The Termatière cooperative project has been under development for a year already, with turbulences and accelerations. Time for a first assessment for our maker columnist, and now start-uper in bio-sourced materials.
My motivation has not changed: creating with Termatière a social and solidarity company specialized in the upcycling of agricultural waste into 100% bio-sourced local materials, with a view to allow for a circular economy dynamic, by creating added value on the territory from raw materials that already exist but are scarcely, not, or badly upcycled.
Things are progressing… at their own pace
A year a go, I started this column dying with impatience to get to the “heart of the matter” (the development of my samples of tinkered materials), although I barely had one toe within the incubator of Montpellier SupAgro. I already saw myself shredding vine shoots and removing my trials of composite materials from the mold, with a team of joyful scientists contributing to the project. I was foreseeing spring and summer in the lab then September in a lab sawing, nailing and carving my prototype wine cases made from MDF of vine shoots upcycled in this way. I had a road map. A map that is ongoing, of course, but with a temporality that I had greatly underestimated.
Because working in “lab” mode is different from working with a “laboratory”. Although the approaches complement each other, operations show a completely different reality. I first had to encounter an economic reality. Mustering a research team is not free. It isn’t so much the lack of will to contribute for nothing, but the use of specific machines and the time spent on the project by expert minds on the subject have a cost.
Following an estimate of the necessary means (as a minimum) and the people resources to muster for the Research & Development phase, starting with the development of the exact recipe for the vine shoot fiberboard, I embarked on the the research for the initial funding. But in order to benefit from the regional subsidies I was aiming for, the business plan needed to be clarified: philosophy and trade of Termatière, studied and recognized market, offers formulated, profitability indicators, canvassed partners, expected turnover over three years, etc.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty of things is time consuming since it requires constant perspective and time spent in the field, studying the market and identifying the interests of all, without losing sight of the initial utopia. I made the choice of taking part in competitions to continuously submit Termatière to constructive criticism, but also to replenish the kitty. Which worked pretty well. These won competitions allowed me to increase my own funds to be in a position to ask for the upper limits of subsidies.
With hindsight, I sometimes have the feeling that certain phases could have been carried out more rapidly, but when you are a beginner, you don’t necessarily grasp the degree of urgency of certain stages. I launched the market study without having a price estimate of my bio-sourced wine case. Which sometimes lead to meetings that came down to: “This is interesting. Let’s wait and see. It’s expensive, isn’t it?”
For a time, I was afraid I did it too early, but it was what enabled to approve the process of the project, to redefine the activities of Termatière and better understand client needs. The wine case, custom-made finished product, will therefore be developed consistently with the comments and expectations of our target customer base segment.
Morality: do not wait for the model or prototype to submit your project. Having the idea approved is fundamental, all the more so to make future clients contribute and involve them in the design of the product. And feeling the support those primarily concerned by the project is really great!
Because if the maker carries out DIY for herself or for friends, the entrepreneur must ensure she satisfies an existing need! When I started to produce my materials from viticulture waste, it was at first for my pleasure and an urge to learn by experimentation…
Great reorganization of the project last December! With Stéphane de Lacroix, “my” agricultural engineer, we went on holiday, our minds a little shaken by the last pivots of Termatière. We left the project to rest to meet again in the new year, more than ever at ease with the 2016 version of the project. Neither he or myself want to have a career in wine packaging products to become resellers of wine cases by hundreds of millions each year…
The activity has focused on the design and development of 100% bio-sourced local materials and the design of custom-made products, only on request. It is no longer a matter (at least for the moment!) of mass producing a finished product. The idea is to develop a catalog of bio-sourced local materials rather than a catalog of finished products. Objective for January: go on the field to confirm the market with distributors of local materials and with the great châteaux interested by custom-made wine cases made from our new materials.
Make or break
The next six months will be decisive for Termatière. The Research & Development stage in the laboratory, long-awaited, begins early March, for three months. The researchers are confident about the technical feasibility of our “vine shoot MDF” but the biggest challenge is still to come: find the right partners to get past the test-tube phase and carry out a technology transfer.
This stage is critical in terms of costs but also in terms of technical know-how. In order to anticipate, the preparation of the laboratory involves canvassing the manufacturers of the region to understand their action thresholds and adapt ourselves to their constraints in the development of the MDF recipe by Termatière and its production process.
We must co-write material specifications and a very precise R&D program since the time scale of a researcher is not the same as that of a maker-entrepreneur. Three months go by pretty fast. And so does a year incidentally!