Hailing from Paris but with teammates from Spain and Poland, Pili Biotechnology are one of only two teams in this years’ session that came to IndieBio EU with a project already underway. Pili make Biosynthetic Dyes as a cleaner alternative to petrochemical syntheses or heavy-metal containing pigments.
Pili’s team sport a diverse skill-set including design, synthetic biology, and chemical engineering. Their dyes are not only for use in pens and inks, but fabrics. In fact some members of Pili have begun turning up at the IndieBio EU lab wearing spectacular designs whose pigments were grown in-fabric.
There is a healthy overlap with the widely known La Paillasse foundership and a great eye for design. So, Pili have already been making a splash around Europe and beyond, and it took Shama some time to catch up with them and get some questions answered:
SHAMA CHILAKWAD: WHO ARE PILI AND WHAT IS YOUR GOAL?
Thomas Landrain: At PILI, we are a group of young scientist-entrepreneurs in biology, chemistry and design that have met in the Parisian biohackerspace La Paillasse and we want to brings Nature’s colours to everyday life products by supplanting petroleum-based dyes by bio-based and renewable alternatives. We are now dedicated to biofabricate a wide palette of colours using microorganisms instead of plants and animals, the usual source of natural pigments. Because with the latter comes serious limitations like the lack of scalability as growing plants takes time, surface competition with food crops and typical bad environmental issues with industrial agriculture like pesticides overuse. With PILI, we basically create bio-solutions to replace the dye petro-chemistry that is so harmful to the planet.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR JOINING THE INDIE BIO EU ACCELERATOR? WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INDIE BIO EU ACCELERATOR SO FAR?
PILI is a very young startup that was just founded few months ago. We needed to gather momentum for the project and focus for the team. IndieBio brought us exactly what we needed to start: a fully-equipped lab, money and a startup race context. During the program we met inspiring mentors and had the occasion to share our work with numerous potential investors. This is a great value by itself.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO BIOSYNTHETICALLY PRODUCE PIGMENTS?
We rely on the capability of microorganisms to biosynthesise naturally complex molecules with their secondary metabolism. So far we are collecting promising strains producing natural dyes of various colours and properties. Our main goals and challenges for the following months will be to bring down the cost of production of our PILI dyes to the level of plant ones and to start the scaling of our bioproductions. For the former we will use agile synthetic biology approaches to iterate on the optimisation of the synthesis pathways of our dyes.
WHAT TYPES OF PRODUCTS DO YOU HOPE TO INCLUDE YOUR PIGMENTS IN?
We originally started PILI with the goal of producing bio-inks for pens and printers. And we are now collaborating with BIC, one of the world leaders for pen design and distribution. We are also looking for applications in the paint, textile and the cosmetic industries.
WHEN DO YOU HOPE YOUR PIGMENTS WILL REACH THE MARKET?
We are still at an early stage but with the right supports and collaborations we expect to see by the end of 2016 the release of the first products with “PILI-inside”. How cool would it be to receive bioprinted newspapers in your letterboxes?!
WHERE DO YOU SEE PILI IN THE FUTURE?
PILI, with its living palette, has the potential to become a universal provider of renewable living colours from Nature for the industry, and stop the damages from the latter. Petrochemistry is an old artefact from the last century, and PILI will help the world realise that so that we can continue enjoying colours without our planet paying the price.