Sustainable Science; What does the future look like?

insights from industryAli SafaviCEO and FounderGrenova

As part of our SLAS Europe 2022 coverage, we speak to Ali Safavi, CEO and Founder of Grenova about sustainable science, the impact life sciences research is having on our planet, and the solutions they offer for laboratories to help reduce their plastic waste. 

Please can you introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Grenova?

My name is Ali Safavi, and I am the founder and CEO of Grenova.

Grenova is a company focused on sustainability within science. What personally inspired you to want to start up a company focused on reducing laboratory waste?

The main inspiration was working in the lab and seeing the biohazard bin being filled with plastic disposables after one-time use and then being discarded. That happens every day across the whole industry, and it was something that I quickly recognized as not only being an unsustainable practice but also not being a smart practice.

It costs labs millions and millions of dollars. I thought: ‘There has to be a better solution’. That is when I started focusing on developing technologies that can wash and clean the plastic consumables for reuse purposes, just as glass and Teflon used to be back in the seventies and sixties. That is what inspired the development of Grenova. Even the name Grenova stands for ‘Green innovation’. The goal is to focus on and address solutions for all plastic consumables, but for now, we are starting with pipette tips.

Grenova at SLAS Europe 2022 - Ali Safavi

At Grenova, you have EARTH values that help to support your mission. Please can you tell us more about what these values represent?

Grenova is a green company, and we truly care about planet Earth. The acronym EARTH invokes a number of different core values:  E stands for the fact that we are an exciting team. We are a very passionate team, both about offering solutions to help the planet but also to help the industry.

The ‘A ‘stands for accountability. We stand behind our product, behind the solutions we offer, and we make sure the customers get complete satisfaction and full delivery.

The ‘R’ stands for the fact that we are a revolutionizing company. Something that nobody thought was possible in the past of being able to wash and reuse the consumables, and our work has managed to change that mindset. We offer solutions that are very revolutionizing to the industry.

The ‘T’ stands for team-oriented. When I say team-oriented, this is not just internally within our organization, but also we feel our customers are part of our team. We constantly collaborate with them to offer these solutions and enhance our products to meet their needs.

The ‘H’ stands for helpful. We strive to be helpful to our customers. We are very customer-centric. So, those are our core values – and what EARTH stands for.

At SLAS EU 2022, you are taking part in a panel discussion titled ‘Sustainability in the Lab’. What will people learn from listening to this talk, and why is it important to encourage open discussions surrounding sustainability within science?

The panel at SLAS on sustainability is one of the first ones that I have seen. The main focus and take away from that panel was letting the audience know that this change is good. It is okay to make the change for a better future. In this case, we are talking about more sustainability and reducing the plastic waste that the labs are producing on a daily basis. We believe that we succeeded because today, everyone is more open to washing, reusing, recycling, and crucially, are more educated on how to go about it.

We understand that some people may be afraid of making the change, but it is necessary for a better future. More panels like this are needed, featuring more industry experts from vendors, innovators, consultants, and even customers. These open discussions will help the industry evaluate where the gap is so that it can be filled in to remove the fear of the change. I was excited to see that we had that kind of very productive panel at this conference.

Sustainability and encouraging its adoption within science is a challenge that cannot be addressed by life sciences companies alone. What more should policymakers, governments, and international organizations be doing to encourage and educate more people to turn to sustainable solutions?

Policymakers and governments can play an important role in educating and encouraging people to turn to more sustainable solutions because the industry is beginning to improve. However, there should be incentives and more impetus for action than telling customers to simply ‘go and do it’.

Incentives from public bodies such as policymakers, the government, and other institutes can include tax credits and funding to eliminate the risk for the industry. This represents a leap forward to make changes for a better future but enables those making changes to be supported by the local governments and the policymakers.

It is a team effort to make the change and become green: rather than the effort of just one person or one industry or one job or one institute, it has to be a team effort. The government needs to back these green movements started in the life science industry.

Grenova Reduce Cost Reduce Waste

At Grenova, you currently offer a variety of sustainable solutions for laboratories, including your Tipnovus and Purus. Please tell us more about your products, how they work, and their applications within life sciences research?

Currently, our product line focuses on plastic consumables, primarily pipette tips. Pipette tips are often termed the ‘straws’ of this industry. They are a tool that every lab uses because they process samples. Within the last seven years, we focused on maturing and perfecting our solutions for the pipette tips.

Offering a complete solution means offering not just the device but also encompassing everything that goes along with washing and reusing pipette tips, such as specific carriers, the carts to carry the dirty tips to our systems, the cart that carries the clean tips back to the lab, and the storage unit that goes after the tips are being washed and cleaned, where they get stored.

This is what we mean by a full solution. This end-to-end solution is how the workflow needs to be, which is why it is part of the company solution that Grenova focuses on at all times. The way we design our systems means that they are very open platforms, even though it is all patented and advanced technology for cleaning and reusing. The platform’s openness gives flexibility to the customers, who can optimize the wash based on their needs.

