KavAdemy Founders Profile interviewed Lori Goff about her motivation to contribute to a more sustainable future, and the company she founded as a result. Her company Outlander Materials addresses the global problem related to resource & material waste.
Lori Goff is the Founder and CEO of Outlander Materials, which is on a mission to eradicate waste in every possible way. Using existing food industry sources, by-products, and waste to create new materials, and by ensuring they are compostable and release no toxins, Outlander Materials developed UnPlastic as a real alternative for single-use plastics. Biotechnology, research, and business acumen (everything needed to make UnPlastic a fantastic product and viable for large-scale commercial implementation) have brought to life a true solution to the massive problem.
Lori studied biotechnology at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the United States. She has worked with transforming waste streams into biofuels and advised SMEs with biotech, fermentation, and process design with systems thinking. While brewing beer at home, Lori got the idea of UnPlastic: a functional, fully compostable, and 100% non-plastic alternative for plastic. Since then, she has been on a quest to create better non-plastic alternatives to single-use packaging. As the jack-of-all-trades spearheading her team, she makes sure Outlander Materials has all it takes to make the materials of the future.
Lori is an active supporter of female leadership and development in tech as a member of Female Ventures Rotterdam, CleanTech Female Founders, and The Climate Tech Foundation sponsor. Lori has been featured in international publications, including PBS Documentary "The Plastic Problem", ELLE, QUOTE, Tech Trends, ASNBanks GoedGeld, Verpakkings Management, SPROUT, Kind Earth Tech keynote speaker, and Business For Good Podcast with Paul Shapiro, and recently announced as Inspiring Fifty’s Deep Tech | Benelux Top 50 Women.
Q: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? How did you get started?
My education was in biotechnology. When I moved to the Netherlands, I began brewing beer as a hobby. The more I dove into brewing, the more I learned about the waste produced in the production process. Eventually, the concept of bridging biotech and brewing waste to create high-value products was born. There was no university where I could study this, and I saw no viable path to do this with the company I worked for at the time.
However, I experienced an internal feeling that would not let me move past this idea. The only option was to leave the company I was with at the time and start my own company (freelance style at first). I rented a space at a lab and worked with a brewery to see where I could take the venture. It was a complete "jump off a cliff into an unknown abyss" moment.
We have made exceptional technical progress and have made a concept into a tangible reality. UnPlastic is real and viable as a packaging solution. This was possible through a wonderful network of generous people and building a fantastic team.
Q: What is the best advice you have received (on your journey as a founder)?
My best advice is to get a lawyer and an accountant.
Finding the right lawyer and accountant or tax attorney in the early stages, and building those relationships, has been an invaluable asset to our progress. These (relationships) provide me with security and reassure me that we're building a solid backbone for the company and that we are always in compliance and making good contracts - and avoiding bad ones.
Doing this is a bit more expensive at first but saves so much trouble in the long run. Many fellow startups have encountered problems, having made bad contracts and having had poor financial management. Knowing that this part of the company is secure also frees my mind to explore and dive into what we are here to do.
Q: What has been your most significant challenge as a founder? What steps did you take to overcome that challenge?
It can be hard to single out the biggest challenge, as that view can change depending on where we are on the journey. Being a founder is like running an obstacle course - every few days we are faced with new challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome.
There is also the challenge of being faced with who you are daily and if/how you can rise above all the doubts, realities and criticism - both internal and external. You need to answer questions like: "Who do I think I am? Do I have enough experience? Isn't there someone better to be doing this? How do I manage and teach employees? How can I help them thrive? Am I a leader? What kind of leader do I want to be? How do I become that leader? Is this what my team needs? What if I make myself redundant - is that good or bad? Is what we are working on valuable? How can we do this better, more effectively?" And so on. This list of questions doesn't end and always comes circling back, time and time again. And as I gain more experience running my startup and develop as a leader, new questions arise.
Q: What have been the most significant gains?
We've made exceptional technical progress and have made a concept into a tangible reality. UnPlastic is real and viable as a packaging solution. This is possible through a wonderful network of generous people and building a fantastic team.
Q: What is one book you recommend, and why?
Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson.
Erikson's book combines the DISC model together with practical (if oversimplified) methods to identify and understand our styles of action, behavior, motivation, and communication to learn about yourself and those around you better and with compassion. If you've ever been frustrated with someone that talks a big game but never follows through, why the guy in the back office complains so much about tiny details and drags his heels, or why your boss (or you) wants everything done by yesterday, this is the book for you. It's a quick and valuable guide to navigating interactions in a way that helps everyone move forward together.
Q: In one sentence, what's the best advice you'd give to young founders/someone just starting their entrepreneurial journey?
Embrace the suck. Building a startup is challenging, exciting, creative, and filled with passion and potential. But it's going to be hard. It will be hard at work, at home, with friends, and with yourself. Once you accept that this is how it will be and embrace it, it changes the whole perspective. Embracing the suck is about cutting out the bullshit. You're ready for it, and you expect it to come. And when it does, rather than let it get you down, you can have fun with it.
Bring on the cold rain; you are ready to play in the mud.
I want to build a company where I wish had worked for and to become the leader I would have needed.
Q: In terms of legacy, what is your mission – what does the world you want to create look like?
It has always been about eradicating waste - the waste of resources, materials, and time. In terms of resources, we consume too much. We wipe out forests for the production of crops used for materials. Next, we waste those materials. We want to develop systems, products, and ideas on how to view and utilize our resources and materials in ways that valorize as much as possible and use materials where they offer the most value. Amazing and nearly indestructible materials like plastic should be used in long-term and high-impact spaces, like cars, planes, furniture even, rather than on a wrapper for a cookie that will be gone in a few seconds. Wiping out the Amazon forest to grow sugar cane for plastics doesn't make as much sense as using nutrient-dense waste & low-value side streams already widely available.
And regarding time... We live our lives as if we have endless resources and time to fix things "later" and work jobs where we are unfulfilled and drained, leaving us with no zest for our lives. Let's stop wasting time - take action now to build the world we want to live in and build a company where our teams feel encouraged, fulfilled, and where they thrive! I wish to build a company I wish I had worked for and to become the leader I would have needed.
Thank you, Lori, for joining us at KavAdemy Founders Profile today and for letting us interview you.
To keep an eye on Outlander's journey, visit www.outlandermaterials.com or follow @outlandermaterials
If you know someone who would be a great fit for KavAdemy Founder Profile series, let us know by sending an e-mail to Laura Lindholm firstname.lastname@example.org.