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For Cambridge Smart Plastics, 2023 will be a breakthrough year





Cambridge Smart Plastics is looking to scale up production of its barrier packaging materials – as used in milk or soup cartons – in the new year, and is pitching its smart functional plastic materials to the investor sector at Cleantech Venture Day next month to support its scale-up ambitions.

Mohand Saed, co-founder and CTO of Cambridge Smart Plastics, is a senior researcher at the Cavendish Lab. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mohand Saed, co-founder and CTO of Cambridge Smart Plastics, is a senior researcher at the Cavendish Lab. Picture: Keith Heppell

The start-up’s novel chemistry of dynamic covalent bonds has the potential to enable “an entirely new set of smart functionalities in plastics: new strengths, welding, shape-memory, and recyclability”.

Two types of product are available: CSP has pioneered the field of liquid crystal elastomers, resulting in the novel damping material Mesodamp, which dramatically reduces vibrations and impact forces, being 10 times superior to traditional rubbers.

Second, it uses smart polymers for the packaging sector, with ongoing projects currently being trialled by interested parties including one multinational in cellulose, and nanocellulose networks and films.

The chairman, co-founder and chief scientific advisor of Arbury-based CSP is Prof Eugene Terentjev, a member of the Cavendish Laboratory for 30 years, who has extensive experience in polymer science, especially functional polymers and networks. The technical team is led by CTO and co-founder Mohand Saed, who is a senior researcher at the Cavendish Lab. The management team is led by CEO Andrew Terentjev, who has responsibility for overall business development, planning and financing responsibility.

Andrew is a corporate banker with 10 years’ experience at Barclays, Santander, and Daimler AG.

“It’s obviously a great pleasure to be able to work with my dad,” he says. “If you have a good family relationship, which we do, it’s great for a start-up as you can be brutally honest and still know that you want the best outcome and I get that for free with him.”

Andrew was three when Prof Terentjev moved to the UK in 1992.

Andrew Terentjev, CEO of Cambridge Smart Plastics. Picture: Keith Heppell
Andrew Terentjev, CEO of Cambridge Smart Plastics. Picture: Keith Heppell

“He was a good physicist in Russia,” Andrew continues. “After we left Russia in 1988, we went to the US for a few years and then Cambridge University picked him up. I went to university in Sheffield, then lived in London, and Germany, and moved back to Cambridge last year.”

He took on the business management role because “they wanted me to take over as they wanted to be in the lab, so I handle the business cases”.

“The product will launch as a transparent piece of plastic, coated with our biopolymer” he notes. “We replace metallisation for barrier packaging, and replace nasty chlorinated plastics – both of which cannot be recycled today. Barrier packaging today is an area in which the product cannot be recycled and CSP uses natural polymers like cellulose which are biodegradable, sustainably sourced and do the job of nasty chlorinated plastics or metal.”

CSP was founded in 2019 and has been grant-funded so far – though that option has probably run its course.

“We’re founder-owned, we’ve not raised any money, we’re self-funded and it’s impossible to scale up without funding. Right now we’ve completed prototypes in the lab and can make A4-size samples all day long.

“We’d like to start working on semi-industrial machinery continuously coating large sheets of plastic, and hire some engineers to be able to send scale samples.

“One of the big challenges now is the issue of making at scale and at speed. We use a lot of water and you have to dry that continuously while coating, so we need to build bespoke machines which can cope with large processes and drying quickly.

Andrew Terentjev, CEO of Cambridge Smart Plastics, and Mohand Saed, co-founder and CTO, who is a senior researcher at the Cavendish Lab. Picture: Keith Heppell
Andrew Terentjev, CEO of Cambridge Smart Plastics, and Mohand Saed, co-founder and CTO, who is a senior researcher at the Cavendish Lab. Picture: Keith Heppell

“2023 for us is where we commercialise things, improve the marketing and product profile. We’ll be making continuous rolls of this material so we can ship out samples. The end users can do trials, and we start trialling ourselves and get organised for 2024, which is when we hope the first product is likely to be seen.”

The Cambridge Cleantech experience has been very positive thus far.

“I’m a big fan,” Andrew says. “It’s a first for CSP as we’ve been very much under the radar the whole time. We’ve been self-funded largely because the end product wasn’t ready. There had to be some certainty and end-user activity, so I’m excited and nervous. I’ll be pitching for £240,000-£500,000. We’re probably looking more for an angel than a VC. I’ve done business cases for grants. I’m a confident presenter but this is the first time of breaking the company down in that fashion.

“Cambridge Cleantech has been very helpful. We’ve already met an investor through them. Lots of investors are thinking about the impact of their investments.

“Sustainability is getting hotter and hotter and they’re quantifying the climate impact of what we’re doing, so we’re a lot more attractive in that sense.”

Cleantech Venture Day is on January 11.



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