When Startup Colorado launched its pilot program for the Founder CO-OPetition, Josh Jacobs was at the top of our list of potential participants. Based in Ridgway, Josh is the founder of SJ Eco Materials, an innovative manufacturing startup producing ecofriendly materials comprised of basalt and flax. Merging the concepts of “cooperation” and “competition,” the Founder CO-OPetition is a four-week experience inviting entrepreneurs to participate in weekly activities by not only building their own business, but also providing feedback for others. We caught up with Josh to learn more about his business and his experience in our first CO-OPetition cohort.
Startup Colorado: You’re developing eco-friendly materials out of flax and basalt. That’s a really unusual pairing. What inspired this formula?
Josh Jacobs: Basalt has incredible strength, its density makes it slightly heavier than Carbon Fiber, but they have lots of similarities. Mixing in flax brings down that overall weight and adds a unique aesthetic. It’s also carbon sequestering, which aids my goal of making eco-friendly alternatives for the composites industry.
SUCO: How do you hope SJ Eco Materials can replace toxic materials like fiberglass and hard plastics?
JJ: We’re starting to see there are some big incentives for companies to lower their carbon footprint and start considering the complete life-cycle of their products. Natural fibers such as jute/hemp, flax, bamboo, etc. are gaining traction in a variety of ways. Not to mention the advancements of bio-resins to replace toxic synthetic epoxies. SJ will provide a wide range of materials that can easily replace outdated fabrics in the manufacturing facilities without having to change the tooling.
SUCO: So many of these materials are ubiquitous in everyday life. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced developing an eco-friendly alternative?
JJ: In the beginning, the hard part will be competing with the prices of materials that are already made in such large quantities. Then the next hurdle is public awareness. Once the customers start to demand this change, then we will see prices drop and production increase.
SUCO: You participated in both SCAPE and the Startup Colorado CO-OPetition in 2021 – which are very different programs – but both focused on rural entrepreneurs. How did these experiences help you develop your business?
JJ: SCAPE is a much longer program which goes into a lot more depth, providing knowledgeable mentors on a variety of topics from registering to book keeping and advertising, to attracting investors and pitch decks. I’m extremely grateful for all their help. The CO-OPetition is a great experience for really young businesses who need to learn some of the basics on how to start from scratch, and the help they give with a small amount of grant money really does benefit these young businesses.
SUCO: What’s next?
JJ: Right now we’re working on getting testing and data points for a variety of different applications. From there we’ll continue to look for seed capital, acquiring LOI’s from prospective clients, and building our team. We anticipate 2022 to be a big growth year!!!