Quark went to meet one of the co-founders of HOUBLY. The goal of Manon Baste and Auriane Lefebvre is to create innovative materials. Indeed, they have joined forces with a common environmental objective: to reduce our waste with biosourced materials from the circular economy. We are once again facing Made In France!
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Auriane Lefebvre, I'm 29 years old and with Manon we founded HOUBLY. But before that I had another life because I had a diploma in business school in strategy and marketing. Then, I worked for more than three years as a digital business transformation consultant.
Even though I learned a lot in this job, it was not something that suited me. It was very far from my fights and my personal commitments. And I wanted to work on topics that really motivate me and are crucial for the future of society with biobased materials.
Did there be a trigger for this life as an entrepreneur of biobased materials?
It came gradually. I started in my personal life, in my student studio, telling myself “my trash can takes up more space than anything else in my kitchen”. I realized that was not normal. So I asked myself what I could do to reduce the amount of waste.
Then I became interested in zero waste, starting with the bathroom. Then I did it for my kitchen. Then I started changing my diet.
I did things little by little. Then when I validated stages I always wanted to do more.
In my personal life, I am involved in an association that organizes events in favor of social and environmental transitions. I realized that I had to get into it, because I felt motivated by these subjects. In addition, my personal and associative commitment was no longer sufficient. So I wanted to join a company that matched my values. Or create one in my image.
Meeting Manon and biosourced materials
It was my meeting with Manon that changed everything. I was trained in these subjects (sustainable development, circular economy, eco-design). I looked at companies that could correspond to my values and that took into account environmental and societal issues. I was looking for what role I could have, what skills I could bring to them. Then during this research I came across Manon.
She had posted a little message saying that she had an idea for biobased materials and that she didn't know how to develop it. So she was looking for someone to potentially partner with.
We had the same thoughts, waste that comes from nature is not waste.
So it was obvious when she told me about her idea of reusing natural waste to create raw materials using biosourced materials. We each explained our points of view on the project, and we had a common long-term vision. In addition, we had the same major steps to reach this end. We get on well, we have the same vision of the project, we analyze the same problem and the same observation. So the collaboration should work well. So, we collaborated from January to August. We matched even though we were different. This allows you to complement yourself on a lot of things. So in September we created the company.
How far along are you with your biosourced materials projects?
Our project has evolved a lot since we started. At the very beginning, the project was to use the waste from beer brewed in festivals. This was used to make compostable furniture with a very short lifespan. So we thought about this idea, we thought it took energy. Even if they are natural, low-tech but short term. So it was not a good solution for long-term recovery. So we thought about the whole project.
Our goal when we started working together was to make biobased materials from this biowaste. We use the intrinsic qualities of this waste, but also their visual rendering. We wanted low-tech, natural, biosourced and visually interesting materials. This is an innovation still in progress. Because in reality it could have been very simple by mixing our bio-waste with wood glue or something else. It works. But the environmental approach is not advanced enough. We want to go further and to the end. We do not want to take this simple solution. So we invested in R&D. We thought about how we could replace this glue. Especially since from the beginning we have been thinking about the end of life of the product. The first observation was the number of waste that has no other life after arriving at the recycling center. They are either buried or incinerated. And we didn't want to contribute to that. That's why it's taking time and why it's still ongoing.
On the other hand, we did our best in terms of R&D, so we surround ourselves with experts in biochemistry, agromaterials... We teamed up with a laboratory to do the research and we recruited our first intern. It took away a lot of day-to-day responsibilities. In view of the time that the research will take, and the motivation that we had, we said to ourselves that we should not waste this time that we were delegating. So we looked for what we could invest in. So we wondered if there weren't other hypotheses we could test in our basement. Since we don't have machines, the research was very low-tech and artisanal. But today we have developed a process of biosourced materials that seems to work well. Currently we are doing fire tests, for example. We take the product, a torch and we see if it burns. Because yes, you have to start somewhere.
It is important to have an idea of the characteristics of our biobased materials before starting to market them and in order to answer customer questions. Because we know very well what questions people will have when they see this product: is it resistant to humidity, to fire? All this is starting to come to an end and we will be able to start marketing small objects sourced from bio-waste, very artisanal and low-tech.
What are your functions in the company?
We created an SAS so we had to have a president and a general manager. So these are the roles we have in the statutes. In reality, Manon has a designer degree and is trained in eco-design. I have a degree in marketing strategy. So we divided the tasks. Manon takes care of everything related to production. I am more in charge of development and marketing.
