From research to industry: not many make it. The bio-based materials are above all the experimentation of a collaborative relationship with nature and its processes.
However, building a company around a material born in this way is not easy. There are few US examples, very few European ones.
Maurizio Montalti, founder of Mogu, in 2019 launched soundproofing panels made of a material produced with mycelium based technology and agricultural or industrial waste fibres.
We interviewed him to understand what it means create a material starting from the observation of the natural cycle. Three years later, he can tell us if a bio-based industry is really possible.
How is Mogu doing?
Maurizio Montalti: “Things are moving in a very positive way, even if obviously the challenges are continuous.
Ours has been a long journey that started from research in the design field, in 2015 we opened the company and went out on the market in 2019.
The research had to move to the industrial and product fields to ensure that we arrive on the market with an indisputably competitive offer from the point of view of performance and end user expectations.
The market is fascinated by Mogu's narrative, but reality demands a pragmatic attitude capable of meeting high standards of functionality, aesthetics and resistance.
Today we produce and sell five collections of acoustic panels, one of wall coverings and three products intended for floor coverings.
We have honored the goal that we set ourselves in 2015 when founding Mogu and we are happy about this. We have grown and today Mogu is part of the technology holding SQIM, which combines both the division of building products, and Ephea, which deals with the fashion area and the development of alternative leather".
Is the market ready to welcome bio-based products?
Maurizio Montalti: “There is great interest, but we know well that it is an epochal change and our species is not inclined to risk the new.
She does it when she has to: it's time for a decisive change of course, but as we all know there is a lot of confusion when trying to distinguish the narrative from the truth.
The policies are not clear and there is a technical time for the intervention of the legislators that we cannot afford to wait.
SQIM does what it says, we are certified, we have a life cycle assessment that corresponds exactly to reality. But from a commercial point of view we are a drop in an infinite sea.
We have collaborative relationships with other companies that develop production technologies from mycelium, but paradoxically we are also in a competitive relationship.
In the end, what really matters for the market is the product: it must be functional, aesthetically interesting and have the typical performance of the building industry: fireproof, resistant, durable and easy to assemble and maintain".
Is SQIM an economically viable company?
Maurizio Montalti: “Mogu and Ephea have a double economy. One is related to a research context and the other is related to a commercial context.
The emphasis we put on funded projects is still important, because it allows us to expand contacts and promote development. The European financial context presupposes this solution and it is the only viable one for now, but we are collecting a loan that will allow the industrial demo of Mogu and Ephea to be created.
The difficulty for us in Europe and in particular in Italy, compared to the American context, is great. We don't work in the comfort that others work in.
But focusing on the contradictions doesn't help. We are a reality that thanks to ingenuity and creativity obtains advanced results. Very few companies manage to ground experimentation with materials”.
What are your plans for the future?
Maurizio Montalti: “Ethea, the new brand for the fashion industry, is getting positive responses from the market and quickly.
It was born from Mogu's experience, so we have much more deeply rooted skills and we move with greater confidence in the luxury market, which has great interest in alternative leather in the production of outerwear, suitcases and bags.
Balenciaga already has an Ephea coat in its collection. We are small, but we will grow quickly”.