As the EU considers restricting the use of microplastics in everyday products, University of Cambridge spin-out Xampla has developed a plant protein-based alternative, a breakthrough which earned the startup £2 million in seed funding. The round was co-led by Amadeus Capital Partners and Cambridge Enterprise, with participation from Sky Ocean Ventures and the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund VI.

“Xampla is a great example of deep tech emerging from the UK research base at exactly the right time to respond to regulatory changes and consumer trends around plastic,” says Amelia Armour, principal at Amadeus.

Currently many home and personal care products use synthetic polymer capsules, “hidden plastics” that are gradually being banned around the world for their damage to the environment. The market for the tiny capsules, known as microencapsulation, stands at around $12 billion globally. 

This is the market the deep tech startup is targeting for now. Though other plant-based alternatives exist, those based on polysaccharides, the company claims its protein material decomposes more quickly and completely.

“The fabrication process mimics those used by nature and the product is entirely made from natural materials,” says Dr. Elaine Loukes, investment director of Cambridge Enterprise.

Xampla holds two patents for the new material, with a third in development. The funding will help the UK company develop its prototype material into products, such as films, gels and capsules, eventually moving beyond the microcapsule market.

CEO Simon Hombersley commented: “Our mission is to reduce the impact of single-use plastic, and our initial commercial focus is on intentionally-added microplastics. With our new plant protein material, we are committed to helping manufacturers make the transition from traditional plastics to high performance alternatives that protect the planet.”

Image: Xampla’s plant protein microcapsules

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