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Biohm is July's Featured Business of the Month

Thu, 25 July 2019

Ehab Sayed won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in June 2018 for his business, Biohm.
Biohm places biological systems at the heart of its inspiration to revolutionise the construction industry by creating a healthier and more sustainable built environment, whilst tackling waste. Biohm does this by developing bio-based materials and circular construction systems, inspired by nature and driven by socio-ethical, environmental and economic needs.
 
Biohm collects food and agricultural waste, processes and combines it with a unique natural binder to create a compound, Orb (Organic refuse biocompound), which is a versatile sheet material. Ehab is also training mycelium (the root system of mushrooms) to consume synthetic and organic waste, creating unrivalled building insulation. Orb presents a viable alternative to construction materials, such as MDF and Plasterboard, and whilst mycelium holds unrivalled insulating qualities, it also has the potential to become the world’s first commercially implemented organic and synthetic waste recycling material.
 
All of Biohm’s materials will eventually be combined with its interlocking construction system, Triagomy, which is patented in over 60 countries and reduces the environmental impact of buildings by 120%, as well as their costs by 70%, and build-times by 95%.
 
Biohm has created a circular business model that has multiple revenue streams through waste collection services, research, product sales and, eventually, building services.
 
We caught up with Ehab to find out what’s been happening with Biohm over the past twelve months, and what his future plans are.
 
What was the inspiration behind Biohm?
Biohm was inspired by the stark contrast between the highly efficient, elegant, symbiotic and holistic natural environments that surround us, and the built environments that we have created, which have failed to meet our global environmental, social and environmental needs. I led research projects investigating the UK's waste streams and was blown away by the figures that came out of the construction industry. What was even more astounding was the way we discard hazardous materials in ways that allow them to seep into soils, our oceans and, eventually, into our bodies.
 
The research I carried out sparked a passion in me to take this challenge on and make it my mission to create sustainable building systems, healthier materials and revolutionise the construction industry. This is something that Biohm is working hard to address through the development of advanced natural materials, circular construction systems and innovative business models that will disrupt the property market.
 
How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to start your own business?
I’d always wanted to start my own company, but I never expected it to happen so soon. Once my Triagomy construction system was developed and patented, I found myself embarking on this entrepreneurial journey which I hadn't expected. Encouragement and support from the construction industry provided me with constant affirmation that this is the right thing to do, and that there is an ever-growing need for someone to be making it happen. My determination and limitless ambition have driven me to make this a reality and, looking back, I think I would have probably struggled to get a 'normal job'.
 
What challenges have you faced in starting-up your business?
Throughout my journey with Biohm, the one thing that I have always been challenged by is 'business as usual'. Our current economic systems and extractive capitalist corporate structures are extremely one-sided in the way that the benefits are not equitably dispersed amongst members within a company, society and a community. Setting-up a truly ethical company that is driven by global environmental, social and economic needs is very challenging in this ecosystem.
 
At Biohm, we take a nature-inspired approach to investment. In nature, an organism cannot own part of another organism unless they enter a long-term symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship. Therefore, we only take investment from individuals or organisations who would like to join us on our journey over the long-term, share our ethos, motives and vision, are able to offer more than just financial resources and are happy to join the team. Despite rejecting conventional investment, our unique business model and approach has allowed us to experience rapid growth, and enables the team to own 100% of the company.
 
What is your biggest (or proudest) achievement with the business?
My proudest moment took place at a community consultation in West Somerset, where we are setting up the world's first community-led bio-manufacturing facility. During the meeting, a lady stood up and said, "We are so used to a capitalist approach which says that we will take what we want from the earth, and we’ll exploit the residents, and we will make loads of money for a small number of people. However, this project may be hard to believe because it is not advocating any of those!"
 
Seeing the hope and the joy on the faces of the audience made me feel that we are really making a difference and, doing things the right way!
 
You won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in June 2018. How have things changed since then?
Winning the award was a transitional moment for us. It allowed us to set up our own lab, which led to us delivering on larger scale projects; eventually paying salaries and kick-starting our rapid growth. Today, the team is almost four times the size it was back then. We’re about to move into our first Biohm-owned R&D HQ in London, and we are setting up our first manufacturing facility in West Somerset, from which we will be able to deliver enough mycelium insulation for over 20 homes per month. We have come a long way! The list of clients and companies that we are working with has grown, and we are now working with multinationals.
 
What’s next for Biohm?
The next year or two will be all about growth for us. We will be setting up our second manufacturing facility in Newcastle by mid-2020, using the same social business model that we are currently using. Then we will start to explore the Dutch, Portuguese and German markets. We will also start developing our construction system with full-scale prototypes and are exploring collaborations with world-renowned engineering and architecture firms to carry out the development. We should have our Orb sheet material in production within the next year, and our plant-based concrete ready for commercialisation within the next two years. This rapid growth is driven by the urgency to take action in the fight against the current climate crisis.
 
What role do you think entrepreneurs will play in the transition to a low carbon society?
In order for us to take radical action against the climate crisis, we need to advance beyond sustainability and towards regeneration. Entrepreneurs will play an essential role in the transition towards a more regenerative future. Conventional business models, technologies and operations are simply unsustainable. It’s crucial for entrepreneurs to showcase and demonstrate new business models and future technologies to lead the transition, and inspire, encourage and guide existing and large corporations to take steps towards a regenerative economy.
 
What are the most important personality traits to have as an entrepreneur, and why?
Determination, drive, passion, resilience and optimism. Throughout any journey that requires a cultural transition, behaviour change or a transformation in perceptions, there will always be numerous obstacles along the way.
 
If you could return to this time last year would you do anything differently?
I realise now that I could have been much bolder and braver, especially when dealing with clients. It is very easy, as a vulnerable start-up, to feel indebted to larger corporations when working together but, more often than not, you will find that you both need each other just as much.
 
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
Find a cause that you truly believe in and are very passionate about. Do your research, work hard, and surround yourself with a solid support network. Never be afraid to seek out opportunities and ask for help when you need it.

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