God­win grad­u­ate has pas­sion for sus­tain­abil­ity

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - STARTUP SPOTLIGHT - BY JOHN REID BLACK­WELL Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch MARK GOR­MUS/TIMES-DIS­PATCH TERRAVIVE

When Ju­lianna Keel­ing was grow­ing up in Henrico County, her fam­ily made an­nual trips to Aca­dia Na­tional Park in Maine.

On their na­ture hikes, “my par­ents would tell my brother and me to put our hands into the soil and onto the trees and feel the earth. We have al­ways been taught to re­spect the peo­ple around us, and the en­vi­ron­ment we live in,” she said.

The lessons stuck with Keel­ing, who has car­ried a pas­sion for sus­tain­abil­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence through high school and col­lege and now to the cre­ation of her startup com­pany, Terravive.

The name Terravive is de­rived from the Latin words for Earth and life, and Keel­ing’s goal is to give peo­ple more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly choices of house­hold prod­ucts at an af­ford­able price. Terravive man­u­fac­tures such prod­ucts as bags, straws, plates, uten­sils and cups that are made from plant-de­rived, biopoly­mer ma­te­ri­als de­signed to re­duce pol­lu­tion.

“I am in this be­cause I gen­uinely care about sus­tain­abil­ity,” Keel­ing said. “I want to spend my life mov­ing the nee­dle in sus­tain­abil­ity, and the best way we can make an im­pact on sus­tain­abil­ity is re­duc­ing the amount of plas­tic in our land­fills and oceans.”

Terravive’s uten­sils look and feel like plas­tic uten­sils. But un­like plas­tic, they are biodegrad­able when dis­carded into the en­vi­ron­ment and can even be tossed into a back­yard com­post heap.

Three years af­ter she founded Terravive while at­tend­ing Wash­ing­ton and Lee Uni­ver­sity, Keel­ing has built a cus­tomer base among in­sti­tu­tions that run food ser­vice op­er­a­tions and buy table­ware — col­leges and cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, for in­stance.

This sum­mer, Keel­ing at­tended a two-month in­cu­ba­tor for Gen Z startup founders hosted by re­tailer Tar­get Corp. in Min­neapo­lis. Terravive will soon start a pi­lot pro­gram sell­ing its prod­ucts at a limited num­ber of Tar­get stores, with the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­pand­ing to oth­ers if the pi­lot is suc­cess­ful.

Keel­ing, 23, at­tended Mills God­win High School and stud­ied chem­istry and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies at Wash­ing­ton and Lee.

“I got re­ally in­ter­ested in chem­istry be­cause I re­al­ized chem­istry could be used as a tool to solve some of our great­est en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues,” she said.

Keel­ing took a year off from col­lege af­ter her first year to work for an­other startup com­pany in San Francisco, where she met men­tors who helped her de­velop plans for a busi­ness mak­ing biodegrad­able ma­te­ri­als.

Af­ter at­tend­ing the Tar­get in­cu­ba­tor, she re­turned to Rich­mond to par­tic­i­pate in the Light­house Labs startup ac­cel­er­a­tor, a lo­cal non­profit that of­fers a 13week men­tor­ing and busi­ness plan­ning pro­gram for startup com­pa­nies. Terravive is one of seven com­pa­nies cho­sen for this fall’s Light­house Labs pro­gram.

Keel­ing said the net­work­ing and men­tor­ing in the Light­house Labs pro­gram has been help­ful.

“I was re­ally drawn to the fact that Light­house Labs does not take eq­uity,” she said. “I think many ac­cel­er­a­tors do take eq­uity, and I can un­der­stand why they do that, but it can be detri­men­tal to the growth of a young com­pany.”

One of the key is­sues that Terravive faces is mar­ket­ing. “How do we com­mu­ni­cate to peo­ple that our prod­ucts are not plas­tic?” she said.

The biopoly­mers that Terravive uses have been known to chemists for decades but have not been used much in con­sumer prod­ucts, Keel­ing said. Terravive’s edge is a pro­pri­etary process that re­duces the cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing, she said. The com­pany is us­ing con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“It can be made at the same price as plas­tic at scale,” said Keel­ing, adding that the price at re­tail would be com­pet­i­tive with plas­tic table­ware and bags.

“We are just lever­ag­ing the processes and ma­te­ri­als that the Earth has had for a long, long time,“she said.

Ju­lianna Keel­ing’s startup com­pany, Terravive, is work­ing to pro­vide af­ford­able and eco-friendly house­hold prod­ucts.

Terravive uses con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers to make straws and table­ware that are biodegrad­able.

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