Founders Fridays is a StartupAmsterdam initiative showcasing local entrepreneurs who help strengthen our ecosystem. By inviting founders to answer five questions, we want to shine a light on our ecosystem's most inspirational stories and role models. We hope we'll all learn and grow together by providing startup founders a space to share their insights and experience.
This week we spoke to Zsofia Kollar, founder of Human Material Loop. This company researches human waste as an alternative sustainable material. By collecting and processing human hair waste, Human Material Loop can develop high-performance textiles with the lowest carbon footprint possible.
How did your career journey lead you to found Human Material Loop?
I have an architecture and design degree, and even during my studies I was more interested in the conceptual side of design and deeply involved in material research. Since the beginning of my career, my inspiration has come from changing perspectives and challenging the norms. Human Material Loop was born from a fascination with human hair and how to give value to human waste. For as long as you have hair on top of your head, it is one of the most precious parts of your body: the resources and time you spend to make it look good diminish at the moment once it is cut. I was faced with the amount of waste generated in hair salons, then investigating human hair as a raw material led me to learn that it is actually the same keratin protein fibre as wool. This, together with my understanding of the negative impact of the textile industry, is what made me found Human Material Loop. We are a textile innovation company that, together with other designers, engineers and scientists, has developed a technology to use this neglected fibre for textile development.
What makes Amsterdam a great city and a great ecosystem for a startup founder?
I moved to Amsterdam over 10 years ago; it is a city like no other. It is small and accessible, so you have an excellent overview of what happens in the town and can create your own space within the city. Amsterdam and its diverse people, from so many different backgrounds and nationalities, broaden your perspective and inspire you to think differently. There is always space for discussions, and the city does not judge but instead challenges you with new ideas and opportunities. It is small, but big enough for big ideas to flourish.
What are the goals and needs of the Human Material Loop for the upcoming months?
We are in the final stages of developing our technology for industrial production. Specifically, we've been working with the most significant material engineering facility, Brightland Chemelot, to deliver this innovation, which has the potential to revolutionise the textile industry. Currently, we are looking for partners who would like to be pioneers in implementing our innovation in their products and collaborate on the most circular textile product ever put on the market. We are also expanding the team, so if there is anybody out there who wants to join our exciting journey, please get in touch.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment as a founder?I became a founder because what once started as a research project eventually became a company. I could see what an idea could become and how to make that idea into a business case. Being a founder is not a fairytale: you create your own heroes and invent your own magic formula that changes along the way. Even though we have a long way to go, the greatest accomplishment is how many people changed their minds about the value of human waste, our position within the ecosystem and what the future of a circular economy can be. We are on a mission to cut our waste and our footprint, but we also need to question the position of humanity in our ecosystems. Once you hear our story, you will not forget it.
What was the most challenging moment in your business journey? How did you go past it and move forward?
As a founder, you develop an incredible passion and drive for your company, but you cannot change the world alone. The most challenging part of the business journey was finding the right people to build this company from the ground up: people who could bring the same passion, different perspectives and lasting commitment to our team. Building such a team is a company's most challenging and crucial goal. The only way to go is to try, dare to say no and be objective: to put your personal feelings aside and think about what is best for the company, what value needs to come in, and what needs to go to make this work. We are still in the process of expanding the team, but I already discovered that the right people often come at the right moment. Even though sometimes you make the wrong decisions, you learn from it and can make a better decision next time. Trust in people, and reach out to those you want in your team. Find passion in people: that is the most significant value you can bring to your team. I learned that, and I am still seeking that for our new team members going forward.
If you would like to share your story with our ecosystem, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.