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Tethis Inc. Names Robin Weitkamp Chief Executive Officer

Company Accelerates Efforts to Market Diaper Technology While Capitalizing on New Discoveries

News provided byTethis

New Tethis CEO aims to further develop startup’s sustainable diaper technology


RALEIGH, N.C., Aug. 1, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Tethis Inc., a leading biomaterials company, today announced it has appointed longtime chemicals and materials executive Robin Weitkamp as Chief Executive Officer. Weitkamp will be based in the Raleigh, North Carolina area.

Weitkamp joins Tethis from Elevance Renewable Sciences, a privately funded renewable chemicals company, where he served as Chief Operating Officer. There he led all manufacturing, supply chain, regulatory, HSE, engineering, licensing and commercial oversight for the global chemical company. Prior to Elevance, he oversaw the Collaborations Division at Symyx Technologies, and before that, held various commercial leadership roles within BP and Albemarle.

Tethis manufactures biodegradable polymers, alternatives to plastics that are derived from corn starch rather than petrochemicals. The company's current focus is on manufacturing polymers with super absorbent qualities, the primary market for which will be baby diapers. Tethis secured $17.6 million in funding earlier this year to scale operations and open a manufacturing facility in Zebulon.

In the course of bringing this technology to market, Tethis discovered and patented several other applications for its underlying technology, some of which are already in use in products. The business has founded a sister company under the leadership of Tethis founder, entrepreneur Scott Bolin, to manage this portfolio, capitalize on these discoveries and bring them to market. Bolin will remain a member of the Tethis Board of Directors.

"We are thrilled to be expanding our team with the addition of Robin," said Chris Evans, Executive Chairman of Tethis.

"Having spent the first half of his career in large, publicly traded chemical companies, Robin understands well the chemicals landscape and the potential customer base for this technology. Further, his recent experience scaling emerging growth materials businesses makes him an excellent fit to be joining our company at this stage in its development."

Of Bolin, Evans continued, "Nobody is better at identifying early stage opportunities in chemicals technology than Scott. We are excited by the breakthroughs his team continues to have, and we look forward to more announcements about this work in short order."

"I see immense opportunities in the Tethis product," commented Robin Weitkamp. "Providing consumers with improved, biodegradable diaper technology excites me a great deal, not least because, as a father of four, I understand firsthand the incredible potential for this innovation to bring a major change to consumers worldwide."

"In addition, my wife Kimberly and I are very excited to call Raleigh our new home. I have been impressed by the amount of local support for Tethis, a company whose story began with innovation at NC State, and is supported by local funding from the likes of the Wolfpack Investor Network and the Carolina Angel Network."

"I am honored to be helping take the company to the next level with plans that will continue to benefit the Triangle area."

About Tethis

The world is on the verge of a biochemical revolution. By 2050, 50% of the multi-trillion dollar chemicals market will be biochemicals. Made from renewable materials (as opposed to petroleum), biochemicals can biodegrade and may replace plastics in an array of consumer products. Tethis has a patented platform for the creation of these high-value chemicals using a manufacturing process that is high throughput and low cost. Tethis continues to innovate, discover, advance, and patent new ways to transform plant-derived feedstocks into performance polymers for use in a range of applications and industries. For more information, visit www.tethis.com.

PRESS CONTACT: Helen Bertelli, Benecomms (202) 465-1468, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

SOURCE Tethis

Blackstone celebrates RTP partnership, foundation for future growth

For six years, the organization focused on finding Carolina students and faculty members with bright ideas and connected them to experienced entrepreneurs and investors.

Amy Stursberg, Chancellor Carol L. Folt and Judith Cone hold a framed certificate
Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Chancellor Carol L. Folt, Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Judith Cone and Bryan McGann, executive director for Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network–RTP, celebrated the success of Blackstone at an event at UNC-Chapel Hill on July 20, 2018. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

After six years, 250 local companies mentored and more than $430 million in capital raised by these companies, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network–RTP celebrated these accomplishments at a Carolina campus event July 20.

