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Natasha Boulding: PNE “propelled us closer to investment and commercialisation”

PNE interaction:
Natasha and her business, Plastech Innovation, accessed a range of PNE services, from business support to a Management Qualification.

In 2017, three scientists studying at Durham University refused to accept that landfill, incineration or being discarded should be the fate of the UK’s 335 million tonnes of unrecycled plastic.

They invented a new, innovative process for turning plastic waste not fit for normal recycling use to be repurposed as a construction sand, which doubled up as a solution to the world’s natural sand shortage. The next step was to start a venture that could take their product to market, and Plastech Innovation was born.

Our involvement with PNE has been invaluable. We have accessed expert advice and a network that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It has allowed the business to grow at an increased rate.

A rollercoaster three years has seen the start-up achieve game-changing Innovate UK investment and the opening of its very own lab. Natasha Boulding, Co-founder and CEO of Plastech Innovation, shares the impact working with PNE had on their journey.

PNE met Plastech in 2018, when the team applied for our Sustainable Start-up Awards. It was exactly the type of business we had started the Fund to support, with the potential to revolutionise one of the world’s most environmentally impactful industries.

“The Sustainable Start-up Award allowed us to buy a vital piece of equipment during the early stages of the business. It assisted and contributed to the success of our proof of concept phase and propelled us closer to investment and commercialisation.”

From the Award, they were referred on to our Get Growing programme for high-growth potential businesses. Natasha highlights that accessing support from a business advisor can be a powerful tool in the early stages of starting a venture. “Our involvement with PNE has been invaluable. We have accessed expert advice and a network that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It has allowed the business to grow at an increased rate.

“The Get Growing programme offered us valuable mentoring and advice on a wide range of business areas. The discussion of milestones each month provided a perfect time to take a step back, reflect and talk things through – whilst always setting more ambitious goals for the future.”

Fast forward to the 2019 If We Can You Can Competition, a celebration of budding North East businesses. Plastech beat off other exciting start-ups from the region to win the ‘One To Watch’ Prize. As partners of the competition, PNE provides prizes, including funding Management and Leadership Qualifications for the founders of winning businesses, which Natasha pursued on behalf of Plastech.

“The Management and Leadership qualification was the absolutely perfect prize for us! All Plastech’s Co-founders are scientists and have (very!) limited experience of management – most of our time was spent in the lab! This qualification gave us the opportunity to learn how to effectively manage and lead, which is vitally important for the effectiveness of the team and future of the business.”

With new funding, new premises and strengthened leadership, Plastech Innovation shows no sign of slowing momentum. As climate action continues to climb the agenda and the need for sustainable business solutions grows, they are truly fulfilling their title of ‘One to Watch’.


Giving back...

From 2019 to 2020, PNE delivered the Green For Go! Programme, in partnership with FIRST, progressing the enterprise skills and entrepreneurial aspirations of college students across the North East. The Plastech team supported the programme as entrepreneurial ambassadors, setting the students sustainable business challenges and inspiring them to explore their passions and potential.

Natasha explains, “Green for Go! gave us the opportunity to give something back. As a start-up we ask for a lot of advice and favours from people, so jumped at the chance to help others. It’s an ingrained motivation of our team to encourage and empower the younger generations to pursue careers in STEM and self-employment.”

Thanks to Plastech’s involvement, 172 students learnt about plastic waste and explored the innovative ways businesses are trying to solve the problems it poses. Over 60 students chose to work on the challenge the team set, coming up with new uses for their plastic sand, and the final pitches included ideas as diverse as a new way of making glass to sculptures inspiring people to recycle.

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