Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

2020 Summer Catalyst Startup Profile: CNF/Rhinno Industries

Climate change can seem like a daunting problem to solve. How can we begin to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

Alex Wu ’21 believes that what we produce and how we produce it matter for climate change: “The solution to it lie lies in the materials we use.”

Enter hemp. Yes, hemp! Hemp-based composite materials are strong, light, and most importantly carbon-negative. Hemp is also a cheaper material because it can grow on a large scale and doesn’t require a lot of energy to produce.

So how does hemp work exactly? First, fiber is extracted from the hemp plant stem. A machine weaves it into yarn. Then the yarn is shaped and treated. Finally, the fiber is infused with resin, creating a high-performance material that is lighter as compared to resin-coated fabric and is produced with less waste as well. This material can then be used to produce a good.

Alex and his teammate Bruce Dietzen started out focusing on car bodies and interiors. But through Summer Catalyst, they began to consider hemp’s many possible applications – from aviation to housing to consumer goods. To expand their thinking, they worked with their Summer Catalyst advisor David Chang and connected with Summer Venture Program alumni David Zamarin ‘19 and Ravish Majthia MBA’18, both of whom have experience with manufacturing. Alex and Bruce are interested in the sporting industry and exploring how hemp can make a difference for skis and surfboards.

Summer Catalyst also helped Alex and Bruce to refine their value proposition. They are discovering what their customers really want: high-performance and sustainability. Function and performance can’t be sacrificed for sustainability. The good news is that hemp does perform. For example, in a ski, hemp-based composite material would help to dampen vibrations.

Alex and Bruce hope to confirm sporting goods as their first beachhead market, enlist manufacturers as partners, and run testing, both on the material and the products. They will also need to add engineering talent to their team. Finally, they would like to expand their operations in China, where their raw hemp is currently sourced. There is a lot of work ahead, but also enormous potential, and Alex is excited: “There is a change happening in manufacturing.”

As Alex thinks about the Summer Catalyst Showcase and opportunities to build awareness, he realizes this might be the first time people have heard of hemp-based material: “A material like this exists and a team like us exists.”

To learn more about CNF/Rhinno Industries, visit its website.