2019 Myriam Sbeiti from Sunthetics
September 16, 2019
By Barr Morgenstein
The team at Sunthetics participated in the Summer Startup Sprint in 2017 and has since gone on to develop their product and begin hiring plans for the Fall.
With the mission of creating a greener manufacturing path for nylon, Myriam Sbeiti and Daniela Blanco’s Sunthetics is developing sustainable and electrically driven chemical processes to replace traditional heat-powered methods. We sat down with the co-founder Myriam Sbeiti to learn more about the evolution of Sunthetics and some of the challenges and successes her and her team have experienced.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?
We wish we had known how important industry experience would be. In that case, it might have made more sense to wait a couple of years for one of our co-founders to finish her PhD, and our other co-founder to get some field experience before engaging on the journey.
How have you adapted (pivoted) your ideas from your original vision?
Absolutely! We have many times, going from an entirely solar-powered (and unfeasible) plant to one using diversified energy sources, or even from targeting the end-user brands, to targeting chemical companies who are our direct customers. Our vision is the same, but we have significantly changed our approach to implementing it in industry to be more pragmatic and customer/market-focused.
Tell me more about your original idea and what steps lead to your current direction?
The idea was to make nylon using solar energy; the first steps would be entirely powered by solar panels for electricity and the subsequent steps by solar concentrators for heat. We figured brand end users would want to implement this sustainability in their supply chain, might even pay a premium for it, and would have the necessary influence to get the early supply chain chemical companies to adopt this technology. We quickly found out that end user brands were very far down in the supply chain, had an interest for sustainability but would not pay a premium most likely, and did not have any influence at all on the early supply chain chemical companies. We also realized that operating only with solar panels would not be anywhere near viable for a chemical company. We had to adjust our vision for sustainability; there is a trade-off between viable and implementable and 100% sustainable so we focused on how to improve sustainability in ways that were also cost-effective, such as reducing the amount of raw material (which accounts for 90% of manufacturing cost), reducing energy usage, and diversifying electricity sources with more renewables from the grid.
How do you measure personal success?
We see success as progress; we set goals for ourselves and if we achieve them, that counts as a success! Examples of this can be anything from raising set amounts of money to getting a customer on board to making tech advances.
What advice can you offer anyone who wants to form a start-up?
Get as many people as possible involved in the vetting process so you can really figure out if your idea is viable.
What was the hardest part in the early stages of the start-up?
Learning all the basics of startups such as the business model canvas, and learning to receive harsh feedback on short timelines was a steep but fun learning curve.
Has being a woman/underrepresented minority founder affected your journey?
As two young female engineers (Myriam Sbeiti & Daniela Blanco) trying to bring sustainability to the chemical industry, there have definitely been some large obstacles both from our younger age and lack of experience but also from the lack of gender and racial diversity in the industry we are planning to enter. However, we take it as an advantage as it means we are often underestimated and we are always pushed to make extra efforts to get attention.
From left to right, Miguel Modestino (senior tech advisor), Myriam Sbeiti (co-founder),
Daniela Blanco (co-founder)
What in your opinion may encourage more women and underrepresented minorities to take part in the entrepreneurial world?
Seeing your position as an advantage rather than a disadvantage! It definitely means you’ll need to do more work to prove yourself, which is unfair, but also means that the quality and viability of your work will be far superior to someone who has been under much less scrutiny. It’s also helpful to have a supportive team that believes in you!
What in your opinion are the required steps to be taken for women/underrepresented minorities to have more leading roles?
In terms of leading roles, I think the biggest thing missing is a network. The people who do have leading roles have a responsibility to bring in more underrepresented people into the field. Nowadays, most jobs and positions are filled by connections and putting these people forward, highlighting their work in the right circles can help widen networks and improve connections.
Where do you see startups themselves needing the most improvement beyond having a great idea?
Oftentimes great ideas are innovative, which implies being in an environment that enables innovation and that tends to be more academic environments with younger people. Unfortunately, younger people lack something important in the industry which is field experience and credibility. This is often overcome by having a board of mentors or bringing on board industry experts but that can be pretty expensive for a startup both in terms of money and in terms of equity. And that can quickly become a burden as founders and innovative minds get slowly diluted and have little say and little return on their work. A better solution would be to have allies within companies that have the expertise and credibility of industry, and a certain openness from working with innovative solutions that can serve as a partner to companies that require such kind of help.
What challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
The biggest challenge for us to enter the market is to gain trust and credibility from our customers. Most chemical industry companies have been there for decades and are reliable, known constants, that tend to be more attractive to new, risky, and unreliable ventures, even if the latter are more advantageous.
Do you leverage social media to raise awareness of your startup?
Social media is not of large importance for our industry but we do have an instagram (@sunthetics_nyc) for our more general public and keep up with posts on LinkedIn and other more professional platforms.
Are there any new features or milestones coming up for your startup?
We will be hiring two new employees by September, increasing our numbers for the first time! This will enable us to engage in an aggressive scale-up plan to get industry acceptable tech rapidly, and try to enter the market within the next few years.