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This Japanese Startup Is Innovating with Crab Shells

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A potentially valuable resource from the Sea of Japan has been ending up on the trash heap: crab shells. Now, researchers at a university in coastal Tottori Prefecture are taking the shells off of the trash heap and putting them to high-tech use.

Tottori is Japan’s crabbing capital. According to the Fisheries Agency, local fishermen brought in around 9,700 tons of the crustaceans in 2014 — nearly half of the country’s total catch.

And now researchers at Tottori University have figured out how to turn the shells into nanofibers. The plan is to establish a startup, possibly by this spring, that will seek to commercialize the technology for use in beauty and food products. If the university pulls it off, it could be the start of a whole new regional industry.

Tourists visiting Tottori set their sights on snow crabs, a delicacy, as well as the area’s famous sand dunes, shrines, hot springs and fruit. The species used for canning and in processed foods is red snow crab. In fact, more than 90% of the crabs caught in Tottori are red snow crabs. After the crabs are processed by the local fishing industry, the shells are discarded as trash.

Tottori University Associate Professor Shinsuke Ifuku was looking for ways to effectively utilize crab shells to make use of the region’s bounty, and he hit upon the concept of developing a new material in Tottori.

Ifuku studied under Professor Hiroyuki Yano of Kyoto University, one of the leaders in plant-derived cellulose nanofibers (CNF). This background led him to conceive of creating a nano-material by unraveling chitin, a substance that makes up 20-30% of crab shells. He calls the result “marine nanofibers.”

Chitin is a natural material that is used as an additive in diet foods, among other applications. The key feature of marine nanofiber is that the chitin is made into a nano-material. Water is added to chitin from the crab shells, along with an acid to make it easier to unravel the chitin, and is made finer using equipment that works like a mortar and pestle. This process is repeated until it produces a dispersion liquid of fine fibers an average of 6nm in width.

There is also a method of creating fibers by slamming the dispersion liquid containing chitin onto a substrate at high speed, but this is expensive in terms of energy and labor, costing around 20,000 yen ($170) per kilogram of dispersion liquid with a 2% concentration. Using the mortar and pestle process, Ifuku anticipates that “if economies of scale are achieved, a sales cost of just 3,000 to 4,000 yen per kilogram can be realized with a dispersion liquid having a concentration of 1-2%.”

With the objective of low-cost production in sight, Ifuku will launch a university-backed venture as early as March. The startup will procure chitin produced locally from crab shells, using equipment at the university to process it into nanofibers “having a high potential as cutting-edge materials,” and sell it.

Chitin, from which the nanofibers are made, does not mix with water in powdered form, but processed with the acid, the nanofibers repel each other, become long and thin, and then mix with water, achieving a gel-like state. It then has the same properties as CNF, for example increasing strength when included in film. However, “as we considered this deeply, we sensed that we would be unable to cultivate demand if we pitched it as the same as CNF,” Ifuku explained.

CNF is material made from wood and has five times the strength of steel while weighing just one-fifth as much. Nippon Paper Industries can turn out 30 tons of CNF a year and will raise that more than 10-fold in fiscal 2016. Chuetsu Pulp & Paper will also begin mass production in fiscal 2017. The material is priced at 5,000 to 10,000 yen per kilogram, but in terms of aspects such as stable supply, marine nanofibers, while just at the research stage, will only be playing second fiddle to CNF, which is already at the mass production stage.

One idea is products for application in the healthcare field. Although the mechanism is not well understood, it is known that chitin is effective in treating skin irritation, as well as cuts and burns.

Ifuku confirmed the effect by applying a dispersion liquid of marine nanofibers to mice with cuts in their skin. Eight days later, the cuts on untreated mice had not healed, but in the mice that had been treated with the liquid, the cuts had healed, the scabs had already fallen off and the collagen component of the skin had increased.

When compared to powdered chitin, the nanofibers have greater surface area and adhere more readily to the skin. The ability of the dispersion liquid to spread the nanofibers uniformly over the skin could be one reason for the result. When the material is applied to human skin, a film forms, producing a moisture-retaining effect.

In the foodstuffs field, the new material is being considered as a possible additive in bread. The reason bread rises is that the gluten in flour acts as a wall, allowing air to build up inside. Adding marine nanofibers reinforces the gluten walls, making it possible to reduce the amount of flour by 20%. The result is low-calorie bread, commercialization of which is being hastened.

In September 2015, Asahi Food & Healthcare commercialized a moisturizing lotion containing marine nanofibers. Following this first step, Ifuku is accelerating commercialization efforts by launching the startup. In addition, he said, joint research aimed at commercialization is being conducted with around 10 chemical and food producers.

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Callum Connects

Trung Nguyen, Founder & Managing Director of Advertising Vietnam

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Having initial success with his first start up in the ad industry, Trung Nguyen went on to start other ventures in the ad world in Vietnam. He now has the largest agency community in Vietnam.

