At the end of March 2021, EF Polymer Private Limited, a startup generated from the OIST Startup Accelerator Program, completed a seed round with a total of 40 million yen of funding from MTG Ventures, Inc., Yosemite LLC, Beyond Next Ventures Inc., and an angel investor Tatsuya Suzuki (Representative Director of giftee, Inc.) This was the first case of seed round given to a startup that was born from the OIST Startup Accelerator Program which started in 2018.
Narayan Gurjar, Founder and CEO of EF Polymer, said, “This funding will play an important role in expanding our business and enhancing our technological capabilities. We would like to utilize this funding to first increase our production capacity and employment as well as to expand our sales channels. We are committed to promoting organic farming and the circular economy. With our technology, we believe we can make significant contributions to achieving the SDGs by making our products more widely available.” He also added, “OIST’s Technology Development & Innovation Center has been there for us every step of the way, from matching us with investors to providing support for contract agreements. They have been indispensable to us in raising this funding.”
On behalf of the four investors, Mr. Go Fujita, President and CEO of MTG Ventures, Inc. commented on the investment, “EF Polymer is a young and talented management team from India. They started up with the aim of solving the water shortage for farmers in the drought-prone Indian state of Rajasthan, and have developed a 100% naturally-derived water-absorbing polymer. Together with OIST, we will support this start-up with high technology and high aspirations to realize a society with a circular economy. This is the second company in Okinawa that MTG Ventures has invested in, following Ryukyu Asteeda. MTG Ventures will continue its activities to support startups in Okinawa while continuing to pay close attention to startups from OIST.”
About EF Polymer
EF Polymer was established in 2019 through OIST’s Startup Accelerator Program by an Indian entrepreneur Narayan Gurjar, who was 22-year-old at the time. The company develops environmentally friendly organic polymers that upcycle the residues of inedible parts of fruits and vegetables. The company’s mission is to upcycle biodegradable waste (food waste) and convert it into low-cost, sustainable agricultural materials that are accessible to emerging countries, solving global environmental problems related to agriculture such as drought.
Today, our world is facing problems of drought and the disposal of ever-increasing food waste. EF Polymer has decided to utilize such food waste as a resource and developed organic polymer products using citrus fruits, banana peels, and sugarcane bagasse. It can retain water of 80 to 100 times its own weight, and when applied to soil, it increases the soil’s ability to retain water and fertilizer, resulting in reduced usage of water by 40% and fertilizer by 20%. In addition, since this polymer is 100% organic, it is biodegraded completely in the soil in about six months.
Many of the polymers currently used in diapers and other products are chemically synthesized, such as acrylic polymers, which are not biodegradable and thus pollute the soil. Chemically synthesized polymers also react with the soil components. This causes the soil to lose its capacity to absorb water, making it unsuitable for agricultural use. Thus, EF Polymer’s naturally derived and stable polymer is much more beneficial.
OIST’s Efforts to Support Startups
OIST is committed to fostering innovation and accelerating economic growth of Okinawa. The Technology Development and Innovation Center operates an incubator and provides various support for start-ups.
The Startup Accelerator Program provides support with business mentoring and advice as well as matching with industries or companies. In addition, as it has accepted many entrepreneurs from overseas, it also supports the startups in a wide range of areas, such as taxation, intellectual property procedures, and visa acquisition, which often become hurdles for overseas entrepreneurs starting a business in Japan.
Hiroshi Yoshikawa, Incubator Programs Coordinator at the OIST Technology Development & Innovation CenterIncubator , explained, “We have spent a long-time matching EF Polymer with investors and companies since they joined the program in 2019. We have been working on brushing up their presentations and supporting their participation in business presentations at trade shows to attract investors. Due to language and cultural differences, it was difficult to convey the appeal of EF Polymer at first, and we faced considerable challenges. However, the members of EF Polymer never gave up and continued to take on challenges positively while improving their business. Because of that, they were able to achieve this accomplishment.”
Mr. Yoshikawa also added, “Japan is still in a transitional stage as a market for startups, and unfortunately, we do not have the environment for the early startups of overseas entrepreneurs to immediately play an active role without any support. There is a need to create an environment which allows foreign entrepreneurs to develop their businesses smoothly, not only in terms of language barriers, but also in terms of the necessary administrative procedures and funding. In this context, OIST is working closely with the Okinawa Prefectural Government to actively improve the environment and expand support systems to attract entrepreneurs of all kinds to Okinawa. Ultimately, we hope to create a cluster of deep tech startups with OIST at its core.”
A corporate venture capital (CVC) firm of MTG Corporation (Tokyo Stock Exchange Mothers) established in 2018. It invests in startups which realizes “VITAL LIFE”. https://www.mtg.gr.jp/company/group/mtg-ventures/
An investment company established by Mr. Chikanobu Kenma, former Vice President of INSPiRE corporation. in 2019 that invests in seed and early-stage ventures in a non-fund manner, to collaborate with entrepreneurs of the businesses with primary focus on solving social issues. https://yosemite.co.jp/
Beyond Next Ventures:
A venture capital firm that started out by supporting and investing in deep tech startups and university-launched ventures mainly in Japan and India. It now operates several programs including an acceleration program, an entrepreneurial human resource development program, and a shared lab. https://beyondnextventures.com/about/
Angel Investor Tatsuya Suzuki:
CEO of giftee Inc. (Tokyo Stock Exchange, First Section). In 2008, he worked at Inspire, Inc. supporting new businesses of large corporations and ventures. In 2011, he was appointed to the board of WACUL Inc.. He was appointed to the board of giftee in 2012 and became the president of the company in March 2020.
Links to related articles:
OIST-Born Startup to address the drought issue on Awaji Island (Apr. 13, 2021)