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08 Feb 2021
Cairo, Egypt
Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management, Sustainable Cleaning Products and Cosmetics

While the agriculture industry is a leading contributor to climate change, farm waste could play a key role in addressing that same challenge. In Egypt, young scientists have founded NCTech, a startup that specialises in producing nanocellulose materials from organic refuse. NCTech’s market offering, an aqueous gel, can support various industrial processes and replace unsustainable, fossil-based synthetic additives.

Like the field of nanocellulose technology itself, NCTech remains at an exciting yet early stage of development. The company has received seed funding and is market ready, but still needs more customer buy-in to launch fully. Nevertheless, NCTech’s enthusiastic team is ready to capitalise on the intersection between science and commerce.

“We have a real passion for transforming applied sciences into real economic value, instead of being just unnoticed academic publications,’ said Ghada Mahmoud, NCTech’s managing partner.

NCTech focused on the idea of extracting value from nanocellulose materials, which could be derived from the bulk organic waste produced by the agriculture sector. For several decades, scientists have explored many potential uses for nanocellulose materials in different industrial sectors. These include skincare and cosmetics, paints and coatings, and even products for the oil and petroleum sector.

NCTech’s sales pitch caught on. The project secured seed funding from GESR, which covered the initial phase of refining NCTech’s processes for producing nanocellulose materials. Since then, NCTech has received financial support from InnoEgypt (an EU-funded incubator) for scaling up the company’s laboratory and production capacity. 

Despite these successes, NCTech still faces significant funding challenges. “The entrepreneurial system favours ICT-based startups because of their quicker return on investment,” said Mahmoud. “Investors and Funding programs need to understand the different dynamics behind scientific startups, which need longer before customer acquisition and revenue generation.”

Similarly, NCTech’s potential customers in industry may need to demonstrate a little more patience — and faith in a novel idea. For now, many interested businesses would like NCTech to produce a “proof of concept” before investing. Unfortunately, manufacturing a prototype for each sector can be prohibitively expensive for a growing startup like NCTech.

In a business sense, an impasse can develop between the commercial priorities of NCTech and its would-be customers. “Customers want [NCTech] to guarantee efficient supply before shifting to our product, and we want proof that there is enough demand before establishing production facilities,” said Mahmoud. “Someone has to make the first move!”

Thankfully, NCTech recently managed to establish collaborations with technical and commercialization experts in some sectors. These partnerships will co-develop the necessary proofs of concept and achieve mutual sustainable, profitable opportunities. NCTech’s new commercial director is also exploring new markets and pilot partnerships for nanocellulose technology — both locally and internationally. 

Together, these energetic entrepreneurs can build a thriving business and support Egypt’s circular economy, all at once.

 

Learn more about NCTech through the website and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of NCTech

David Wood is a freelancer writer and researcher based in Beirut. He previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
Science meets business with sustainable Egyptian nanotechnology startup | The Switchers
NCTech Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management
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