Founder of growing startup RiKarbon discusses his plans

Article by Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance | View Full Article

DESCA TechConnect graduate, Basudeb Saha of growing startup RiKarbon, discusses his plans going forward….

DESCA: Tell us a little about your background and your research.

Basudeb: I was born and brought up in a business family in India. After finishing my Ph.D. in chemistry from a reputed institute in India – the Indian Association of Cultivation of Science where Prof. C.V. Raman discovered the Raman spectrometer and received Nobel prize – I worked with chemical engineers and chemists at Iowa State University and Dow Chemicals. These positions gave me opportunities to transform academic research into commercial products, along with fundamental research in catalysis, chemical kinetics, and green chemistry. Since 2009, after moving back to academia, my research has primarily focused on developing catalytic conversion technologies to convert abundant and waste feedstock (non-food biomass, carbon monoxide) into various renewable products and fuels to meet growing consumer demands, promote the environment, and reduce carbon footprints. I am an inventor of 21 granted and submitted patents, the author of 110+ peer-reviewed journal articles and an editor of the book ‘Sustainable Catalytic Processes’ with Elsevier. I founded and co-founded two startups to commercialize sustainable products for cosmetics, lubricants, food flavorings and bio-plastics. Since 2018, I have been serving as a Technical Advisory Committee member for the U. S. Biomass Research and Development Initiative, an honorary position appointed by the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

DESCA: What about your own technology and its commercial application?

Basudeb: My academic mind is always intuitive when it comes to experimenting with new chemistry and synthesizing new products to understand their features and applications. As mentioned, I have been heavily involved in biomass research over the past 10 years. This area has received particular attention from the US Government, which invests billions of dollars to develop and commercialize technologies, especially those that produce high-value bio-products that can make a significant societal impact and improve the US economy. Through market research and analysis of measured properties, I realized that a class of my conceptually designed synthesized bio-products have structures and features comparable to those currently used in lubricants and cosmetic formulations such as base oils and emollients. In parallel, I learned that these two market sectors are regulated in the US and Europe for certain application segments due to the environmental bioaccumulation of current petroleum-derived key ingredients used in the formulations. This connection between products and market needs encouraged me to start RiKarbon and explore commercial viability.

DESCA: As an innovator and entrepreneur, what path did you take to get to this point?

Basudeb: In 2014, I co-founded my first venture to commercialize fragrance and food flavoring ingredients, which provided me with prior entrepreneurship experiences and helped to flush out the key business components and challenges for the current technology. The RiKarbon team was fortunate to (1) leverage the entrepreneurship mind and expertise of Horn Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Delaware and Delaware Small Business Development Center, (2) secure Blue Hen proof-of-concept funds to develop a prototype, and (3) receive support from the  National Science Foundation for the I-Corps cohort program. The I-corps program allowed over 160+ in-person interviews and attendance at trade shows and workshops to gain knowledge about current products, gaps, and market needs. This market research enabled the development of appropriate value propositions, a revenue model, and the creation of relationships with customers, partners, advisors and contract research companies.  Finally, I leveraged funding resources from the US Government SBIR/STTR program to bring RiKarbon to reality, hire employees, develop the company infrastructure, develop the process technology and send products to potential customers for testing. 

DESCA: How did DESCA help you through your journey?

Basudeb: DESCA has provided significant support to RiKarbon in a number of ways. It provided opportunities to (1) attend TechConnect meetings to obtain valuable feedback from business and entrepreneur-minded experts, (2) present an investor pitch at the 2019 AIChE organized Chemical Venture and 2019 venture forum meetings, enabling a foundation for establishing relationships with investors, and (3) publishing press releases about the business story and successes to dissipate information to the community and investors. 

DESCA: What are the next steps for you?

Basudeb: I see tremendous enthusiasm surrounding our products among our potential customers, partners and investors to help them achieve their sustainability goals, meet market needs and consumer desirability, and grow investment capital. This, in turn, gives me enormous enthusiasm to continue transforming RiKarbon into a large entity. The next steps include identification of commercial manufacturing partners, sell products to lubricants and cosmetics manufacturing companies who have tested our technology and expressed an interest to buy, hire more employees, and bring diversity to the product portfolio. 

DESCA is thrilled that Basudeb and RiKarbon have reached this level and is looking forward to seeing his technology reach the next level.

For more information on DESCA (Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance) and our TechConnect Workshops, visit our website at www.desustainablechem.org