Today, Rubi Laboratories – the pioneer in carbon-negative cellulosic textiles – announces it has raised $4.5m in seed funding. The round was led by Talis Capital and Necessary Ventures, with participation from Climactic, Collaborative Fund, Plug and Play, Incite Ventures, Darco Capital, Cayuse Partners, Axial VC, Climate Capital Collective, and CapitalX. A number of industry leaders joined as angels, including James Reinhart, CEO and founder of thredUP;  Manny Mashouf, CEO and founder of Bebe Stores; Nicolaj Reffstrup, founder of GANNI; Alexander Lorestanti, CEO and co-founder of Geltor; and Rei Wang, co-founder of The Grand and former CEO of Dorm Room Fund. The round also includes a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.  The funding will enable Rubi’s R&D and commercialization to meet the textile needs of major fashion brands.

Founded in 2020 by Neeka and Leila Mashouf, Rubi Laboratories is pioneering the creation of carbon negative cellulosic textiles through its patent-pending, cell-free biocatalytic process, starting with viscose. To do this, Rubi captures CO2 from the waste streams of manufacturing facilities using its proprietary enzyme system which can capture and convert CO2 from a gas input at any concentration. The CO2 is then converted into cellulose, which can then be used to create viscose-based yarn. By utilizing enzymes as the catalyst, Rubi is able to turn 100% of CO2 inputted to the end product with zero waste.

Rubi is providing a carbon negative, zero-water and zero-land alternative to the $15bn viscose industry, which typically relies on pulp derived from wood. Roughly 35% of major fashion brands’ SKUs are made from viscose, a statistic forecasted to grow 8% every year until 2025. Viscose is the third most used textile in the world, with key uses outside of fashion in the automotive industry for items like tyres. While Rubi will initially focus on the fashion market, the company’s longer-term plans include applying the same technology to other industries such as food, packaging and building materials.

The company has raised funding at a critical moment in time for the fashion industry as major brands set ambitious targets to zero carbon, or carbon reduction goals, by 2030. Overall, the fashion industry is the third-most CO2-polluting supply chain in the world, with the majority of emissions coming from the textile supply chain. Even though today’s viscose and cotton textiles come from plants, their processing and manufacturing contribute over 10kg of CO2 per kg of textile. Rubi’s technology enables its textiles to be net carbon-negative per kg of textile. There’s immense market pressure on fashion companies to become more sustainable: at least 60% of fashion customers are demanding sustainable choices, meaning that the industry could see a $52bn profit reduction by 2030 if no action is taken. The most prevalent issue for these brands is sourcing carbon-free materials that can be scaled to meet production, and at price parity: 200 major fashion retailers are already paying a premium for organic cotton. 

The founders’ vision for innovating a zero-carbon fashion industry formed in their unique experience in both technology and fashion. CEO Neeka published her first paper in artificial photosynthesis at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab when she was 15 years old, earned simultaneous degrees in Materials Engineering and Business at UC Berkeley, and then went on to manage product at both Lyft and Autodesk before founding Rubi. CTO Leila’s background is in biological engineering and novel cancer immunotherapeutics research, working on nanobiopolymer drug delivery platforms, oncolytic viruses, artificial antigen presenting cell therapies, and engineered protein conjugates since age 15, though most recently as a graduate research fellow at Stanford University Department of Neurosurgery and Bioengineering. She received her B.S. in Computational Neuroscience from the Johns Hopkins University with an in-progress Medical Doctorate from Harvard Medical School. The sisters also bring a lifetime of fashion retail exposure as a result of growing up in the space with their family business Bebe Stores, founded by their uncle Manny Mashouf, which went on to become a multi-billion dollar fashion empire.

Rubi’s first textile samples are expected to be available in March 2022. Rubi has validated its technology by creating a successful prototype and has currently agreed test plans with numerous tier-one global retail and fashion brands. Rubi is also in discussions with various multinational energy and manufacturing companies to provide CO2 to scale up production.

Neeka Mashouf, CEO and Co-Founder of Rubi Laboratories, said: “We’re at a pivotal moment in time where mature modern technologies and advances in biotech can meet to build a world where human prosperity and economic growth are planet-positive. With increased consumer and government pressure to solve fashion’s reliance on carbon-heavy textiles, innovation in textiles can have a dramatic impact on reducing fashion’s carbon emissions. In turn, we’re seeing brands demonstrating a willingness to pay a premium for these materials – as long as there’s a tangible line of sight to reach price parity with traditional materials eventually – both because they know it will drive costs down in the longer term, but also because it supports them in terms of achieving their sustainability goals. We’re excited to partner with Talis, Necessary Ventures and influential funds and angels in this space to bring Rubi’s vision to commercialization!”

Cecilia Manduca, Associate at Talis Capital, said:  “As opposed to the great venture stories of the last decade, we believe that the next trillion-dollar companies in this space won’t be creating new markets like Airbnb and Uber did, but instead will replace  existing trillion-dollar markets with better, cheaper and cleaner sustainable alternatives. We strongly believe that Neeka and Leila’s unique combined experience in scientific academia, product and retail will enable Rubi to become a winner in this space. We’re looking forward to seeing how this capital can supercharge the next phase of their journey and we’re delighted to be a part of it!”

Neil Devani, Managing Director at Necessary Ventures, said: “Neeka and Leila are building something the world truly needs. More sustainable, affordable, and logistically flexible supply chains are top of mind across many industries. This is something we’ve experienced with Solugen in the chemicals industry. With Rubi and textiles, there’s also a palpable response from consumers taking up the climate fight, which is driving excitement in the fashion and apparel industry. Even the videos the team has put out on TikTok are generating strong engagement in just a couple weeks of testing. They’ve already begun attracting great talent and inbound interest, and I’m proud to be supporting them on this important mission.”

Matthew Claxton, Global Director of Sustainability at Plug and Play Tech Center, said: “Plug and Play is very excited to be part of Rubi Laboratories’ journey. Their ability to target two large markets and important environmental challenges is something that we are proud to support. Neeka and Leila are knowledgeable and motivated: we truly believe their innovative company will bring a fresh and revolutionary product to many industries searching to achieve their carbon commitments.”