Checkerspot: Alpine Skiing, Algae, and Biotech Innovation
The moment I heard there were skis being made sustainably with algae, I got excited. As a longtime skier raised in the foothills of the Rockies, skiing has always been a winter refuge. The chairlift to the top of the mountain epitomizes peace and serenity, while the adrenaline from racing downhill is pure joy. Together, skiing is one of my ways to reset, find creative inspiration, and commune with nature. For me, skiing is the perfect sport.
Founder Charles Dimler and GM of Winter Sports Matt Stubenz, along with the team at Checkerspot, creator of the WNDR Alpine skis, are taking the sport to the next level. They are building a superior ski using materials and processes that are far better and more sustainable. The high-quality equipment creates an incredible skiing experience – but the science behind the product – and the unexpected material ingredient – makes for a fascinating podcast.
Everyday we buy and discard countless items, many made of plastic, which is derived from fossil fuel. Americans are becoming more conscious of the impact of these materials on the environment. Fossil fuel, oil, and petroleum contribute to greenhouse gas emissions– but they also power our cars and our communities.
Fossil fuel is the building-block material in countless consumer products including packaging. In fact, the industrial sector uses oil as a component to create plastics, polyurethane, and other intermediate goods. These materials are eventually utilized in creating products as varied as furniture, kitchenware, and contact lenses. This industrial process accounted for 26.9% of all U.S. petroleum utilization in 2021.
Enter Checkerspot – the innovative biotech company inventing cleaner methods of making oil in a laboratory. This lab-made oil is being used in new plastic substitutes that are better for the planet. Among their ingredients – my personal favorite of next-generation materials – algae!
Checkerspot is partnering with and inspiring entrepreneurs to create additional sustainable products. Their innovations allow industrial firms to reduce their carbon footprint throughout the production process. Scope 3 emissions from complex supply chain networks are about 11.4 times greater than a firm’s direct carbon footprint. Checkerspot reduces these emissions by producing the oils in-house, which prevents the costly transportation process from drilling sites to production facilities.
Biotechnology leaders like Charles and Matt are laying the groundwork for a post-petroleum, cleaner future. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from our conversation:
Nature Can Inspire Good Business Practices and Increased Profits: I would advise any aspiring entrepreneur to experience the majesty of nature regularly. There is something magical about the mountains. Growing up in Colorado, I frequented nearby slopes and hiking trails. My time among the snow-covered pines always rejuvenated me and instilled a healthy understanding of the importance of protecting and conserving these wild spaces. Charles and Matt both shared similar memories about their love for the outdoors and winter sports. They channeled these two passions into their first-owned/incubated consumer product: WNDR Alpine. WNDR saw an opportunity to more fully support the unique nature-centric experience by transforming one of the only man-made aspects of outdoor sports: skis (and now snowboards). They substituted the traditional petroleum-based ingredients with natural compounds derived from algae, which was better for the environment and even increased the performance of the equipment by reducing its weight. And, this design decision was incredibly smart from a profit perspective as sustainable products are actually more appealing to many consumers. 63% of participants across 17 countries viewed climate change as “a very serious threat,” which is the greatest number since a study began keeping track in 1998. Hopefully, other sectors will take notice and create more sustainable products in response to consumer priorities.
An Entrepreneur’s Role in Developing a Framework for Sustainability: Most large consumer brands have carbon-neutral pledges. However, as these firms have large and complex legacy processes in place, it can be hard to justify the costs of a transition. Younger and more flexible companies have the unique opportunity of getting to create an entirely new system and can experiment to find new practices that work better. As a result, entrepreneurs can create a blueprint for how to sustainably evolve with the least amount of friction.
Checkerspot is one example of empowering an entire industry to make a sustainable pivot. This young company can more easily create an operational structure with performance, profitably, and sustainably in mind. One of the most interesting principles of the company is its commitment to transparency. Charles really believes that consumers have a right to know how the company is run – they include detailed reports on their website to give visitors an inside look at their operational strategy. As Charles maintained, systemic adoption of biotech and other sustainable innovations can only come from this sort of entrepreneurial collaboration. I hope that other creative thinkers follow Charles’ example and help each other build a better future.
Nature Tech is a Growing Sector and Investors Can Diversify Their Portfolio By Fighting Climate Change: Recently, the UN convened in Egypt at COP27 to discuss the latest technologies needed to help address the climate crisis. The event predicted that the total investment in nature tech would increase from around $2 billion currently, to $6 billion by the end of the decade. That is good news for biotechnology firms like Checkerspot, who will continue to grow rapidly and scale their operations but will need capital to do so. We have seen this trend gaining momentum as celebrities like Michael Strahan is entrusting their money and reputation to nature tech startups. Strahan created a skincare line in partnership with Evolved by Nature, a firm that converts natural silk into a petrochemical substitute. Their work developed a product that is better for the environment and improves skin protection by strengthening its barriers. This performance enhancement is sure to drive increased profits and build more trust around the entire sector. I would also argue that these developments are exciting for investors. Biotechnology is just the tip of the iceberg. Nature tech is diverse as firms that are developing software, information systems, drone technologies, and A.I. will all need plenty of investments to scale the solution. There is plenty of room for all of us to reap the rewards of such a growing sector!