The network, a partnership Carolina made with three other Triangle universities and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, not only has accomplished what it set out to achieve in the Research Triangle Park, but the foundation has also used that success to prove that these results can be replicated in other communities.

“This is where it all started for me,” Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, told a standing room only audience at Hyde Hall. A public servant for much of her career, including a stint as director of the $500-million September 11th Fund in New York City, Stursberg had never worked with starting businesses before coming to Blackstone. She recalled starting out with only one other employee and “micromanaging and stalking” entrepreneurs and university experts as a crash course in startup development.

“The Research Triangle Park was really all our lessons learned, even the things we shouldn’t do,” Stursberg said. “We now have these programs all over the country that are about collaboration and ecosystem building, but it all started here.”

Other speakers at the event included Chancellor Carol L. Folt, Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Judith Cone and Bryan McGann, executive director for Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network–RTP.

“We have a dual connection to both innovation and public service, and they go hand in hand,” Folt said in her remarks. “The people that do these things are often the same people. They’re doing public good and building thriving companies to really reinvest in the communities that we care so much about. This is a beautiful blending.”

As examples of the network’s success, Cone invited two RTP entrepreneurs to tell their stories. Scott Bolin, the first fellow at the Blackstone RTP network, went on to found Tethis, a company that has developed environment-friendly superabsorbent polymers to make items like disposable diapers biodegradable.

Rahima Benhabbour, a faculty member in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the UNC and N.C. State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, founded AnelleO to make the first 3-D printed intravaginal ring designed to treat a women’s health condition.

Bolin called the rigorous process of startup vetting a “meatgrinder” and Benhabbour compared her experience to a “rollercoaster ride,” but both agreed that they couldn’t have launched their companies without the network’s connections.

Disconnected ecosystem

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation came to North Carolina in 2011, as the nation and the state were recovering from the devastation of the 2008 recession. The foundation, as part of its larger mission to inspire entrepreneurship around the globe, brought a different approach to economic development, one that focused on finding individuals with bright ideas and connecting them to experienced entrepreneurs (for advice and guidance) and investors (for funding).

“Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation is an impactful way to spur job creation and has the ability to lift entire communities,” Stursberg said. “The work of the foundation, including our efforts in North Carolina, is a natural extension of the firm, helping provide businesses with what they need to grow.”

The Research Triangle Park was a perfect place to put this approach to action.The Triangle already boasted a high concentration of universities with researchers eager to get their discoveries and innovations into the hands of the people who needed them.

“North Carolina has a rich history of citizens investing in its universities because people in our state understand that the innovations created by great minds at these institutions make a human and economic impact,” Cone said, adding that one way of paying back that investment and serving the public is “using the vehicle of startups” to deliver helpful products or services and create jobs.

But there was a glitch. Great researchers often lacked the business knowledge and business connections needed to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

“Research through Kenan-Flagler Business School and Judith Cone’s office showed that, at the time, there were gaps in our ecosystem that, if filled, represented major opportunities for entrepreneurial growth,” McGann said.

That was the kind of “nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem” Blackstone wanted to help, said foundation Vice President Tony Tolentino. “We look for regions that are on the cusp of doing something big and special, where our program could help move the needle.”

So, starting with a $3.63 million gift, the foundation created the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network—RTP in partnership with Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and N.C. Central universities and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.

“It was a tremendous honor for us to have the foundation make this investment,” said David Routh, vice chancellor for University Development at Carolina. “They had a vision to make a difference in the economic life of our community, and the impact of their generosity has since made a difference in the individual lives of many of our community’s citizens.”

Free advice

In 2012, the network established a well-connected team of 15 entrepreneurs-in-residence to identify promising startups and help them grow. Collectively, these experienced, serial entrepreneurs had founded 46 companies, employed more than 5,000 employees, raised over $1 billion for companies they founded and another $4.2 billion for other companies.

“The Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network has served as a turbocharger for the regional network of entrepreneurs,” said Ted Zoller, Carolina business professor and director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Local startups enter the network as “mentored companies,” meeting with an entrepreneur-in-residence monthly to achieve significant business milestones. The startups also receive help from Blackstone fellows, such as local university MBA, law and doctoral students who provide support in financial modeling, market research, competitive analysis and due diligence.