Globally we touch on everything. But we each have our areas of appetite resulting from our experiences and our studies. It would be a waste of time to be two all the time, so we still divide the tasks by staying informed on both sides.
Your typical day?
I usually start very early and finish very late! But I always start with emails, I get news from our partners and our intern. I also keep informed all the people who (for more than a year) support us. It can become prospects, so it's important to take their feedback and comments. You have to be sure to go in the right direction.
Then we make a lot of effort to make ourselves known, to ensure that gain legitimacy. We would like Houbly to be credible and legitimate in these environmental issues with our biosourced materials.
Then, like any young business creator, there are a lot of tests and production experiments. It's a fun side for me. Then there is the essential side on the reflection of the economic model, strategy, product development, sales, marketing and communication. This all changes regularly.
New materials business plan
Suddenly, there is the construction of this famous business plan. It takes a long time in the life of any young entrepreneur. Not only is it important for us to know which way to go. But also because at some point we will have to seek funds. Because until now we are self-financed. But when we have our concept and we really have to get started, we will need a bank loan or other necessary subsidies and aid. We would also very much like to work with ADEME. It animates us on a daily basis with Manon. Not to mention the part of our days when we pay attention to everything that is happening around us. Because today we are an innovative company, we must be on the lookout for all the advances. Let's not forget that our dream product according to our specifications does not yet exist. So you have to constantly check that you are not heading towards a false good idea.
What makes you dream about these innovative materials?
A world that turns round. As in circular economy. Let us say to ourselves that we see things in a much broader, global way. Let us take our entire ecosystem into account and think about becoming as green as possible. Everyone has to work together: communities, legal entities or individuals.
We all need to think about our impact and think about making a transition.
Do you have any favorite Instagram accounts?
It started with a student association, which wanted to create a movement when it saw that environmental issues were not properly taken into account. They therefore wanted to train on this, educate others and do quality work (sometimes much better than some professionals). This association raises awareness and informs a lot. Still today thanks to them I learn things. We can only congratulate them, since they were displayed in the Paris metro recently. This is an ultimate consecration because it is a recognition of their work. On top of that, they made it their mission to dump all the companies that were doing greenwashing. They do it very smartly with polite, framed formulas and lots of evidence. It also allows you to question yourself. Put things into perspective. They explain why we must go further. They give us all the keys so that we can think for ourselves on different subjects.
He is a person who puts forward different materials. They can be new, innovative or original. Some have only just hit the market. These are beautiful photos. These are beautiful highlights of certain materials. It shows that things are moving a little. But is it because it's our field and we're in our bubble that we feel like things are moving? Maybe. But in any case, I appreciate the aesthetics of his Instagram account.
What values do you want to share with your company?
We chose three values with Manon. It was hard to pick just three. In any case, the ones that Houbly wears are:
- Innovation: because we want to be creative by going as far as innovation. Never rest on your laurels. We all have to work to achieve the expected end result. Moreover, innovation is for us a way of responding to a problem in a virtuous way.
- The community: We must not work alone in our corner, we will go further together. It may take longer, but I'm sure we'll get there.
- Benevolence: sometimes we are aware of our mistakes. But don't waste your time throwing stones at someone. We have to help each other because we all have our limits and our constraints. We have to pull ourselves up.
These three values are essential for a successful long-term ecological transition. These are the ones that correspond to us personally, and we are happy that Houbly wears them too.
What are the stages of ecodesign?
To put it simply, ecodesign means thinking about each stage in the life of a product. How to reduce your environmental impact. It starts with the product, but today we go much further than that. It is a reflection that is not frozen in time. It will move according to our knowledge. It is very important to have this idea from the ideation phase.
In 5 years, where do you see Houbly?
We often think about it with Manon. Houbly would like to have found relevant recovery solutions with at least three types of bio-waste. The objective is one of three solutions:
- Open our factory;
- Take one back;
- Open a co-factory;
We would very much like to be responsible for our own production site. Manon and I have lots of ideas on what we could put in place in our factory to reduce our environmental impact. Then we also gave ourselves a positive social purpose. The method has not yet been defined. But we would like to create quality jobs.
Does the wasterial speak to you?
The wasterial is the material created by a company based in Lille named EtNISI. They use waste from deconstruction in the construction industry. This is great because it is the sector that generates the most waste. There is a work on the material which is very interesting.
On the other hand, we are different because we really have the objective of sticking to bio-based products and thinking about the end of life of our products. So it's not the same project as EtNISI but it's one of the actors we admire a lot. Today what they do is impactful.