By Lupe Hirt
Living Ink Technologies, a first-place winner of THE CLIMB | Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition and a pond-to-paper algae ink producer, is sustainably reinventing one of the world’s most expensive and widely used liquids – ink.
The bad and the ugly about ink. Regular ink has a problem that most people don’t know about: it’s dirty stuff. Most colored pigments found in regular ink are made up of heavy metals like cadmium, copper, chromium, iron, lead, and aluminum.
Carbon black is the most common pigment used in black inks. It is most commonly made from the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products like tar. It’s a product that is labeled as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Ink isn’t only made of pigments, a considerable amount of ink is made up of binders, carriers, and solvents. Most carriers are petroleum oil, while most solvents used in inks are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), all of which have detrimental human and environmental impacts.
Putting pond scum to good use. Living Ink is produced in cells using sunlight and CO2 from the atmosphere; its only byproducts are oxygen and clean water. This means Living Ink is actually great for the environment and is the first step in weaning the world off regular ink and moving towards a safe and renewable solution.
Living Ink primary products.
Algae printer ink: Sustainable algae derived ink that is 100 percent plant-based, renewable and biodegradable.
Time-lapse bio-ink: The world’s first time-lapse ink that appears over time when exposed to light.
What have we been up to?
In 2015, Living Ink took first place in the Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition at the University of Colorado Denver. Since then, pond goop duo, Scott and
Steve, have trail-blazed their way through the local entrepreneurial scene challenging individuals and companies alike to rethink their ink.
Below are progress milestones as of October 2016:
- October 2016: Named one of the Top 15 Finalists in the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Awards program.
- September 2016: Filed and secured a nonprovisional patent for Living Ink’s technology. Provisional patent filed for using algae cells to replace traditional ink.
- September 2016: Partnered with Upslope Brewing and Boom Algae (2014 Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition winner) to turn brewery waste into a 100 percent biodegradable, non-petroleum-based, algae-ink.
- June 2016: Presented at TEDxMileHigh.
- January 2016: Working with Hallmark to innovate the greeting card industry by designing the first algae-based card collection.
- January 2016: Completed successful Kickstarter campaign raising $60,961, more than four-times the initial campaign goal.
- October 2015: Presented at SXSW Eco.
- July 2015: Working with Aveda to use Living Ink Technologies to print all of Aveda’s product packaging.
Q&A Snapshot with Co-Founder Scott Fulbright
Why are business plan competitions important?
If you’re a young company, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t participate in competitions. It’s not about the money, that’s not the value. The entire value is going through the process: putting together a pitch; getting your act together to a point you’re comfortable presenting to anyone from competition judges to angel investors.
What was the greatest benefit you got from participating in the Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition?
Media relations. The exposure we got helped us raise our visibility and it helped to legitimize us in the business community.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Running a business is harder than what you think. You need to get smart fast on how to ship products, create kits people can use and read, respond to customer feedback in a timely fashion, etc., etc., all while doing your everyday job. Running a business is humbling, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’ve learned a lot these past couple of years.
Company Overview: Living Ink Technologies
Founders: Scott Fulbright & Steve Albers
Location: Denver and Fort Collins (Lab)
Company Status: Privately owned
Company Structure: B-to-B licensing
Algae Farms: Colorado & Hawaii
Price of Product: $25/lb. of ink
Lab Tours: Available upon request
Coolest Kudos: Contacted by artist, Radio Head, to fashion a living ink concert billboard