Why we invested in Metalmark

We are pleased to announce our latest investment, Metalmark Innovations, a Boston-based startup that uses biomimicry — i.e., the emulation of nature to address complex human problems — to solve sustainability challenges stemming from sub-micron scale airborne pollutants, toxins, and particles that cause air pollution. The company, which spun out of Harvard University’s Biomineralization and Biomimetics Lab, takes its name from the Metalmark family of butterflies, as the technology is inspired by the organic polymer microstructures in the insect’s wings.

Image credit: Metalmark Innovations

We see significant potential in Metalmark´s application of materials science and chemistry to imitate nanostructures found in nature, to create novel catalytic materials that can efficiently eliminate airborne pollutants. Elimination of airborne contaminants without the generation of secondary pollutants is a significant benefit. The materials may also be designed to allow for other properties, including anti-viral functions. Beyond air purification Metalmark’s materials have a wide range of potential applications in the form of multifunctional coatings and catalysts, with use cases in the automotive sector, building and construction materials, aviation/aerospace, and more.

Image credit: Metalmark Innovations

The Metalmark core team is exceptional, consisting of leading Harvard University scientists with backgrounds from materials design, bio-inspired engineering, chemistry and chemical biology, and R&D. The co-founder and CEO started her career in investment banking and tech and has spent the last 20 years promoting tech-enabled sustainability, entrepreneurship and venture investing. The team is advised by Dr. Joanna Aizenberg, the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science and Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Biology of Harvard University. Dr. Aizenberg is a world-renowned expert in bio-inspired engineering, with extensive experience from leading major R&D efforts, and startups. Metalmark has to date secured multiple grants and awards for their work, including winning the Smart City Track of Hello Tomorrow 2020.

Image credit: Urban-X

Various forms of air pollution remain dangerously high in many parts of the world; WHO estimates suggest that as many as 9 out of 10 people inhale air containing excessive levels of pollutants, originating from a wide range of sources. By the same estimates ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause 7 million deaths annually, from exposure to (ultra)fine particles that penetrate into the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, inducing heart disease and stroke, cancers, respiratory infections, and other chronic illnesses. The current COVID-19 pandemic has drawn further attention to the risk represented by the airborne transmission of viruses. Studies indicate retained infectivity and virion integrity of SARS-CoV-2 — the etiologic agent of the coronavirus disease — for up to 16 hours in respirable-sized aerosols in indoor air, emitted through normal human respiration.

Image credit: Metalmark Innovations

We see a bright future for Metalmark ahead, with application areas in airplanes, buildings, the hospitality sector, vehicles, office and residential buildings, and more. The total available market for HVAC and air purification, coatings, air freshening, and catalysts is valued at several hundred billion dollars; Technavio anticipates that the smart air purifier market size will grow by USD 3.35bn and record a CAGR of 9% during 2020–2024. The Covid-19 crisis has spurred market needs to offer its clients the assurance of safe air quality, including in the hotel, cruise, and airline industries. We look forward to supporting the continued upward trajectory of Metalmark Innovations and their cutting-edge inventions to improve air quality, human health, and sustainability.

Propagator Ventures is an early-stage deep tech VC with strong ties to science. We like ML/AI, quantum computing, robotics, new materials & encryption.