The story of BUCHA BIO, a Houston-based company that creates innovative, sustainable biomaterials that can be used to design anything from apparel to automotive interiors, began in a shallow pool filled with an uninviting microbial cocktail under a bed in an apartment just west of Temple’s Main Campus in 2019.
That bed belonged to the roommate of BUCHA BIO’s CEO and founder, Zimri T. Hinshaw, CLA ’20. “It was a very small room,” Hinshaw acknowledged apologetically, “and it was very smelly.”
Hinshaw was using the space to brew kombucha, a fermented beverage made from tea, bacteria, yeast and sugar. But he wasn’t making kombucha to drink it.
Inspired by a YouTube video about kombucha-making, his interest in fashion and a fascination with the leather jackets worn by motorcycle gangs in Japan (where he had lived as a high school student), Hinshaw had come up with the idea for a business.
A validating harvest
Hinshaw was cultivating the kombucha’s “scoby,” the thick, rubbery cellulose mat that forms on top of the liquid as it ferments. He believed that kombucha scoby could be made into a leather-like biomaterial with a wide range of design applications, but without the environmental and ethical costs of the cattle farming and tanning required to produce leather.
After many weeks of experimenting with scoby production, conducting market research in Charles Library with business librarian Adam Shambaugh, brainstorming with administrators at Temple’s Blackstone Launchpad and refining his pitch to potential investors, Hinshaw’s biomaterials concept won the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute’s 2019 Innovative Idea Competition.
The win earned him $2,500 of seed money. Far more valuable than the cash was the outside validation for his idea, which he soon leveraged into enough additional investment to launch the company that BUCHA BIO is today.
Hinshaw’s Temple journey unfolded exactly as he had hoped it would when he made the decision to transfer from Temple University’s Japan campus, where he had begun his studies.
“I wanted to access the resources and opportunities for entrepreneurship that would be available to me at Main Campus,” Hinshaw said. “I knew I could jump-start something there.”
One of those resources: his fellow students. As his BUCHA BIO concept took shape, he brought in undergraduates from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture, the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Science and Technology, the College of Engineering, and the Fox School of Business as collaborators.
“Our early teams were made of students from different departments collaborating across different industries and spaces,” Hinshaw said. “Temple is such a great, low-risk environment for entrepreneurs to learn how to build and lead teams.”
BUCHA BIO doesn’t make anything from kombucha anymore. Now, they produce proprietary biomaterials from other sources of bacterial nanocellulose, including a leather-like material called shorai that’s available in a broad spectrum of colors using algae and fruit-based dyes, and a partially translucent material called hikari with an aesthetic almost like stained glass.
And they’re not done creating innovative products to inspire a new wave of sustainable design. Coming soon, Hinshaw says: biomaterials that can be used for injection-molded components such as a vehicle’s dashboard or door panels, and biofibers to replace nylon and other plastics.
“We’re not activists,” Hinshaw said, “but we’re pretty close. We believe in driving change.”