Finnish startup Innomost sees green promise in upcycled birch bark
Founded in 2016, Innomost offered a range of ingredients made from birch bark side streams, including a birch charcoal powder, betulin and azelaic acid, among others. Made using a complex industrial processing technology, the startup was working with Finnish forestry major Metsä Group to source the raw material birch bark from pulp production side streams.
“Consumers want to use natural, renewable and sustainable cosmetics that are good for them and for the world. The majority of ingredients and packaging materials used today, however, are made from fossil fuels, plastic, or palm oil, which are associated with many environmental and ethical issues. Innomost develops and produces high-value bioactive ingredients from forest industry side streams that enable its customers to make ground-breaking innovations in the cosmetic beauty industry,” Innomost said.
‘Upcycling, zero waste and full-cycle natural cosmetics’
“It’s really a win-win situation,” said Sami Selkälä, CEO and founder of Innomost. “The raw materials for Innomost’s products are available in large volumes at a feasible cost. Our raw material originates from Nordic forests, not from lands that could be used for food or feed. We are on top of the new beauty trend for upcycling, zero waste and full-cycle natural cosmetics.”
Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Selkälä said birch bark was a “very undervalued” resource, particularly given its potential in terms of ingredients for cosmetic and personal care formulations.
The bioactive compounds that could be processed from the raw material, he said, offered many physiological, functional and active qualities for skin care, body care, oral care and hair care formulations. Innomost, for example, had developed birch bark-derived ingredients that could replace waxes and petroleum and others that brought active qualities like azelaic acid, suberin and betulin or functional properties like birch bark powder for scrubbing. “There are so many possibilities for our ingredients,” he said.
“I think the overall picture is that, as we know, the industry needs more alternative solutions for the sustainability part, and we want to give the ultimate solution for that. …I screened all the other tree material in Finland (…) and I ended up with the Birch,” Selkälä said.
Up until this point in time, he said the birch bark side streams from Metsä Group’s forestry operations had largely been used to produce energy in Finland but there was now a “surplus of energy”.
Developing an alternative means to bring value to these compounds, therefore, was of key importance, he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do; we’re going to use the material for better purposes other than burning it for energy.”
Pilot production plant upscale
Innomost was already working with some cosmetic companies, largely in its home market Finland, he said, but also in other Scandinavian countries like Sweden. However, the long-term goal was to bring its ingredients to the global cosmetics market, he said, which would be possible once production had been upscaled via the build of a pilot plant.
Last month, the startup secured €5m in funding – from Metsä Group’s Metsä Spring Ltd, early-stage venture capital firm Innovestor and some angel investments and business grants – that would be used for this project. The pilot plant was set to be operational by July 2022, Selkälä said, and producing 20 tonnes of birch park product per year by 2023.
“Within ten years, we are going to have even large production plants; that’s our plan,” he said.
Innomost also planned to work closely with cosmetic formulators to refine blends and develop new ideas for formulas when using its portfolio of birch bark ingredients, Selkälä said. “It’s an important message: we need to have a collaboration.”
“…We want to give that choice so our customers can have their own formulas. We don’t want to restrict the formulation ideas that our customers might have. And that’s the reason we’re focusing on the technology part; we’re protecting the processing and production technologies, not the formulas. That’s our approach.”