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Organised by the Singapore Management University Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SMU IIE), the Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition (LKYGBPC) is regarded as one of Asia’s largest university-led startup challenges.

Its latest edition ran last September, and the business that was crowned the Grand Winner was PlasticFri—a greentech company hailing all the way from Sweden.

Starting PlasticFri

PlasticFri was founded by brothers Max and Allen, with the mission to end plastic pollution.

Describing himself as a visionary social entrepreneur, Max told Vulcan Post that his personal drive to create an impact has been the fuel for his entrepreneurial journey. As such, he has founded four companies, and also made a major exit.

Although PlasticFri was only officially registered as a company in 2018, the actual genesis of the brothers’ work stems from over a decade prior as a side project. And the inspiration extends even further back.

Image Credit: PlasticFri

“Whenever we were out in the nature, our parents asked us to spend a few minutes picking up garbage before starting to play around,” Max recalled his childhood. “This became a habit which continued into adulthood, and we still make time for that today.”

But as adults, the two realised that these small efforts were sadly not scalable—most of the garbage they found in the nature was plastic waste and it never stopped accumulating.

Thus, over a decade ago, they started working on a side project, seeking a more scalable solution.

“In 2018, we had a breakthrough and succeeded with promising results beyond the lab and developing the core technology,” Max said.

Fast forward to today, PlasticFri offers a range of plant-based and eco-friendly products that are designed to replace plastics. Particularly, they offer waste bags, fruit bags, pet bags, aprons, paper cups, paper lids, paper straws, paper bags, carrier bags, and mailers.  

For their work, Max and Allen have been recognised by many platforms. They were named one of Sweden’s most powerful leaders in sustainability, selected by Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30, and awarded the Prince Daniel Fellowship.

And of course, now they’re also the 11th LKYGBPC’s Grand Winner.  

Competing with top talents

According to its website, the LKYGBPC brings some of the world’s most talented to Singapore, connecting them with Southeast Asia’s industry titans, academia, and investors.

Max told us that PlasticFri had received an invitation through their network to join the LKYGBPC.  

But the main reason for joining was to evaluate Singapore as a hub for PlasticFri’s expansion in the region, as well as allow the business to showcase their innovation and build partnerships.

Image Credit: Singapore Management University Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

“We are exploring to expand our presence in the Asia Pacific region, especially in Southeast Asia and Singapore, where there is a strong demand for eco-friendly solutions,” Max elaborated.

As a winner, PlasticFri had received S$100,000 in cash and S$75,000 in-kind prizes. But more than that, the startup also received the opportunity to be mentored by notable venture capitalists (VCs) in the innovation and entrepreneurship space for expansion in the region.

In terms of connections, PlasticFri was able to work with Elaine Heng, NTUC FairPrice’s Deputy Group CEO & CEO of Retail Business.

Through that link-up, PlasticFri is currently in the process of ongoing pilots with FairPrice, and is in dialogue for a commercial deal with another local client.

Image Credit: Singapore Management University Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Changing the future

So, what’s next following this pilot? Will FairPrice be switching to exclusively PlasticFri products?

Max said, “FairPrice has a great focus on sustainability. They will communicate more details about the pilots and also next steps according to their internal policies.”

Aside from these collaborations, PlasticFri is also considering establishing a local company in Singapore.

With a foothold in Singapore, the objective in the long term is to build an ecosystem to serve the greater SEA region.

“Singapore is a forward-thinking and advanced country where there is a strong demand for eco-friendly solutions which access to funding is possible,” Max said. “So, we believe that can be a great hub for our expansion in the region.”

Image Credit: PlasticFri

Asking Max about whether the business aims to localise its approach to Singapore, he pointed out a few differences.

“In our home country of Sweden, there is a well-established and optimised waste management system to enable circularity,” Max said. “In Singapore, due to scarcity of land, the possibilities are more limited.”

But due to this scarcity, Max believes there is an even a greater need locally for PlasticFri’s circular products.

To date, the company has sold over 50 million products to over 30 B2B customers in Europe, North America, and Asia. And perhaps Singaporean companies such as FairPrice will be joining that roster of clients, especially if PlasticFri does decide to set up shop in the country.  

  • Learn more about PlasticFri here.
  • Read other articles written about startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Singapore Management University Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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