Updated 06/04/2012 05:28 PM
Five years later, mushrooms spring forth new commercial eco-friendly facility
A local company that found a unique use for mushrooms marks an important milestone. Our Lori Chung has more on why local leaders are touting their success as a blueprint for others to follow.
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GREEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- “What you see here is the first stage of our mushroom production system,” said Eben Bayer, CEO of Ecovative.
It works like any other factory and that's the point. But what's different here is how an idea by two RPI grads to make bio-degradable packaging has literally mushroomed into a full-scale production company.
"We started making this material first under our beds, then in the basement of an incubator at Rensselear, then in a small patched together factory we built and this is the first commercial factory," said Bayer.
Five years ago Ecovative launched, turning crop waste, like corn stocks, into Styrofoam-like material by growing mushrooms through them. First helped along by RPI, local leaders say their success is proof that academic, public and private partnerships work.
“We’ve been funding them through a series of five grants now going back four to five years,” said Frank Murray, President and CEO of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. "Well over a million dollars."
"Invest in opportunity, invest in manufacturing, invest in job creation," said Congressman Paul Tonko.
And it's not all about packaging. The materials now being used for shipping may actually be developed one day to make something like a shoe.
"Steel Case, Crate and Barrel and Puma have actually come to us and said 'Hey, can you develop this for furniture or surf boards or seat cushions?’" said Bayer.
Bayer says those ideas are all under development. The company that started with just two is now 40 plus and growing. Leaders say their progress shows that in addition to mushrooms, new businesses can and do grow in New York.
"The support that NYS has given us in terms of research and also in scaling and manufacturing facility far outweigh the downsides," said Bayer.