Hardera is the first Latin American sustainability-focused startup selected to join Singularity University Ventures program in Silicon Valley.
Founded in Brazil, the company developed a product that transforms reforested wood into hardwood with superior strength and durability, which is scarce and in danger of extinction.
Francisco Gomes, Co-Founder & CEO, talks about Hardera’s technology, the impact on environment, and the application process at Singularity University.
BayBrazil: How did you prepare yourself and Hardera for the application and selection process at SU? Was there any specific requirement that you’ve worked hard to achieve?
Francisco: The Singularity Ventures selection process is extensive and very competitive. Furthermore, SU Ventures has only selected startups in areas where the problems to be solved are: first, of Global nature, it has to address solutions to issues that affect societies around the world, and second, there are priority sectors for SU Ventures: Sustainability (Climate / Environment); Food ( food scarcity); Health (reduction of treatment costs / new technologies); and Mobility.
At Hardera we have been engaged in product development and business model for 3 years. We have a patent filed, business plan with scenarios of investments and returns. Thus, in addition to being in the area of sustainability, with a product that preserves nature and the human being, we had to develop this whole set of activities – IP, Business Plan, Business Case, Investor Deck to participate in the selection process at SU Ventures. And, after several interviews / calls with the SU Ventures team, we were selected.
BayBrazil: Describe the 6 weeks immersion at Singularity University (attendees, teachers, content)
Francisco: The program was very intense, in fact the selected startups are maintained almost in a regime of “total dedication”, we stayed in the dormitories in Moffett Field at the NASA facility, living with the military and staff of NASA itself, on the same campus.
The day starts at 9am and runs until 6pm, after which we have dinner with the network of mentors, investors and teachers of SU Ventures. The work team of SU is very differentiated, in the sense that we have a great combination of Entrepreneurs, Investors, Teachers and cofounder / CEOs from various segments of the market. We had discussions and classes with Peter Diamandis, Salim Ismail, Raymond Kurzweil, Pascal Finette, among other professors and researchers, where we discussed from sustainable business models to innovations as well as the application of these in our startups.
BayBrazil: What does it mean to have Singularity University as a shareholder?
Francisco: A curiosity, before applying to SU Ventures, I heard from a series of friends about the difficulties to be selected, it is a process that demands a lot in terms of differentiation, innovation quality. Having a startup with the label SU Ventures, in very practical terms means that the startup: 1) is an innovative business, with scalability and that meets a global demand, it is not a local, regional or product/service for a single country; 2) can network with a large and diverse group of mentors, renowned faculty, F500 corporate partners, staff, and alumni; 3) has access to specialized expertise and wisdom from over 500 well-connected mentors, many of these mentors are successful entrepreneurs and investors with deep domain experience, and the startups are driven by a desire to make an impact on the world.
BayBrazil: What was the motivation for the product research and development?
Francisco: This is my first experience in the green tech area. Responding, I would say that I could take on a new area, acquire new knowledge. I had no idea of the value chain, the challenges, the production process and technology involved in this segment, all of it is gratifying. Moreover, it’s very motivating to me to work with a product that preserves the environment.
BayBrazil: Tell us about Hardera’s technology and the impact on the environment.
Francisco: Our startup have developed a product which transforms softwood (Pinus and similar) into hardwood, woods known as Mahogany and Ipe, all using a clean, unimpeded production process and with an innovation in the product’s formulation that allowed us to patent the formula. There is a very large worldwide demand for hardwoods – durable and durable, so being able to offer an environmentally friendly solution to the market is very rewarding.
BayBrazil: How was the process of finding an angel investor and what are the plans for growth?
Francisco: Because it was a very specialized segment, the strategy was to start the search for an angel who worked in the segment, I found an investor who worked in the wood packaging industry, thus, the process of presentation, explanation, and understanding became easier and faster with an understanding of the opportunity.
BayBrazil: Is there already any similar product in the target market?
Francisco: So far we have not seen anything similar. The patent encompasses the manufacturing process of production, the handling of “non-aggressive” chemicals, and the development of the product’s formulation itself.
BayBrazil: Why did you choose to start the business internationally?
Francisco: Look, this was a decision based on a previous experience, in another startup in healthcare. In this startup, I could observe that certain industries have countries of reference as developers of technology and innovation. The North American market is very receptive to our product and has a good number of investors in this segment compared to any other country. Just as a curiosity, when I was at SU Ventures I heard that companies in Silicon Valley because they are located there, have a valuation of up to 25% higher than startups outside of that region.
BayBrazil: Based on your entrepreneur experiences, what is the biggest challenge that a startup can face?
Francisco: It’s a set of situations but, imagining that the product meets a certain problem, timing – the moment of supply that product or service to the market it’s crucial, it makes all the difference. Finding the first business cases to validate the product, is also very challenging, a startup is always a question in the minds of who is evaluating the product/service. There is no reputation, no brand, nothing, absolutely nothing that can mitigate the risk of buying. Patent, innovation help, obviously all this is necessary, but it does not guarantee anything. I would say that they are challenges that remain with you until you can close a cycle, it is like a plane on the runway, that until the takeoff occurs, it’ll demand much of the pilot and the on-board team.