30 Aug Small changes that make a big difference to humanity
Having followed Cuantec’s journey online over the past few months, I had a long list of questions that I was eager to ask the company’s CEO, Dr Cait Murray-Green; including their crowdfunder, being named as one of the Top 10 Scottish spin-outs in 2018 and being featured on the BBC’s ‘Landward’ programme.
As soon as I sat down with Cait, it became clear that my list of questions were the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more to learn, understand and be inspired by their mission; to create compostable, antimicrobial bioplastic from… fishing waste.
Sarah Connelly (MSc), Process Scientist; Dr Cait Murray-Green, Chief Executive Officer and Dr Ryan Taylor, Chief Scientific Officer
Tell us how you got here
I’m a trained Research Scientist and have a PhD in Chemistry. I began my career selling software to pharmaceutical companies to aid their drug design. The Business Development experience of the role led me to work in commercialisation, taking intellectual property from the Natural Environment Research Council and helping them to commercialise it; a role where I learnt a lot about oil, gas and environmental science.
I then went on to set up my own consultancy, helping young science businesses and worked closely with Scottish Enterprise and Strathclyde University. This is where I was introduced to Ryan – the man with the idea behind Cuantec. I quickly took the role of CEO and we moved into BioCity, Glasgow.
It’s worked well, because we created our own very distinct roles from the start. Ryan brings scientific creativity and knowledge to the business, whereas I bring a passion for the environment and business credentials. 80% of business fail, because they don’t sell, even if they have a great offering. We’ve succeeded so far, as we’ve found a way to make our ‘science’ into a commercial product.
What makes you so passionate about Cuantec?
When David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ series started, it was like our birthdays and Christmas had come at once. People started to take notice of climate change and how it was effecting nature, it got people’s heads out of the sand and made them realise it’s a problem.
Food waste and plastic are big contributors to this and Cuantec has a solution that can help. People need to understand what happens when they put something into a bin or when it floats away into the wind – we can all make small changes that will make a difference to humanity.
With that said, it makes marketing Cuantec easy, because the general public, just get it, they understand our mission. Scotland’s countryside is so beautiful and wild that it’s a part of our heritage, it’s forms who we are, how we live and what we feel. I think, because of this we are starting to see a lot of Bio-environmental businesses start-up in this country, probably, because we are more connected, with the environment around us.
So, do you think attitudes towards environmental sustainability are changing?
Everyone is worried about running out of oil and gas – personally, I think it needs to run out. We need to find alternatives, in an environment where renewables have potential. We don’t want fracking and we don’t want anymore waste.
We’re surrounded by a great community spirit, not only on the BioCity site but also the wider Scottish community. There’s great potential to learn from each other and find additional solutions.
My daughter won’t let us eat crisps anymore at home, as she is so aware of the fact that crisp packets aren’t compostable. There’s a big attitude change already happening and I hope we add to this by going out to talk to schools to tell them about what we do and to inspire for the future.
What do you consider normal and boring that other folks would think is cool?
I think it’s easier to answer the question the other way around. We think the stuff everyone throws away is cool! We love trash, so we can look at problems backwards. I’m a mum of two and I like science – I’ve always liked science. I like creativity and in particular watching children explore and see how they solve problems, as they don’t have preconceived ideas about how something should be done. I believe there isn’t a bad question to be asked – the only bad question is the one you didn’t ask. We’re always playing devil’s advocate.
Where did the inspiration for Cuantec come from?
It was very simple – Ryan was working at a company based next door to a fish processing plant and was not enjoying the smell of langoustine waste! He thought, “There must be something better you could do with that”! So, he went back to Strathclyde where he got his PhD, asked the Innovation team to help – and they did. His drive to find a solution has paid off.
How has the company evolved?
You’ll get an answer from me one week and it will change the next, as it all moves so fast!
It’s clear that a passion for life sciences works both in favour of the environment and your company – what kind of things do you get up to outside of the lab?
I’m interested in using social media to explain why and what Cuantec does. We get involved in various environmental discussions – if there’s an event with the word sustainability, CSR or Circular Economy and a cup of tea involved, we’re there! Tracy, our colleague, was at the ‘Marine Litter Forum’ yesterday, Sarah was out collecting plastic from the beach a couple of weeks ago, tonight I’m giving a closing speech at The Natural Capital Coalition event and next week I’ll be presenting at the Scottish Government on behalf of the Life Sciences Cross Party Committee. We like getting involved where we can. This is what we love doing, it’s not just a job.
To find out more about Cuantec’s mission and learn about some of the products they are developing, you can visit their website.