After completing certain goals, mentored companies may become “portfolio companies,” gaining access to sector experts, venture coaches, angel investors, and administrative and marketing support provided by the network.

The network maintains an average of 50 mentored companies and 12 portfolio companies at any one time. The network also sponsors and participates in regional entrepreneurship events, panels and conferences, strategic partnerships and community outreach. For all this help, Blackstone doesn’t charge these companies any fees and does not take equity in the companies.

Spinout success

One of the network’s many success stories is Bivarus, a Carolina spinout that provides real-time patient feedback to healthcare providers via smart phone and email. The founders of Bivarus are Seth Glickman, president and executive medical director of the UNC Health Alliance and an associate professor of emergency medicine at Carolina, and Kevin Schulman, a professor of medicine and business administration at Duke University.

“Being a faculty member who also wants to start a company has been an exciting journey,” Glickman said. “We’re not really traditionally trained to be entrepreneurs. Without the broader support of the Blackstone network, it’s possible I would have folded, thrown in the towel, a long time ago.”

Instead, with the network’s help, Bivarus, which was founded and launched in 2012, raised $3 million in 12 months. In 2016, it reported 700 percent annual revenue growth. This positioned the company to receive an investment from the Carolina Angel Network and also raise a separate round of funding in 2017 from a group of venture capital firms led by Hatteras Venture Partners via its management of the Carolina Research Venture Fund.

By late 2017, its staff had grown to 50 employees. In January 2018, Bivarus was acquired by Press Ganey, a company that was named one of America’s best management consulting firms by Forbes magazine.

A foundation for future growth

The Research Triangle Park began to rise in national entrepreneurship rankings, consistently landing in the top five, along with the better-known Silicon Valley and Boston Corridor. After three years, Blackstone executives were so excited about how well the North Carolina Network was doing that they announced that they were launching a similar initiative in Colorado.

“We wanted to duplicate that success in another market, and Denver-Boulder was selected as that ecosystem,” McGann said. People with Blackstone experience in North Carolina helped get the Colorado network started.

The results? Last year, Entrepreneur magazine ranked Chapel Hill third and Boulder, Colorado, fourth in its 25 best cities for entrepreneurs.

And there are many reasons to believe that these strong rankings will continue. In the Triangle, the model of success established by the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network means that the region is primed for future growth. By helping to create a connected entrepreneurial community and inspiring investors, entrepreneurs and universities to form strategic, long-term partnerships, the network achieved its goal in building a self-sustaining foundation. That foundation promises to make an enduring impact in the region, where an increasing number of new businesses take root and thrive.

Learn Why Investors are Closely Watching These 20 Companies

20180516224555 ent18 june investors

Investors and incubators share the most brilliant companies that have caught their attention this year.
8 min read

This story appears in the June 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

What are investors most excited about? Entrepreneurs want to know, so... we asked them! We surveyed the VC and incubator community, requesting the most brilliant companies that have caught their attention this year (but that they have no connection to). The response was big -- and notably varied. As part of our 100 Brilliant Companies list, we whittled their responses down to 20 companies that seem most poised for lasting success.

Related: 10 Genius Marketing Campaigns That Went Viral

The following companies were nominated by at least one of the following: BBG Ventures, Chobani Incubator, The Company Lab, Felix Capital, Forerunner Ventures, Good Growth Capital, Greylock Partners, Hello Alice, Hood Incubator, ICONYC Labs, Innovate Birmingham, Rise of the Rest, Lean Startup Co., Loud Capital, Muse Capital, NCT Ventures, RetailXelerator, Upfront Ventures and Wake County Economic Development.

Hatch Apps

The D.C.-based startup Hatch Apps launched earlier this year, offering a kind of Squarespace for apps: a platform where building an app is as simple as clicking on templates, and the cost can be as low as $1,000 a month to maintain.

