“Good shapes are self-assembled,” says Charlie Katrycz, Founder of Undu Wearables and Loonskin Labs. “Coral, lungs, domes, wings, veins, and arches can be built by the material itself.” Taking inspiration from nature, Katrycz and his colleagues are working to understand and develop new ways to fabricate materials – and how these innovations might support the transition economy.
1. Describe your core offering(s). How is your organization contributing to a cleaner, greener future?
We have taken inspiration from nature to design and manufacture heat-transport networks and devices that can carry a liquid (such as thermal gels or water) over large surfaces. Our idea is that if we can make cost-effective, high-performing fluid delivery membranes, they can be incorporated into existing technologies, like heat pumps, to make them more efficient.
The first product Katherine and I launched with Undu Wearables has a health care application – we’ve used our bio-inspired tech to develop wearable, discreet heat-transfer packets for people who suffer from menstrual cramps and pelvic pain. We began there because we see body heating and cooling as a big and unaddressed design problem that affects recovery from surgery, women’s health, sports injuries, and microclimate control over the body.
We’re very excited about the cleantech applications for our technology. Our fluidic circuits are optimized for heat transport to disrupt heat circuit design. Our solution can enable the cost-effective installation of solar water heating or heat pump circuits in a larger, broader group of environments. We see a lot of possibilities.
2. Other than coffee, what gets you out of bed in the morning? How does this work connect with your core beliefs and values?
For me, working with fluidic materials to solve problems is a passion. If not to tame chaos, then at least to tailor it to good use. As a physics student in undergrad, I became interested in how fluids in nature can create patterns, and how life makes use of these patterns to establish growth and form. When we inject fluids into our materials and get complex and organic, almost biological results, it makes me wonder about the nature of materials and where life comes from. I’m driven by that pursuit of knowledge. Together with my co-founder Katherine Porter, we are developing this design paradigm into a biomimetic manufacturing platform for addressing socially impactful problems.
3. Tell us about a recent win (or wins) for your organization
After we won the Canada National James Dyson Award in 2019, we launched the first commercial pilot of our flagship product. That was successful and exceeded our expectations. We were able to formalize our tech, build our own manufacturing equipment, and implement our patents. Getting to market was the biggest milestone for us. Today, hundreds of people are using our pain-relieving heat packs. That’s exciting!
4. What’s next for your organization?
Currently, we occupy a large portion of our own supply chain. We design and manufacture our products ourselves and sell them through our direct-to-consumer ecommerce store. This approach has allowed us to iterate on our flagship product and push our inventive technology forward as a proprietary manufacturing method. We are now ready to develop in three ways: We will expand our direct-to-consumer product line in the wearables category. We will develop business-to-business partnerships as an ingredient component in clean energy solutions. To meet these challenges, we will develop our manufacturing capacity to scale with the volume and diversity of great applications.
5. Finally, what’s on your team’s wish list for Ontario’s cleantech sector?
There’s a need for micro-financing for cleantech ideas and inventions. Startups that are trying to commercialize often need pre-seed injections of $15-30k in non-dilutive funding to make a case, build a prototype, and iterate! Inventive solutions require cyclical and non-linear progressions towards resolving impactful product applications. As a bootstrapped startup commercializing an invention, support for that process has been fraught.
While we work to change the world from the bottom up, we’d like to see more transformative action from industry leaders and governments. We need to be solving the problems that are clear and right in front of us. Transportation, environmental degradation, plastic pollution, – these are problems that, due to their scale, must be addressed through policy. When we allow arugula, with a shelf life of 10 days, to come in a plastic box with a shelf life of 10,000 years, it just doesn’t seem like we’re taking the urgency of our transition seriously enough.
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