What’s your story?
Three years ago I got my first job in the advertising industry. I worked for a local agency in town, and I fell in love with the creative industry. In June 2015, I founded Agency Life Community in Vietnam. It quickly became the most engaging community in the ad industry. The main content focuses on entertainment. After six months we had over 30,000 organic followers, now we have 120,000 followers.

Because the industry had been good to me, I decided I had to something for the industry to help the industry be better. So, I opened http://AdvertisingVietnam.com – a creative industry ad site which keeps advertising informative, creative and inspiring.

After more than a year in the ads industry in Vietnam, I figured the industry needed a better solution for the recruitment of good staff. Given I own the largest advertising community platform, why don’t I utilise Agency Life to help connect talent with ad agencies. So, I founded job site, AdJob.Asia in January 2017.

What excites you most about your industry?
The ad industry is a creative one with very passionate people who are always challenging themselves. The exciting part for creatives, in the morning they might be working on a baby brand and in the afternoon they are answering a beer brief. There is so much diversity. Every day is the new journey.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am Vietnamese.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Thailand. The Thais are the kings of the creative industry in SEA. Thai ads are very smart and creative.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do what you love.

Who inspires you?
My friend, mentor and partner Mr Nghi Nguyen, founder of BrandsVietnam.com. We started our businesses at a similar time. He doesn’t see us as a competitor but rather, he believes that we share the same passion and we are working to provide better knowledge for the ad community.
Mr Nghi also guided me a lot when I first opened the business. I am inspired by his vision to make our marketing industry better.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Our business is a startup company and as a founder I do everything from operations, business development, planning and strategy. However, this is not the good way grow our business. You have to share the workload – find a co-founder or hire a great employee to help share the workload. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Quit my full time job sooner.
During the first year of running my business, I was still working as an ad manager for an agency. However I lacked focus at work due to the overload of work and it affected the company I used to work for. I strongly recommend people who have an idea to start their own business, quit their job early on and focus 100% on it from the get go!

How do you unwind?
Play with my cat.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love to travel throughout all of Asia. I enjoy new places and meeting new people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Carpenter: A story about the greatest success strategies of all.

Shameless plug for your business:
AdvertisingVietnam.com is a site where you can quickly update yourself on the advertising news in Vietnam. We have 15,000 unique monthly readers who are professional people in the advertising and communications industries.

The Agency Life, https://www.facebook.com/agencylife is largest agency community in Vietnam. This is the right place for ad agencies to share their creative work.

AdJob.Asia now has more than 160 agencies in Vietnam who use our services. We are a leading recruitment service for the advertising industry in Vietnam.

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trungnx26
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trungnx26/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures. Kickstart is an investment firm that funds early-stage digital startups, providing capital, incubation and mentoring, and market access.  Minette has held CEO/COO positions in various industries, ranging from Philippine startups to iconic multinationals.

What makes you do what you do?
I’m keenly interested in innovation and ecosystem development, and committed to contributing to nation-building. I love that my job combines all of that, and allows me to leverage all my past experiences into a new role that creates value for founders and fund-providers alike.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Counter-intuitively! I don’t have a background in tech; nor do I have a long history of venture investing. My skill sets are in strategy, general management, and marketing; and my experience has largely been in innovation and business turnaround. But I have a broad range of work experience (FMCG, apparel, property, and online game publishing in a startup), and that has helped inform my views. More than anything, though, Kickstart has made this progress because of the trust of our principals, and the initiative of a wonderful team. Truly, people make the difference.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
All throughout my career, I’ve only taken on difficult roles. There’s little growth in a role that is easy; and the challenges are what makes a role worth doing.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I’ve had the benefit of a number of good mentors through my career.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
First off: I have had both male and female mentors. Generally, I’ve met mentors in work situations: i.e. they started out being an immediate superior, or being on my Board of Directors. The close work association evolved as both sides found the experience productive, intellectually satisfying, and fun.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Mostly through the same process: nothing compares to actually working together. That said, with more and more experience, I think people develop a sharper instinct about talent, and the potential for development. It’s also important to build the relationship over time, and to invest in actively supporting talent by both seeing things through their eyes as well as helping them find other lenses with which to view the situation they find themselves in.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Yes, we care about diversity, although the primary filter for Kickstart is always ability and performance. Many studies have shown that diverse teams are closely correlated to better results; and given the kind of work we do, it’s important that we all sharpen our ability to deal with varied types of people and situations.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
It’s important to be trustworthy, especially given that venture investing deals with the highest-risk asset class. Trust is earned through competence, diligence, honesty, clarity, and courage.

Advice for others?
I say this a lot: Build strong foundations. Be clear about your values, principles, and priorities. Volunteer for the toughest jobs. Do the unsexy stuff. And work with conviction, commitment, courage, and honour. None of this is particularly glamorous, and they don’t deliver instantaneous results, but the value-creation is real, authentic, and sustainable over a longer period.


If you’d like to get in touch with Minette Navarrete, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/minettenavarrete/

To learn more about Kickstart Ventures , please click here.

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