The 2018 finals of Imagine Chemistry recently took place in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ten teams were selected to continue collaborating with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals or one of our partners. We asked the winners to share their thoughts on Imagine Chemistry and working with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals. Here we speak with Solugen.

“There’s a lot of specific issues that we got expert knowledge on that would have either been very expensive for us to get or impossible. We were able to get that in the span of two days and be part of a huge community.”

Team name: Solugen
Team members: Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt
Location: US
Mentor: Danny Haynes
Challenge area: Open idea
Award won: Joint development agreement

Solugen is a US-based biotech startup that makes hydrogen peroxide from sustainable plant sugars without petroleum-derived substances, replacing the standard anthraquinone process with a safer, greener, purer, and less expensive 21st century process. The resulting Bioperoxide can be used in a variety of applications, including textiles and pulp bleaching, water purification, semiconductor fabrication, and plastics production.

Solugen’s CEO Gaurab Chakrabarti and CTO Sean Hunt met while both were in school. Gaurab was studying cancer at medical school with Sean’s wife at UT Southwestern, while Sean was studying chemical engineering at MIT. Despite their disparate academic backgrounds, the two shared a common interest in hydrogen peroxide. Gaurab was researching how cells clean themselves, and in the process had discovered that enzymes in cells produce a disinfectant containing hydrogen peroxide. When Sean heard about the discovery, he developed a method to produce the disinfectant on a large scale in a sustainable way, thereby forming the basis for Solugen. In the video below, shot midway through the event, Gaurab and Sean give a bit of background into their project and what they wanted to get out of Imagine Chemistry.

Imagine Chemistry 2018 winners - Solugen

Though the team would have been undeterred and satisfied with learning a lot during the event, winning a prize wasn’t so bad either. As Sean explains, “We are ecstatic about the opportunity to bring our burgeoning technology to a large, successful specialty chemicals company like AkzoNobel.”

“Imagine Chemistry is an excellent forum for several key areas,” Sean says. “First, it exposed us to great technologies from other great startup companies. Second, we were able to dive into our own technology with greater technical and business depth than ever before thanks to AkzoNobel's team of scientific and business experts. It also enabled us to start developing relationships with the AkzoNobel team to ensure the success of our JDA.”

Gaurab adds, “Imagine Chemistry helped build trust in a way we haven’t seen with other platforms. Talking with the AkzoNobel team and getting to know each other over the past few months led us to conclude that AkzoNobel wants the same thing we do, and the best way to accelerate it is to work together."

The team is eager to make a big impact. Sean explains, “Our vision for the collaboration goes beyond just hydrogen peroxide. We believe enzymatic processes can replace many existing catalytic processes, enabling more efficient processes based on sustainable feedstocks.” Gaurab adds, “AkzoNobel is very aligned with our mission, and they are the type of partner that can scale up our technology to have the biggest industrial impact.”

First, though, the team will keep developing their technology and will meet with the AkzoNobel team to discuss the terms of their agreement, with the intent to finalize a broad JDA in the fall. Stay tuned to find out how their collaboration progresses!