Start the week with a startup: Cellugy

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

The ingredient is now so in demand that the business has had to quickly ramp up production while also scaling the process to reach commercial volumes
The ingredient is now so in demand that the business has had to quickly ramp up production while also scaling the process to reach commercial volumes

Related tags Cosmetics Sustainability sustainable beauty natural beauty green beauty

Every fortnight we talk to a beauty and personal care industry startup about why it exists and how it plans to change the industry.

This week, we spoke to Dr Isabel Alvarez-Martos, who is CEO and co-founder of Cellugy, a Danish biotech startup that has created a fermentation platform that produces a high-performance dry cellulose.

The business claims that it could replace fossil-fuel based materials in cosmetic formulations and it has recently raised €4.9m in seed​ funding to scale up production of its hero ingredient to industrial volumes.

How Cellugy is changing the game…

We are a biotechnology company that harnesses the power of biology to offer advanced cellulose solutions through fermentation, offering natural, biobased, and biodegradable ingredients for everyday products.

We've developed technology to produce cellulose that’s similar to what is found in nature, but with better quality and performance.

Our first product family, EcoFlexy consists of high-performing ingredients for the personal care industry. We have developed a breakthrough technology that for the first time allows bio-fabricated cellulose to be produced in easy to redisperse powder while keeping its original performance – bypassing one of the biggest challenges that hindered biofabricated cellulose from widespread adoption.

The EcoFlexy family is readily biodegradable, free from volatile organic substances, vegan, non-GMO, cruelty-free, and completely fossil-free. It is sustainably manufactured using green chemistry, with no chemical modification to the cellulose fibre.

EcoFlexy RP is our breakthrough cellulose-based rheology modifier, which is made from fermentation-derived cellulose that allows cosmetics brands and formulators to either replace commonly used rheology modifiers with a performing and sustainable ingredient, or boost their innovations with next-generation ingredients.

This biofabricated cellulose is derived from a sustainable fermentation process using sugar. Its unique rheological properties allow it to excel at thickening and stabilising even the most challenging formulations.

It can be used in a wide range of personal care products, including skin care, rinse-offs formulas, hair care, and sun care. Thanks to its crystalline structure, it boasts exceptional stability across varying temperatures, pH levels, and ionic strength. Additionally, due to its strong 3D network, it effortlessly stabilises particles like waxes, clays, or pigments, and suspends actives such as micelles and liposomes. It is stable (does not phase separate) in water and in formulas, which ensures a consistent and high-quality product.

It is a drop-in solution; an easy-to-redisperse powder even using low or zero shear mixing equipment such as a propeller or Rayneri.

The ingredient gives a glide-on feel that rivals petrochemical polymers due to its low stringiness index and formulations made with this ingredient spread easily and leave a lightweight, non-greasy feeling. It also boasts excellent shear-thinning properties. This means its viscosity thins under stress, like during spraying, allowing for easy pumping and the creation of a fine mist with a good spread. Once it reaches a surface, it quickly regains its gel state, preventing drips.

Other products in development include a cellulose-based SPF booster (EcoFlexy SB), a film-former and active delivery system (EcoFlexy AB), and an enhancer and stabiliser for colour cosmetics (EcoFlexy CC).

Our future plans for the business…

We are aiming to bring a wide range of solutions inspired by nature to the personal care industry.

We want to tap into the underexploited potential of cellulose to create ingredients that are healthy for both humans and the planet. After the launch of our first commercial product in 2025, we aim to add ingredients to our portfolio by partnering with brands and companies to develop solutions targeted to their specific needs.

How we started out…

We started in the most unexpected place: our kitchens. My co-founder Deby and I, both have technical backgrounds and experience in academic R&D and shared a deep passion for using science to tackle real-world problems. It all began with a simple question that sparked a fire in us. We spent countless nights, fuelled by determination, testing ideas with whatever equipment we could get our hands on. Imagine plastic boxes instead of fancy bioreactors.

Securing funding to take our kitchen experiments and turn them into a viable business – that was a whole other story! But those early days, where resourcefulness and ingenuity were our main tools, inspired a spirit of scrappiness and adaptability that has become the core of Cellugy. It keeps us laser-focused on what truly matters.

The challenges we’ve faced…

As you might guess, as with any startup, there have been a lot of challenges along the way. But one of the most interesting ones, looking back, was the lack of infrastructure in the early days. We literally started this company out of our kitchens, so, things like proper bioreactors, analytic equipment, or lab space were a challenge. This forced us to get creative and resourceful and that became a core part of our DNA.

Now that Cellugy has gained traction, we are facing a whole new set of exciting challenges. Specifically, about scaling up production to meet the incredible demand for our EcoFlexy product line.

The personal care industry craves high-performing, natural ingredients. But traditionally, the best-performing options come from fossil fuels (petrochemicals), while natural ingredients sometimes struggle to deliver the same user experience as petrochemicals. That's exactly why there has been such a surge of interest in the EcoFlexy family – it bridges this gap beautifully!

This incredible demand, however, has presented a challenge. It's been tough to ramp up production quickly enough while simultaneously scaling the process to reach commercial volumes. Thankfully, we have partnered with fantastic collaborators who understand the need for a steady and sustainable scale-up. They have been by our side every step of the way and with the combined expertise, we are confident we will bring EcoFlexy to scale in 2024.

How we are disrupting the industry…

We are providing natural solutions that don’t compromise, but actually excel in performance.

We believe ingredients should be simple and effective, not chemically complicated, and we empower brands to be transparent with consumers about the ingredients in their products.

EcoFlexy is the perfect ingredient for personal care products that are promoting healthy skin, as it has a completely natural profile while also delivering super performance to the product. Although the INCI name is just cellulose, EcoFlexy is more than just cellulose.

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