Rather than being a one-turn-key solution that is either going to work or not, this is simply a combination of patented technology that gives the flexibility to this very powerful software of the user to be able to optimize and meet their demand.

This is how we have been able to succeed across the board in all industries: from clinical diagnostics to microbial diagnostics, to academia, to pharma, cell cultures, and agri-sciences. You name it; we have been able to succeed in that field and help the customers to wash and reuse these plastic consumables without any risk because it is an open platform that gives them the flexibility to dial-tune it for whatever application they need.

This focus remains on technology with the open platform and flexibility, as well as the big support team that operates behind it. Today, we feel like we have significantly developed the pipette tips, so we can focus on the other consumables that go hand in hand with the pipette tips: the microtiter plates, deep-well blocks, and plates. Every lab that uses pipette tips uses those.

Our new product line, Purus, uses the current technology from our TipNovus for washing tips but also incorporates new and enhanced technology to remove the contaminants from the wells of the plate. We are looking to expand from the plate to other consumables, such as cryo valves, test tubes, and so on. However, of course, it is important to take one step at a time. Microtiter plates and deep-well blocks are the next consumables that we are focusing on.

Despite some companies wanting to implement sustainable solutions into their research, laboratory benchtop space is often limited. To overcome this challenge, you also offer mini versions of your products. How important is it to provide products of varying sizes to your customers?

For us, this challenge goes back to the core value that I described for ‘T’:  the fact that our company is team-oriented. We actually see the customer as part of our team. It is important to listen to the answer too. If space is a limitation, we can offer a solution that is more compact to meet their needs.

That is how we have diversified our products for different throughput and different sizes to meet a different customer base. We have a platform of our products labeled as ‘mini’, which are more compact and targeted toward the smaller labs that also want to be green, save costs and mitigate supply chains, but do not have much room. We also have larger products, which have higher throughput and meet higher throughput labs.

We are also able to be creative with the other accessories and solutions we offer; for instance, our products are capable of being stacked on top of each other in a cart. We offer more systems and more solutions for sustainability.

It is important to listen to the customers and see what would they need in order to offer them a solution. That end-to-end solution is what we focus on. That is why we have a platform of standard products and minis and many accessories and solutions around it.

Many companies today believe that there is no point in making a product if no one wants it and no one is going to use it because it is just pointless. So, if you hear your customers’ needs and design an appropriate, effective solution, such as a miniature version, they can then say: “Well, I can stack this. I can move this around”.

If the customer is happy and succeeds and they are enjoying the benefits of the products, the company can advance and create more solutions for the customer. This is two-way communication. We have to offer a solution that customers, in the end, will use.

TIPNOVUS Mini Integration - (Automated Pipette Tip Washer)

By enabling companies to reuse their plastic consumables, they are not only helping to save the planet but are also improving their profitability margins. How is this, and what other benefits do your products have for laboratories?

When you wash and reuse something, you automatically save money and plastic. If you wash and reuse the pipette tip or any plastic consumables one time, you have 50% savings. Our products are capable of being washed more than ten times, with reuse capabilities for pipette tips and other consumables.

This results in an over 90% reduction in the OPEX – the operation expense the client has already planned for. If the client can have that 90% savings and they still run the same procedures and operate on a daily basis where you have 90% savings on your OPEX, and invest that money back into the company and its people, as well as advance the technology and the quality of your research or anything else you do, it is simply a no brainer.

Our focus is on green technology and reducing plastic waste, but we are also very fortunate because we are offering a significant 90% cost reduction on the consumable side, hand-in-hand with plastic waste reduction. The really valuable element appearing in the last two years has been the supply chain.

It is one thing to want it to be green, but the other priority is cost-saving. However, if the lab does not have the tools or the consumables to operate for one day, the cost to the lab is so high. There are notable cost savings on that, as well as mitigation of the supply chain. The supply chain is a significant element for clients to consider how much they can actually impact the carbon footprint by managing the supply chain internally within their organization.

Suppose clients do not have to rely on suppliers to ship the products to them. In that case, carbon emissions from trucks delivering items are greatly reduced, reducing the storage that clients would need under these conditions to maintain their inventory so they never run out.

Besides green ethics and cost-saving, a top client priority is being able to manage inventory internally in-house, and mitigate all the challenges of shipping, receiving, ordering, and relying on third parties to deliver the products that are needed for daily operation. These are just some of the extra benefits beyond the green and plastic waste reduction.

Currently, many life sciences companies are facing challenges concerning supply chain distribution. As well as the other many benefits your products provide, how can they help overcome supply chain problems?

The best thing is that inventory can be managed in-house, and clients can be independent of outside suppliers. Of course, it is not always a hundred percent, but at least they can minimize that dependency.

To me, sustainability goes hand in hand with circular practice, circular in economical practice, which means the client washes and reuses, stores within their own facility, and then products can be washed and reused over and over again. You never have to depend on suppliers. This is how we address the supply chain. You do not have to discard anything. You do not have to buy it again. All that is required is for you to manage your inventory and just clean and reuse it. Grenova’s main focus right now is to address the supply chain for our customers.

