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2020's Hottest Materials Topics & Best Tech Startups

Anthony Schiavo, Senior Analyst
March 28, 2021

Out of all the companies profiled in 2020, an impressive 41 were rated either a Positive or Strong Positive. Which topics and technologies bubbled to the top in 2020?

Lux Positively Rated Materials Startups in 2020

These ratings were based on primary interviews, summed up in a company profile compiled by the experts on the Materials Team. The circular economy – and recycling in particular – stood out as receiving the most positive ratings, but there was a fairly equitable spread across a wide range of technologies. Within recycling, companies that target high-value materials – like Vartega and Extracthive – made the list, while plastic recyclers were largely absent despite huge interest and profiles of notable players like Fuenix Ecogy and UBQ Materials. Beyond that, surface and coatings technologies also stood out, with the COVID-19 pandemic raising the profile of antimicrobial solutions from companies like NBD Nano and Envision SQ. While these categories were the largest, other top startups came from a diverse set of technologies, with representation from metamaterials, metal-organic frameworks, anticorrosion coatings, biomaterials, software, and more. It's interesting to note that even in a year dominated by two strong issues – sustainability and COVID-19 – the materials innovation landscape remains relatively diverse.

For every company we profile, we score the company on 10 categories on a scale from 1 to 5. Categories include the technology value proposition, IP, management, and momentum. Adding up the scores for each company gives us a single metric to quantify the strength of the company. Based on this metric, we highlight the top companies in the top materials topics in the market map below.

The Top Materials Startups with a Positive Rating From Lux in 2020

Lastly, we can look at some of the top early-stage companies by score to understand what it takes to rise to the top of our coverage. For this purpose, we sorted by that composite score but also filtered down to companies founded in the past five years (from 2016 onward). The top three companies by those constraints were as follows:

Kuprion:

Kuprion develops copper nanoparticles, which it produces in-house and then formulates into inks and pastes for five target applications: high-power die attach, 3D printing, interconnects in the bezels of mobile phone displays, electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding, and thermal vias for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). It claims these inks offer cost and performance advantages over incumbent silver and gold-tin – most crucially, lower processing temperatures and times at atmospheric pressures. While the company needs to validate its tech in the market, it is an attractive early-stage player for those looking to invest in electronic materials.


Sulapac:

Sulapac develops thermoplastic materials with wood particle additives for cosmetics, food, and other consumer packaging applications. The company claims its materials are industrially compostable but can still be manufactured with existing injection molding and extrusion equipment. Sulapac has strong momentum with partnerships, investors, and licensers; clients looking for alternatives to rigid consumer packaging should engage.


Herone:

Herone designs and produces carbon fiber thermoplastic reinforced composite (CFRTP) profiles from tapes using a proprietary braiding method and out-of-autoclave press forming. This process enables the high-throughput production of complex shapes with built-in functional components. Herone is targeting aerospace components, bicycles, and hydrogen storage applications. The combination of a higher degree of automated production with a low-cost form factor (tapes) makes this a promising player, especially for larger-volume components.

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These startups do a good job of capturing the key trends of 2020, with sustainability and COVID-19 dominating – but there's more to the year than that. To stay update on our research in the Accelerating Materials Program, be sure to subscribe to our materials newsletter. 

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