david d'angeloSo many potential social entrepreneurs never even get started.  They may think they are in the wrong place, or don’t have the technical expertise, the experience, the credibility, or some other “x-factor” of success.  Let this story set us all straight in that regard!

Trivium Industries was founded in Welland in late 2012 by David D’Angelo, who had a vision of getting beverage and beauty products manufacturers to adopt biodegradable bottles en masse.  In David’s last year of university in 2011, he was actively searching for business opportunities that could have a major impact.  Also, he was acutely aware of the masses of plastic waste ending up in the Earth’s oceans and landfills.  David was “bit by the bug” of entrepreneurship when he saw that the technology actually existed to address this issue, but was not being refined or adopted.  He passionately wanted to prove it could be done.

The key pain points of this new business were:

  • The high competitiveness of beverage and beauty products manufacturing, in which even tenths of a cent could make or break a business case, and loyalty to suppliers was consequently low;
  • Major manufacturers’ fear of the “cannibalization” of existing product lines that had already received (and not yet returned) significant investment;
  • The weakness of biodegradables (at the time) to the moisture they were intended to contain, and the consequently short shelf-life of these bottles, with unacceptable risks of product failure for early-adopting multinationals.

Trivium Industries
David himself grew up in Niagara, but possessed no background in manufacturing or chemistry.  He proceeded as a business leader, forming a group of credible experts and great mentors. And he went through the process of making mistakes and gaining wisdom as the company developed.  In 2013, the issue of plastic waste was not on the minds of many.  Nonetheless, David addressed each of these pain points with a focused and persistent effort over the past four years.

Premium brands were found that would be willing to pivot their production, and to absorb the slightly higher cost of biodegradable bottles, IF it could be proven that they were fit for purpose.  The business model was B2B (business-to-business) and customers ranged from small local concerns to (eventually, as the issue came to be of general concern) world-famous Fortune 500 brands.

With the help of organic chemistry researcher Dr. Paul Zelisco at Brock University’s Department of Chemistry, an interior coating was devised to form a hardier moisture barrier to the contained product, and thereby extend the shelf-life of the bottles to two years.    This coating was, of course, required to fully degrade along with the bottle itself, and yet be food-grade, an additional challenge.  Credit for this unique intellectual property also goes to Ontario Centres of Excellence, which helped fund the research.

Another challenge was raising the capital needed to fund a production line in Welland.  David was rejected 30 or 40 times by potential investors, but eventually was blessed with good financing partners from the Greater Toronto Area, providing a mix of short- and long-term debt as “patient capital” that would see Trivium Industries through to the revenue generation stage.  David found, in these four investors, the right people to believe in him and in his business model, and maintained a strong and communicative relationship with them through the life of the company.

Thanks to this effort, Trivium’s corn-based, biodegradable, compostable custom plastic bottles were among the first to reach the marketplace. As a result, at Trivium’s peak early in 2017, it had eight full- and part-time employees working in a 12,500 square foot facility in Welland, with partners across Canada and the majority of its sales in the USA.

David and his investors have realized a return on the original investment early in 2017 with the sale of Trivium to a new owner that will continue to develop and commercialize the biodegradable bottles.  With long life-cycles in the industries that purchase the product, exemplified by an 18-month process to switch to Trivium bottles in one case, scale and persistence are keys to long-term success.

David D’Angelo has conclusively proven, with Trivium Industries, that Niagara is a great place to start and grow a technologically advanced manufacturing business that serves the world’s markets.  The City of Welland was cited as a major facilitator alongside Brock University and the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and affordability, a strong manufacturing base with many spin-off firms, a quality workforce, and the border location were also cited as positive features of Niagara’s business environment.  No one region has everything a business needs – early-stage business financing in Niagara can certainly be expanded – but an impressive array of advantages exists here nonetheless.

Also proven is that you need not be a technical expert to commercialize a technical product, nor have a long track record of business achievement before you even start.  Planning, patience, persistence, and passion can and do win the day.  Budding social entrepreneurs, take note!  If you think you want to do something, talk with us. Research the product and market you are considering, and try to find a fit between them. Most importantly, take your first step today!

Paul Connor - Social Enterprise NiagaraInterview and article by SEN Planning Committee Member Paul Connor