A new decade is well under way, and it’s one that will be defined by how we use science and technology to solve some of humanity’s most seemingly insurmountable problems. One such problem looms especially large: the climate crisis, and the myriad environmental issues in its orbit. To overcome these, we’ll need solutions from all parts of the world, including the Philippines.
That’s why it’s heartening to hear stories like that of Filipino tech startup Nanotronics. The company, which has pioneered a bio-based nanomaterial made from indigenous plants, recently bagged a grand prize of P500,000 from Shell LiveWIRE, the flagship enterprise development program of Shell. Nanotronics’ biomaterials are designed to help reduce plastic waste in the country, as a sustainable contribution to overall environmental safety.
“We are committed to making a significant difference in the environment and community,” says Dr. Jerome Palaganas, CEO and founder of Nanotronics, “by leveraging on our natural resources here in the Philippines. And we see a good synergy with our products and the Shell ecosystem.”
How it started
Nanotronics started in 2014, as a trading company in the Philippines, dealing with semiconductor and electronics and advanced materials. In the following years, they eventually decided to pivot their business model towards the development of nanotechnology materials and 3D printing.
“We went back to the Philippines in 2017 and got the opportunity to do a pilot production of a nanomaterial in the country,” Palaganas tells us. “In the same year, we applied for funding from DOST and were fortunate enough to get a grant.”
That initial round of funding allowed the company to put up a nanomaterial facility in 2018. From a single product offering, Nanotronics now has at least three products in the market, with a growing list of local and international clients.
How it works
The product itself has several potential applications. Palaganas explains that Nanotronics’ nanotechnology materials can be used as an additive to existing polymers like plastic and rubber. “When our material is added to a biodegradable plastic bag, for instance, it can help increase the bag’s strength significantly while maintaining its biodegradability.”
“It can also provide more gas mileage for a car while simultaneously keeping the structural integrity needed by a car body so that it will be of high quality and safety,” he continues.
Where it is today
As a startup player in the sustainability and environmental space, Palaganas sees many opportunities for growth for Nanotronics. The company is in an emerging space that can help address the plastic pollution and climate change problems. However, there are unique challenges when you’re in a developing country like the Philippines.
“The startup ecosystem here isn’t that mature yet. Being in a developing country, the market awareness of nanotechnology and our products is very challenging. For now, we are at a disadvantage because this is a very, very new space,” he explains.
That said, another challenge that Filipino startups like Nanotronics face today is funding. So when the company heard about the Shell LiveWIRE program from a conference, he applied immediately.
How it thrives
By providing Nanotronics with access to seasoned mentors and coaches, structured learnings, collaboration opportunities with other startups, and integration into its ecosystem, Shell gave the then-fledgling company a big boost. These were the resources the company needed to thrive.
“We believe accelerators like Shell LiveWIRE provide an incredibly unique opportunity for startups to rapidly grow the business and their level of maturity,” says Palaganas. He then goes on to explain exactly why. “Our win in Shell LiveWIRE was very timely. Because of the pandemic, our cash flow has been very much affected since we don’t have operations. Instead of applying for a loan, we used the funding from the program to get the business up and running again.”
Nanotronics’ next steps include completing its next-generation products, acquiring more clients in the packaging market, and penetrating the automotive industry—especially now that it’s shifting to electric vehicles.
In collaboration with the government, the Shell LiveWIRE program was launched in the Philippines last September 2020 to strengthen local economies through mentorship, funding, and a chance to be part of Shell’s supply chain.