Investment Opportunity: Seed Funding Stage
At a Glance
Year Created: 2018
Mission: Reduce Waste, Improve Sustainability, Help the Planet
Target Markets/Audience: Green Engineering / Material Management, Waste as a Resource
What Makes Joanne Unique
Joanne has a drive to find a solution to big problems. After decades of working at a construction company that manufactured building materials, Joanne Rodriguez came to realize that ultimately, all waste was making its way to either landfills or incineration. She wasn’t able to get her clients to zero waste, and as a sustainability leader, that was a huge goal she wanted to achieve.
After she started digging deeper into this issue, she realized there is a much larger problem at hand than she thought – but she also found herself in a unique position to be able to help solve the problem.
“There’s no waste in nature. Nature processes everything. It uses what’s available for its growth and survival… We need to be a little more like nature.”
What Joanne’s Trying To Solve
660 million tons of construction waste enters the waste management system in the United States alone – every year. The annual capacity of the solid waste disposal market will hit 4.5 billion tons by 2024, and 85% of U.S. landfill space is gone. It’s clear that we have to find an alternative way to mitigate the amount of waste (especially toxic waste) that we’re putting into landfills.
Mycocycle is addressing some of the world’s hardest to treat toxic constituents created from plastics and petrochemical products using mushrooms. Mushrooms are able to break down complex carbons in the natural world, and we’ve been able to leverage this ability to eliminate toxins naturally in the lab.
The process is cost-effective and sustainable. Once remediated, the result is a renewable byproduct that is fire and water-resistant and can be manufactured into new products–allowing the process to further pay for itself within the closed loop ecosystem.
We sat down with Joanne to talk with her about how she got her start as a founder, what her seed funding stage has been like, and how GET Cities has helped.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
I was feeling burnt out from working in the construction material manufacturing industry for several years. I ultimately left my role as a sustainability leader at my company to start an environmental consulting firm. After taking a course in permaculture design, I learned about the power of mushrooms and their ability to clean and recycle the earth. And I thought, “Well, why not try to apply it to construction materials?” The results were pretty incredible, and Mycocycle was born.
What is unique or significant about being at the seed stage?
Being at this stage really tests your grit and pushes you further than you thought you could go. At the seed stage, we’re always raising money, always talking about raising money, always thinking about raising money…and you’re also growing your company, which is why you’re raising the money. There’s so much that goes into this stage. I liken it to being a tween or an early teenager. You’re starting to get your first taste of independence. You have the opportunity, but maybe not the means just yet. This stage is all about finding the means. It’s also a little awkward, and a lot of information is coming at you, and trying to decipher all of it is an important task. A unique challenge of being in the seed stage is this unspoken expectation that you’ve gotten everything figured out. But that would be like us telling a 14-year-old that they should have everything figured out, right? And of course, they don’t, because there’s still a lot to learn, a lot of decisions to be made, and a lot of growth left.
What do you wish you’d known or done to prepare for the seed stage?
I think I was as prepared as I could be. You don’t know exactly what advice you’ll need until you’re in the middle of it. One thing that I wish I would have done is to make some sort of inventory of the information that I’ve been given along the way. That way, I could remember who told me what and follow up with them as things progressed.
You’ll get a lot of advice. Some of it may not be completely relevant to your exact situation or the phase you were in when you received it, but down the road, it might be exactly what you need to hear. Having an inventory or a list of who gave me these pieces of advice would be really helpful, so if I had to do things differently, I’d have done this a little bit better.
Why do you think it’s important to encourage more women, trans, and non-binary people –particularly those who are also Black, Latinx, Indigenous and People of Color – to become entrepreneurs?
As the old saying goes, you become what you can see. And if you don’t see BIPOC, female, transgender, or non-binary entrepreneurs out there, then you just think that it’s the "white man’s sport." And it has been for a long time.
The only way we’re going to shift that narrative is to get more companies successfully launched that aren’t run by the ‘traditional’ folks, and then get people in the position to be able to start investing in companies that look like theirs with leaders that look like theirs. Less than 2% of venture capital funding goes to women, and the statistics are worse for Latinx and African American populations.
I think that companies serve their communities and serve a niche or a need that their white male counterparts wouldn’t think of. So, I absolutely encourage women to step out and say, "I can solve this problem," and know that there’s a community to support them in that endeavor.
What made you want to participate in this cohort?
It’s focused on seed stage founders, and I’m eager to participate in a reciprocal relationship, where I’m able to both give and gain some knowledge. I also think it’s important for all of us [in the cohort] to help elevate the discussion around being seed stage entrepreneurs and companies.
What would you say is the most valuable tool, connection point, piece of wisdom, etc. that you’ve gained from working with GET Cities thus far?
The encouragement I’ve received is a very valuable tool. The connections I’ve made within and outside of Chicago are important, too. Being able to build these future relationships to take forward, especially some of the corporate relationships, is critical, especially when you’re a new company and not established "enough."