We’re investing for a better world – Why Sky Ocean Ventures is funding Xampla

Jamie Rowles, Head of Investments, Sky Ocean Ventures

The devastating impact of plastic pollution is a subject that’s high on Sky’s agenda. Since its launch in 2017, our Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, encouraging people to #PassOnPlastic, has touched nearly 50 million people. And, through our #BeAnOceanHero initiative with WWF, we’re inspiring millions more to join us in the movement to protect our oceans and planet.

As a media and entertainment organisation, we’re in a powerful position to issue a global rallying cry. And we’re taking action as a business too. We’re systematically ridding Sky of single-use plastic, and we’ve recently made an ambitious commitment to be net zero carbon by 2030.

Individual and corporate action is vital, but it’s not the whole answer. To break its addiction to single-use plastic, the world needs innovators and inventors – people with bold ideas that will revolutionise materials, reinvent processes and power the circular economy. So, through Sky Ocean Ventures, our impact investment fund, we’ve committed £25million to accelerate the most promising ideas that can address the ocean plastic pollution crisis.   

When we met Xampla, we’d already invested in some exciting start-ups making plastic replacements from other naturally abundant materials. But two words in Xampla’s pitch really stood out: ‘plant protein’ – this is a first-of-its-kind approach and we were excited to see such a significant leap forward in our ability to manipulate nature’s most diverse and abundant building blocks. 

The scientific pedigree behind Xampla’s plant protein breakthrough is undoubtedly impressive – Professor Tuomas Knowles’ lab at the University of Cambridge is world-renowned for its understanding of the biophysics of biopolymers. This foundational level of research is reassuring for an investor and we are happy to also utilise our dedicated match-funding with Innovate UK to translate this research into commercial reality.

Our mission is to bring commercial products to scale that can make an impact on the environment; it’s our raison d’etre. So great science needs to be matched by a clear commercial plan for scale. We always challenge ourselves to create a high bar for future materials. We’re looking for approaches that are not just as good as the plastics they aim to replace, they must be better to create a compelling reason for customers to adopt the solution. We cannot rely purely on making a sustainability-led choice.

What excites us about Xampla’s material is that it can do things that plastic can’t. It has comparable functional properties in terms of barriers but it’s consumable, which opens up all sorts of opportunities for food grade applications. Crucially it decomposes quickly and naturally, so it can provide the kind of single-use benefits that we are accustomed too, without plastic’s pollution. And all this from a natural, sustainable and renewable source. This is what the future of materials should look like across industries and we’re excited to a part of bringing this to the widest possible audience.

Of course, a key reason to invest revolves around finding teams committed to working with the industries they’re going to change and this is very much the Xampla ethos.

We’re delighted to be one of Xampla’s seed round investors, and committed to helping them move swiftly from prototype to launch and growth. It could be a truly transformational product, changing the way millions of products are produced and packaged.

Europe Targets Washaway Plastic Pollution


A Europe-wide ban on washaway plastic ingredients in everything from fabric softener to cosmetics and fertilisers moved a step closer this week.

Today’s endorsement of the proposed restriction by a key EU Committee intensifies the pressure on FMCG brands and other industries to find alternative ingredients or face product bans. During consultation, Cosmetics Europe stated that the proposed restriction could affect more than 24,000 formulations, resulting in loss of revenue for the industry of over 12bn euros per year.

The Committee also recommended the ban include strict testing of alternatives to ‘intentionally added microplastics’ to prove they can biodegrade in soil, marine and freshwater environments. This will ensure only genuinely environmentally-friendly replacements are allowed, which signifies a big step towards reducing washaway plastic use.

Simon Hombersley, CEO of Xampla, a University of Cambridge spin-out developing a plant-protein alternative to microplastics said:

“Washaway microplastic ingredients like these provide many benefits to brands and consumers, but currently at a huge cost to the environment. We are committed to helping manufacturers move from these traditional plastics to new high-performance alternatives that don’t harm the planet at all.

“With today’s announcement, the Committee is highlighting that only genuine natural alternatives to microplastics are acceptable. We welcome this. We will be launching the world’s first plant protein microcapsule later this year, and early testing shows it decomposes in a matter of weeks.

“Europe is leading the way in this legislation, but given that products have customers across the world any changes to formulations introduced in Europe are likely to be implemented worldwide, which is even better news.”

The endorsement of the proposal came from the European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC), which assesses chemicals’ risk to the environment and human health, and the likely effectiveness of proposed legislation. It found the restriction would prevent 500,000 tonnes of polluting microplastic ingredients in Europe alone entering soil, rivers and the ocean over the next 20 years.

At the same time, the Agency’s Committee for Socio-economic (SEAC) analysis agreed its draft opinion on the costs and benefits of the proposal for society. It supports the wide scope of the proposal, noting that ‘microplastic pollution is irreversible and that early action to reduce emissions can be beneficial for society’. A 60-day consultation of SEAC’s draft opinion will start soon. The consolidated opinion of both committees is expected to be ready by the end of 2020.

