liked working together and were driven by similar beliefs and ambitions.

In 2019, while hunting for Main Sequence, I met Greg Bland. Whilst he works for CSIRO, he spends his time inside Woolworths, helping their business to find advantage in the Australian research system. He started our Venture Science conversation with Woolworths. There we met Jim Fader who was heading up Fresh Food Co and we brought in v2food as an exemplar. We explored investment opportunities but did not get there. We explored own brand opportunities which also did not get there. We explored ranging v2food which did not get there (initially). But that’s OK, Greg had opened our eyes to this fascinating organisation and we could see a common mission in the people to deliver a sustainable future food system. Jim Fader later resigned from Woolworths and carried the flame of this mission. Later that year we brought Jim into Main Sequence as an entrepreneur-in-residence where he founded Eden Brew — an animal-free dairy company — under our Venture Science model.

Next Main Sequence ran a project to invest in the incredible Future Feed technology invented in CSIRO and known to the Main Sequence team through our collaboration with the Future Feed team during CSIRO’s ON Accelerator. We had a collective vision for a new supply chain that began with scaled production of seaweed and ended with carbon neutral beef celebrated on the shelves of the supermarkets. Greg introduced us to Peter Bruce who was heading up Woolworths sustainability arm — Woolworths 360. This collaboration did not go ahead either, but we met Peter. He is a GSD kind of a person and driven to deliver sustainable systems for the retailer. We would need this later.

It is OK to try things and fail. The investment in time is laying foundations for something that can happen next that we can’t see it yet.

The company comes together

Next, Greg mentioned some enzyme technology that CSIRO had which could break down polymers to their original monomers and enable true recycling of plastics. Gabrielle Munzer had recently joined MSV and we got to work bringing this one to life. Woolworths were an obvious Industry Founder for this opportunity with so much plastic in their supply chain and a network of sites and resources that could help a startup with an infrastructure for early success. Now a new stream of collaboration with Peter Bruce commenced.

During this time, Bill Bartee introduced Gabs and me to his friend Paul Riley. They had co-invested and sat on boards together while Paul was one of Australia’s original venture capitalists, working with Bill Ferris at Champ Ventures. Since working together, Paul led nutraceutical and healthcare companies building and scaling large industrial businesses. We snapped him up as an entrepreneur in residence and asked him to have a look at this enzyme technology.

At the time it felt some way from commercialisation. We were looking at drab slides with lots of technical details. Paul had a look and helped us to see that this idea was profound. Now we saw the scale, we saw the unique opportunity to truly recycle plastic because current methods were not that. We saw that the unit economics would work to deliver something which often failed because the market would not tolerate more cost for a sustainable solution.

Laurie Kozlovic joined Woolworths 360 as Managing Director from his prior role as Chief Strategic Officer from waste processing giant, Veolia. Laurie brought very specific value chain insights into our discussions and we began to see how we could slot in.

We were taking flight at this point, but were interrupted when we now matched our ambition with the specific CSIRO technology we were looking at. It was not as ready as we we needed now and this sent us back into the Australian research system to find a solution.

Paul found Professor Colin Jackson at ANU’s School of Chemistry. I have grown to think of Colin as a ‘Hacker Scientist’ because he is not only a world leader in the field we needed for Samsara, but he is also deeply pragmatic and creative in his hunt for a solution. Our needs for Samsara were aligned perfectly with some work he had been developing in his lab and we quickly brought on board our new Research Founder.

He introduced us to Keats Nelms who heads up the commercialisation office at ANU. We agreed on terms for our new relationship in a single meeting and had signed documents a couple of weeks later. It was spectacular execution that got us straight into our work building a massively impactful Australian company together.

And now we’re collaborating with CSIRO again to help end plastic waste.

So there we were, at the foot of the hill. We had a mission driven team with the deep expertise and networks we needed to bring Samsara Eco to life.

Some of it is the model. Most of all, it is the people. People do innovation. Celebrate these people.

Now… for the hard part.

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Useful thoughts from the front line of big science and venture.

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Phil Morle

Phil Morle

Deep tech VC — Main Sequence Ventures. Ecosystem builder. Maker. Director. Startup Scientist.

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