Shortcut is a business hackathon in which during one week, teams of 2-6 people form a commercialization plan for state-of-the-art technology. Shortcut has teamed up with Fiber-X, a bioindustry company that provides three product cases, activated biocarbon from willow wood, polyphenolic materials from willow wood and antimicrobial foam from willow wood.

Now don’t worry, this is a business hackathon. You don’t need to trouble your head with all the technical aspects of the products. Experts from Fiber-X will be there to assist you in any questions you have during the hackathon.

And here’s the best part, the teams with the best plans for taking the product to the market have the option to adopt the technology and build a startup around it. You also get access to manufacturing and expertise to help you get started with your new startup. So Shortcut is a shortcut to startup entrepreneurship! 

Here's how you do it

1

Get to know the case products and try to form a killer team to apply with. You can also apply alone! We’ll form teams out of those applying alone.

2

Apply to Shortcut through the link at the bottom of this page. If you’re unsure which case to apply to, you can attend Case Presentations on 30th of Jan to get more info and ask questions from Fiber-X.

3

Attend the Kickoff on Monday, 3rd of February in which you make the final decision on the case. After that it’s go time! You can complete the task at your own pace during the week. 

Timeline

15th of January

Applications open

30th of January

Case Presentations by Fiber-X

31st of January

Applications end

2nd of February

Attendees decided

3rd of February (Monday)

Kickoff at Lutes Office

Cases decided

8th of February (Saturday)

Plan deadline at 10:00

Plan pitching at 12:00

Winner(s) announcement at (TBA)

Product Cases

Here are summaries of the three product cases from Fiber-X. At the end of each summary, you can find a link to the background material that contains more information, such as preliminary market research and example products that the technology could be used in.

Activated biocarbon from willow wood

What is activated carbon?

Activated carbon, also called activated charcoal, is a form of carbon processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions. Activated carbon is traditionally made from fossil sources e.g. charcoal or coke, used for demanding filtering applications – oil, water, air, etc. purification – and emerging high-end applications e.g. supercapacitor charge storage for Li-ion or So-ion batteries, renewable energy, EVs, etc. 

Then what is biocarbon?

In recent years biocarbons have entered the market – biocarbon captures 50% of the sequestered CO2 and has good performance on various demanding applications. Activated biocarbon has been normally produced from coconut (Jacobi) but recent Proof of Concept shows equal/superior performance of activated carbon produced from willow core (Dou, 2019, Aalto Uni).

How is it made?

Activated willow biocarbon is produced by debarking 4-year willow, grinding the core wood to smaller particles, pyrolyzing wood in 600˚C to produce biochar, washing, activating the char in kaliumhydroxide solution, pyrolyzing again on 800˚C, washing & drying. 

Key quality parameters are surface area and purity. Activated biocarbons produced from hemp or coconut have equal or inferior characteristics vs. Aalto study – making willow a very promising material.

Tailoring the process further by increasing pyrolysis temperature to 900˚C biographite can be produced. Graphite is listed high on the EU list of future critical raw materials due to high demand in EV batteries.

Polyphenolic materials from willow wood

What are polyphenolic materials?

Willow bark has up to 25% polyphenolic compounds. Plants and trees use polyphenols to protect against microbes & fungi and for self-healing the “wounds”. Chemicals are highly antioxidative, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-tumor and similarly to plants, for humans they have been used for: pain killing, treating inflammation, cancer cell inhibitors, stress relief, food preservatives, skin “preservatives” on anti-aging, etc.

Novel uses are found every day including bioglues, water purification, etc. Good stuff, you name it.

How are the polyphenols extracted?

Globally polyphenols are mostly extracted from green tea leaves, grape seeds and vegetable/fruit residues (apple, etc.). Polyphenols are extracted using solvent (ethanol, water, etc.), ultrasound, microwaves, electric pulse fields, etc. followed by filtration/precipitation. 

Willow bark extraction should be done by either hot water extraction or water/ethanol solvent extraction assisted by ultrasound followed by micro- & nanofiltration and reverse osmosis. 

What are some example markets?

Polyphenolic products have two interesting customer markets assuming proper niche can be found: nutraceuticals and skin-care.

How are the markets looking now?

Nutraceuticals containing polyphenols or bark extract price between 150-200 €/kg on Amazon and EU approvals for production are relatively straightforward but do require food-grade production facilities.

Skin-care can be interesting due to multiple factors: Nanocellulose has been proven beneficial for skin and polyphenols have proven scientific track record (ton of white papers) on preventing degradation of skin collagen. Fiber-X has already developed an anti-aging nanocellulose cream. Combined with polyphenols we could have winning product but getting to market would require either OEM sales or solid guts combined with extensive dermatologic testing before market approval.

Rewards can be high. Market price for anti-aging products is 160 – 1000 € / liter, production relatively simple and some northern products utilizing “northern wilderness” image on brand advertising – Natura Siberica, etc. – sell like crazy.

Antimicrobial foam from willow wood

What is foam forming?

Foam forming is a production method to produce bulky but low-weight materials by adding surfactant to fiber mix and letting it bubble up on a production line. Technology has been known for a long time but only recently VTT has made series of projects where innovative new products have been developed including thermal & acoustic insulation panels, packaging cushions, etc.

Technology is simple and production relatively easy for these relatively basic products. For Hackathon products, foam formed products such as design acoustic wall panels, thermal insulation panels, etc. have probably the easiest market entry and manufacturing process. In VTT studies, the properties of panels are in range of glass wool and better than any bio-based product. Market price for bio-based insulation panels is in range of 2000 € / t.

Then what is antimicrobial foam?

To step up the game further the antimicrobial polyphenolics can be combined with foam forming to produce wound foam dressings. Willow and other trees use polyphenols to heal their cuts on the bark and protect against microbial/fungal attacks. Similarly in clinical studies effect has been confirmed on human wounds: nanocellulose gel made from bark can improve standard and burn wound healing time up to 50% with reduced permanent scarring.

Antimicrobial foam pads suck exudate from wounds while keeping microbes at bay. Standard applications are made from polyurethane with added silver. Bark-based fiber products (nanocellulosic gels & textiles) have shown high antimicrobial resistance and could provide a good alternative for traditional plastic (fossil) based products.

How are the markets looking now?

Prices for wound dressing foam pads are 160 – 400 € / m2, over 40 000 €/t (assuming 400 g/m2). Direct market entry is probably impossible with long testing period but selling to healthcare giants as OEM could be a good approach while still retaining some (possibly 25%) of the exorbitant market sales price.

In Fiber-X producing foam pads can be done on existing machine. Insulation panels can use existing stock preparation but will require a new forming and drying as a separate line.

Unsure what to do?

Fear not! You can attend the Case Presentation on 30th of January, where Fiber-X will present the cases once more. You can ask questions about the cases or the requirements. Time and place is TBA, so make sure to follow Lutes on Facebook to get notified of it.

Requirements

Here are the requirements on what you should submit at the end of the week. These will be used as the evaluation criteria and nailing these requirements gives you a very good chance of winning!

Market understanding

  • Size of the overall market
  • Target niche
  • Competitive situation

Business model

  • Business Model Canvas or Lean Canvas
  • Value proposition & revenue model
  • Processes & resources

Plan of action

  • Schedule (Roadmap)
  • Cost estimates
  • Financing plan
  • Market entry plan

Team

  • Description of team
  • Use of outside resources

Are you up for the challenge?

Don’t worry, the application form isn’t too demanding. Applications end at 31st of January, so be quick!