The ECHA announcement is at https://echa.europa.eu/-/rac-backs-restricting-intentional-uses-of-microplastics

Xampla Receives Funding Boost

Xampla, a University of Cambridge spin-out seeking to reduce microplastic pollution, today announced £2 million in seed funding. The round was co-led by global technology investor Amadeus Capital Partners and Cambridge Enterprise, with participation from Sky media group’s impact investment fund Sky Ocean Ventures and the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund VI, managed by Parkwalk.

Xampla is developing the world’s first plant protein-based replacement for microplastics added to everyday items. The funding will enable the start-up to develop its prototype material into products. Its initial target is the $12 billion microencapsulation market, in which manufacturers of home and personal care products currently rely on synthetic polymer capsules, a usage the EU is considering banning.

Amelia Armour, Principal, Amadeus Capital Partners, said: “Xampla is a great example of deep tech emerging from the UK research base at exactly the right time to respond to regulatory changes and consumer trends around plastic. We’re excited to be investing alongside an impact investor, and backing a world-class science team that can offer commercial solutions for multiple industries.”

Unlike current alternatives to microplastics, which are based on plant polysaccharides, such as cellulose and algae, Xampla’s plant protein materials do not rely on chemical cross-linking for their performance. This enables them to decompose quickly and completely in the natural environment.

Dr Elaine Loukes, Investment Director, Cambridge Enterprise, said: “Xampla has come up with a remarkable alternative to plastic. The fabrication process mimics those used by nature and the product is entirely made from natural materials. We are very pleased to be supporting a company with the potential for tremendous beneficial impact.”  

In proposing regulations on added microplastics, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) found that each year in Europe added microplastics equivalent to 10 billion plastic bottles were released into the environment and were practically impossible to remove.

Simon Hombersley, Xampla CEO, explained: “Our mission is to reduce the impact of single-use plastic, and our initial commercial focus is on intentionally-added microplastics. With our new plant protein material, we are committed to helping manufacturers make the transition from traditional plastics to high performance alternatives that protect the planet.”

Vanessa Draper, Director, Sky Ocean Ventures, added: “We have been investing in innovations to end the devastating flow of plastic into the sea for the last two years. We’re excited by Xampla’s potential to replace synthetic microplastics hidden inside everyday products from detergents to paints. Consumers often aren’t aware of these ‘hidden plastics’ and have little ability to reduce their use of them so a new sustainable materials approach is needed.”

The creation of the new material stems from a breakthrough from protein experts Professor Tuomas Knowles and Dr Marc Rodriguez Garcia, inspired by the process a spider uses to create silk. Xampla facilitates a similar transformation at scale and in a very efficient process by using widely-available and renewable plant proteins, without the need for harmful solvents. The resulting Supramolecular Engineered Protein can be structured into plastic-like materials such as films, gels and capsules. Xampla holds two patents for the new material, with a third in development. 

The scale of the potential economic impact of the EU’s proposed restriction can be seen in data submitted by the industry to the ECHA’s stakeholder workshop. For example, Cosmetics Europe, the trade body representing the European cosmetics and personal care industry, stated that a restriction of microplastics in both rinse-off and leave-on products would affect 24,172 formulations, resulting in loss of revenue for the industry of 12.2bn euros per year.

Finalist in Science Start-up of the Year 2019

Xampla is a finalist in the Science Start-up of the Year 2019 competition, part of the Falling Walls conference. This global competition brings together breakthrough science start-ups from around the world, inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall to find companies breaking down new walls using science to impact positively on society.

See Dr Elaine Loukes from Cambridge Enterprise and Simon Hombersley, CEO, presenting the company in the competition here.

Xampla’s Environmental Impact Potential Recognised

GC Nomination award 2019

Plant-protein materials developer Xampla has been shortlisted for the €500k Green Challenge Prize, one of the largest annual competitions for sustainable entrepreneurship. 

It’s an incredible validation of our technology and the potential of our business.  The competition selected Xampla as one of 25 shortlisted companies globally, from over 1,100 companies assessed by the competition’s expert panels around the world. We’re in the running for the €500k prize, which will be announced in October.

Europe Bans Added Microplastics


On 30 January 2019 the EU announced a proposal to ban added microplastics.  It’s a major step from the EU, which will have a huge impact on plastics in our environment — and on many industries.

Added microplastics touch our lives every day.  Between waking up and breakfast this morning, you used microplastics repeatedly.  They were in your toothpaste, your shampoo, your shower gel, in your clean clothes.  They may have been in your cosmetics, they were probably used in making your bowl of cereal.  And in each case, the microplastic will end up in our environment, even the ocean.  And they never truly biodegrade.

The impact of the EU’s move will be huge. The Guardian reported that the EU releases — each year – microplastics equivalent to 10bn plastic bottles.  Reuters reported the Commission’s Vice President Jyrki Katainen claiming that the EU ban could set a standard for industries around the world.  Business of Fashion reported that the ban would cost their sector £12bn in lost revenue, and require the reformulation of over 24,172 products.  

The process will take a while, with no legislation expected until 2020, and industry will negotiate a gentle transition.  But this ban will have a massive impact on entire industry sectors.  And as a technology start-up with the perfect entirely natural alternative to microplastics, it represents a huge opportunity.  Cosmetics, fragrance, homecare and other manufacturers don’t need to cancel product lines and shut down plants.  They simply need to work with us.

A solution for industry, and our oceans.