Tethis

In 2012, three North Carolina State grad students launched Tethis to create biodegradable absorption materials, creating a product that sucks up salt, as a way to clean water after fracking. But then it turned to diapers, developing a more eco-friendly approach to a product that typically uses oil-based absorption materials and constitutes up to 1.4 percent of all landfill waste. Major diaper companies took note, and in February, Tethis closed a $17.6 million Series C to fund the testing. Now it’s time to fill those diapers.

Trumbull Unmanned

This female-veteran-owned, Houston-based drone company has a thesis: The energy industry can be more environmentally friendly if it has the right data. So Trumbull’s drones fly above, say, an oil spill to detail the damage, or a large pipeline to search for potential damage, or even whale migration so Exxon can plan its offshore operations. In 2017, the company stretched its proverbial wings and provided critical support after Hurricane Harvey, and expanded its operations to Canada and Australia. 

HQ

It’s a perfectly simple idea: live, online trivia events in which hundreds of thousands compete, watching with glee as competitors are eliminated with each question. Those who win share a jackpot. Copycats now abound, so HQ has solidified its market position and increased its jackpots by seeking sponsors. First up, Warner Bros., which paid HQ $3 million to promote films like Ready Player One.

CVS Health

When CVS Health announced it would buy healthcare provider Aetna for $69 billion, the drugstore owner took a bold step toward the future. Together, the companies can provide expanded care options, likely meaning fewer doctor’s office visits for patients, thanks to consultations at retail clinics or via telemedicine. 

Amazon

Where to even begin? The $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods? The continuing success of Amazon Studios? The public competition for its new headquarters? Amazon Restaurants taking a run at Seamless? Its two-hour delivery service? Drones? Alexa? Hitting 100 million paying Prime members? Amazon has woven its tentacles into every corner of the world -- White House hostility be damned -- all while posting a profit for 12 straight quarters.

Robinhood

Prior to 2018, if you traded cryptocurrency, you probably used Coinbase and paid it 4 percent on each trade. Then came Robinhood with a deal: 0 percent. A million people signed up. The company’s goal is to entice users to join for crypto but eventually use its stock-trading service -- which is also free, thanks to the fact that Robinhood runs lean, making its money from subscriptions and interest generated by the cash users keep with them.

GOAT + Flight Club

As further evidence that the future of retail isn’t brick-and-mortar or web but a seamless marriage of both, the world’s leading sneaker resellers -- Flight Club and the online GOAT -- merged this year. The sneaker resale market is blowing up, and combined, these brands can offer sneakerheads a bigger selection of certified products. 

Beam Dental

All the dental-benefits company’s plans include Beam Perks, a service that sends toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to members every quarter -- a much more effective reminder to take care of your gums than those stress-inducing visits to the dentist. 

Planet Fundraiser

Businesses are often eager to help local schools’ and clubs’ fund-raising efforts but don’t always have the bandwidth to make it happen. This startup is filling that gap. Once a merchant signs on, anyone can shop, scan their receipt with the Planet Fundraiser app and select a cause to receive a portion of the purchase. It plans to expand to 20 markets by the end of 2018.

SpaceX

If you, like most folks, paused on February 6 to watch SpaceX Falcon Heavy’s test flight, you already get the point here. Let’s just say it: That was awesome! A rocket that can carry 64 metric tons into space went up and came back down perfectly. Two months later, its Falcon 9 rocket brought a planet-seeking NASA satellite into space. And SpaceX maintains the best is still around the corner: a rocket that’ll reach Mars by 2022. 

Related: 10 New Services That'll Make You Say, 'Why Didn't I Think of That?'

Bumble

Bumble -- which started as a dating app and has evolved to also be a friendship and networking app -- took its network offline in 2017 with the launch of Hive, a series of physical pop-up spaces where users can connect in the real world. Hive is both an event space and a co-working space, and successful installments in New York, London and Los Angeles were open to Bumble users for free on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Bird

Did the world really need an Uber for electric scooters? With $115 million in funding, the Santa Monica-based Bird has investors’ answer. In California, people in need of last-mile transportation have been flocking to the scooter-sharing startup, founded by former Uber and Lyft exec Travis VanderZanden. Though municipalities have been less than thrilled by the sudden flood of people zipping around on the vehicles, Bird continues to fly.

