Woodoo—a French biomaterials startup transforming low-grade wood into high-performance, low-environmental impact materials that can replace everything from glass and steel to leather and concrete—has raised $31 million in a round led by Lowercarbon Capital with participation from Purple and One Creation.
While Woodoo has been around since 2017, this is the first time it has taken outside capital, said founder and CEO Timothée Boitouzet, a materials scientist and architect who has thus far relied on his own cash, a string of grants and awards, and financing directly from clients.
The new funding is a mix of equity and non-dilutive capital in the form of grants and venture debt.
Asked how challenging it has been to raise money in the current environment, Boitouzet told AFN: “It’s not for VCs to figure out if your technology is viable and if there is a market. We have already demonstrated both of those elements, and we’re using VC money to accelerate our business, so we didn’t have trouble raising money.
“We have signed contracts in the luxury goods sector with LVMH; we are working on interiors for car brands with the Volkswagen Group; and we’ve just signed a strategic deal with Garnica, a European leader in wood for construction, so it can offer more sustainable and high-performance wood-based materials.”
He added: “We have gathered hundreds of millions of dollars in the customer pipeline, and now we have raised this money whereby we can execute. Having these deals in place de-risks the business and provides proof points to skeptical investors. The equity round was over-subscribed, and we then used the equity raised to leverage additional cash in non-dilutive forms.”
Pliable, rot-proof, ultra-strong, translucent… wood?
So how does Woodoo’s technology work?
In a nutshell, using a proprietary soaking process, Woodoo selectively removes most of the lignin from fast-growing, low-grade or even diseased wood (Beech, Birch, Aspen, Pine) leaving behind a scaffold of cellulose and hemicellulose. It then fills in the gaps with bio-based fillers, which could be from a range of sources including agricultural waste, depending on the application.
By tweaking the patented process above, Wood can transform wood from an attractive, but not hugely versatile material, to a rot-proof, ultra-strong, but light-weight material that retains the beauty of the natural wood but has a far wider range of applications.
For a translucent wood product, for example, Woodoo needs low-viscosity fillers that match the optical index of cellulose “so that the optical environment is homogeneous.” This allows light to go through the material without diffraction or refraction, explained Boitouzet, who said Wood now has 26 granted patents, with 24 pending.
He added: “We can transform any wood species, and they all have different characteristics in terms of porosity. We can also upgrade diseased wood, where forests have been impacted through drought or things like bark beetles, which are on the rise due to global warming and decimating forests.”
Slim, Flow, Solid: The product portfolio
Right now, he said, Woodoo products come in three forms, with which it is targeting three industries: luxury goods, automotive, and construction.
SLIM: Translucent (see-through) recyclable wood that can replace glass in applications such as touchscreen interactive displays on car dashboards or digital wooden displays.
FLOW: An animal-free replacement for leather.
SOLID: “Twice as strong as aluminum, and twice as light,” SOLID is targeting the construction market, and has a significantly lower carbon footprint than aluminum or steel, claims Woodoo. “SOLID is a sustainable alternative to concrete, a high-performance, amazingly lightweight and incredibly strong structural solution for the construction sector that makes it possible to build higher, faster, denser, and cheaper – all while emitting less carbon.”
So what are the primary purchase drivers for customers?
It’s a combination of superior performance, a lower environmental footprint, and aesthetics, said Boitouzet. Unlike composite wood made from aggregates of glued wood particles, Woodoo materials retain the beauty of wood, and showcase it in novel ways, he said.
“Often biobased materials don’t look good, whereas our products look cool.”