Science 37

Launched by doctors Noah Craft and Belinda Tan, Science 37 allows drugmakers to conduct clinical trials remotely via smartphone. This eliminates the need for office visits, which opens up trials to a far more diverse population than has historically been the case. The three-year-old company had its big break this year when drug giant Novartis signed a three-year deal for 10 clinical trials.

BuildingConnected

The construction industry isn’t exactly known for its speed, but that’s largely because there are so many moving parts and so much red tape -- even for small projects. BuildingConnected aims to streamline the preconstruction phase of any building work, creating software to help contractors connect with (quality!) vendors and keep track of all active bids.

Related: Looking for Great Leadership? These 10 Companies Are Leading the Way.

MongoDB

The open-source database-­software company serves businesses that need to store large amounts of data (and access it quickly). But plenty of today’s companies deal with unstructured data based on user behavior rather than hard facts. MongoDB, which had a successful IPO last fall, categorizes and analyzes that information, giving businesses the chance to iterate and test new products and features, fast. 

Dearduck

The average online shopper’s conversion rate is just 3 percent. Dearduck founder Katy Aucoin thought she could boost that number with online polls -- questions that would lead to product recommendations. But recently, she pivoted to B2B. Now Dearduck provides those polls to brands, whose own shoppers take them. Buzzy startups including Mouth and Pupjoy have signed up. 

Root Insurance

With car insurance, we all think we’re getting taken for a ride. Root, the insurance company that operates entirely via mobile technology, aims to build trust by basing offers on potential customers’ driving habits, which its app monitors for weeks before delivering a quote. The company is available in 16 states and is planning for nationwide coverage by 2019. It claims Root helps drivers save up to 52 percent -- and investors are excited, pouring $51 million into a round it closed in March. 

Roblox

The appeal of playing Roblox is clear. It’s an open-ended, online, 3-D world in which kids can make their own characters, play games, build things -- whatever they want. But the real genius is in the creative side: Roblox is user-generated, with creators making games and getting cash for them. Last year, 11 million people did so. And 50 million kids play every month, which, according to ComScore analysis, places Roblox behind only YouTube for kids under 18.

Pendo

Pendo’s SaaS platform and newly launched product cloud provides both analytics and messaging capabilities, helping software developers better understand -- and communicate with -- their users in real time, thanks to in-app messages requesting feedback on targeted features.

 

These NC State grads want to make diapers greener

 

With $17.6M boost, Raleigh's Tethis looks to commercialize its diaper technology

By  – Senior Staff Writer, Triangle Business Journal
Updated

With a new $17.6 million funder, startup Tethis is a step closer to changing the diaper industry forever, says co-founder and CEO Scott Bolin.

The financing will enable the Raleigh-based firm to scale commercial production of its products, which – unlike the petrochemical-fueled diaper materials currently dominating an $8 billion market, are manufactured from starches and renewable feedstocks.

Late last year, Bolin said Tethis was up for a major contract with a brand-name diaper manufacturer – but to get enough samples to the company, it would need to make more of its material, and quickly. And cost was a barrier. Just one test could mean a six-figure bill, he said at the time.

The new funder is what will help Tethis take advantage of that opportunity, fueling the buildout of the company's pilot manufacturing plant in Zebulon, he says. It’s expected to come online this spring, in time to start delivering preliminary samples to major industry players this summer.

The demand has been “tremendous,” Bolin says, noting that the prototype plant won’t be able to keep up.

“It will allow us to get samples in the market to customers who are interested, but we have more interest than we expected,” he says of the plant. “It will help us gauge interest for a full-scale plant … and teach us what we need to know.”

With the funder, Tethis secures support from Chapel Hill-based Blue Hill Group, which includes founder and managing partner Steve Lerner (founding principal of FGI Cellular, Capstrat, Piedmont Community Bank, Data Decision Group), alongside managing partners Ron Bernstein, CEO of Liggett, and Jonathan Hornaday, a serial banking executive.

Lerner, who has invested in the firm before, saw last year that Tethis was at an inflection point.

“They needed capital, not just for development, but for production – and that’s the purpose of this, to move them to the next stage,” Lerner says. As Tethis is both disruptive and IP-protected, it's a potential "holy grail invention" for investors, he adds.

Blue Hill is joined in the round by new investments from local university angel organizations: The Wolfpack Investor Network from N.C. State University and Carolina Angel Network from UNC-Chapel Hill (chaired by Lerner). This is the largest funding round for either group to-date, according to a press release. Existing backers also participated, the release said.

But a Dec. 28 securities disclosure for a $16 million fund, filed by Hornaday on behalf of “Blue Hill Group Tethis LP,” points to Blue Hill as the dominant investor by far.  

Tethis, according to securities filings, had previously raised more than $5.5 million, through six funders – primarily debt raises.  

Tethis has a history of rolling with the punches. Founded in 2012 by graduate students at N.C. State, Tethis first envisioned its technology in the fracking space. The salt-sucking material it had created would clean water used in the fracking process.

But Bolin soon saw the opportunity in using its absorbent material in diapers – where, a new dad himself, Bolin would find few eco-friendly options.

In addition to diapers, Tethis is exploring products and partnerships in other industries.

Bolin declined to be specific about those opportunities, saying it’s “nothing I can discuss yet,” but notes there are a lot of different applications for the compound, including in the paper and building materials industries.

In the meantime, Tethis has 16 employees and is in the process of hiring several more, he says.

The disposable diaper game changer: corn starch

http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/01/technology/diapers-ecofriendly-tethis/

Millions of families use baby diapers that end up in landfills.

In fact, more than 1,800 tons are used daily in the U.S., and about 20% of total waste in landfills is discarded diapers.

Because diaper materials aren't biodegradable -- with plastic in the lining and a filling made with petrochemical-based polymer (sodium polyacrylate) -- throwaway diapers are toxic to the environment if left untreated.

To cut down on environmental waste, Scott Bolin -- co-founder of Raleigh, N.C.-based startup Tethis -- has developed a green alternative: a biodegradable material made from corn starch, rather than petrochemical polymer.

diapers dot top

 Corn starch may sound like an unusual ingredient to include in a diaper, but it's safe to use, available in large quantities and cheap to buy.

diapers landfill

In the United States, 1,816 tons of disposable diapers are used daily.

"The diaper industry has struggled to move to greener products," Bolin told CNN. "Right now, most diapers in the world use a petrochemical that comes out of an oil refinery. But what consumers want is a renewable diaper."

The process, which Tethis has been working on since 2012, includes a few steps. A corn starch-based mixture is put through an extruder, a machine that changes material as it's compressed.

A noodle-like material comes out the other end and is eventually turned into a powder. It's then mixed with other substances to enhance its absorbency.

Following a round of successful customer trials, Bolin said diaper manufacturers have already taken note of the innovation both in the U.S. and Europe.

He declined to name the companies that have already reached out to him but said the interest is serious enough for Tethis to move ahead with production of the biopolymer.

diapers gel split

Tethis has developed a super-absorbant biodegradable polymer made from corn starch to be used in diapers.

To meet potential demand, the company is opening a production plant in Zebulon, N.C. this summer. The new 15,000-square-foot facility will employ between 15 to 20 people and produce about 700 tons of the biorenewable polymer each year. The goal is to ramp up production to 10,000 tons by mid 2018.

In the meantime, Bolin aims to form partnerships with some of the diaper manufacturers that make up a $40 billion global market.

diapers environmental factory

The corn-based mixture is put through an extruder to produce a noodle-shaped material which is then converted into a powder.

Although brands such as The Honest Company, cofounded by actress Jessica Alba, tout eco-friendly disposable diapers, they include a bio-based absorbent core. This means they are made of a wheat and corn blend that still features sodium polyacrylate. Tethis' material would eliminate the chemical polymer from those diapers as well, said Bolin.

However, companies would still have to figure out ways to eliminate the plastic in a diaper's lining.

"If we can even make today's diapers 10% better for the environment, this incremental change can have an immense impact," said Bolin.

CNNMoney (New York) First published February 1, 2017: 9:14 AM ET