During COVID, we enabled over 50 labs in the US alone to stay in operation without running out of pipette tips for a COVID test. These were dependent on having pipette tips to run, so Grenova was the only solution that they had in order to stay in operation and be able to have a quick turnaround in terms of results for COVID tests.

That is one of the best examples of how we address the supply chains very effectively and very quickly without any compromise to the process. We enable companies to become self-sufficient in their own research.

Europe’s contributions to the life sciences sector have increased dramatically in recent years, with the UK alone having an annual turnover of over £56 billion. Grenova is currently looking to start expanding into Europe. Why is this, and what role do you believe Europe plays within the life sciences community?

Grenova was founded in the US, and as a market, that was our primary focus. We have been growing significantly in the US over the last couple of years. However, Harvard in Europe is our sister partner, which has always been working in close collaboration with the US companies.

It is a very large market. Today, as we are growing into the US market, our focus is on beginning to offer the solutions. This means that European customers can enjoy the same benefits that our American customers have seen in the last couple of years. The real question is: how do we go about that? The best way is to start creating teams that can support the customers directly within the European Union and the UK market.

We started placing our Grenova team members in the UK. Right now, we are looking to expand and put feet on the ground in the EU countries, creating entities and even more jobs by creating some sort of production or sub-assemblies in the European market, which helps to expand and grow Grenova’s European presence.

The European market is so important for us because many see Europe as the industry leader for green technology. Even though the US has adopted our product first, we believe that Europe is likely to be the base which going to drive this forward and push the industry to be more green. Right now, our focus on Europe is a top priority. We hope that you are going to be able to see a stronger Grenova presence across the EU and UK over the next 12 months.

TipNovus Package

Image Credit: Grenova

Grenova is also exhibiting at SLAS EU 2022. Why are conferences like SLAS so vital to companies in helping to foster collaboration and innovation? What does innovation mean to Grenova?

A conference like SLAS is the key to further enhancing collaboration. Under one roof, we have innovators, engineers, scientists, businessmen, and policymakers. This creates a network in which we can discuss the best plan and ask: “What’s the next move? What is the best thing for the future of the industry?”.

At a conference like this, everyone is brought together, even if they do not know anything about each other, they can get to know one another. This is where crucial new ideas start coming out; new partnerships come out, and new opportunities start forming. A conference like this is critical because that is where innovation happens. It may not happen right after the conference, but we believe that it always plants a seed, and, further down the road, those collaborations start forming into new opportunities.

For Grenova, innovation is vital: we are a very unique company. We always examine the norm and ask ourselves: “How can we improve that?”.

If everybody in the industry thinks: “This project is not possible,” it’s always our mission to respond by saying: “Well, we’ve got to try it. We have to change that mindset.” Our focus is on green technology. Anything that we innovate that offers a circular practice within the industry can therefore be innovative. Using single-use items is far below the ideal. If we can introduce a circular practice, economy, or operation within a lab, that, for us, marks innovation. If we can do that, we have done our job.

Generally, people do not like change. Something I always say is that change is how we, as a society, evolve and advance. We have to accept the change, or at least be open to it. Something I pointed out during a panel was the fact that it is okay if something is not perfect, but it is an improvement: we still need the industry to support progress because that will get us to the next step along the road.

Are you hopeful that all laboratories will be 100% sustainable and waste-free one day? What obstacles need to first be overcome before this can become a reality?

Yes, I am hopeful. I have seen significant changes in terms of what Grenova has gone through over the past seven years. For instance, when the product was introduced at the beginning, our client base would look at it and say: “This will never ever be implemented in my lab.” Now,  those same clients are rolling out our products into their operation.

We can see how much plastic waste is being reduced and that labs have made significant savings. I am very hopeful that this is just the start of something new.

Over the next ten years, we are going to be looking at technologies that mean that customers do not have to move away from plastic consumables, but the plastic consumables will be recyclable: The label ‘disposable’ will be removed from the plastic, and it will be treated just like in glass and Teflon.

Simply put, we do not have to remove plastic. We do not have to get rid of plastic. Plastic is the best invention, but it is imperative that we learn to value it more and wash and reuse it.

The obstacles that need to be overcome arise primarily from our culture. Accepting a change and understanding what has worked in the past has been great, but there is always a better way to do it. That mindset change could come in within an organization, could be initiated by external influence, or sometimes created by the next generation.

The biggest obstacle is changing that culture.

The worst thing that we as a whole in the industry could do is the status quo. Doing nothing is the worst possible option. We are filling up the landfills, running into supply chains, and operation costs are becoming higher and higher. This cannot be sustainable, so we believe that we have to do something different, and everyone needs to be open and participate.

Sustainable Future

Image Credit: Miha Creative/Shutterstock.com

What’s next for Grenova? Are you involved in any exciting upcoming projects?

There are a lot of exciting projects coming up for Grenova. Grenova has now grown roots and become very stable as a company, allowing us to focus on more green technologies for the labs. As I mentioned, plates and microtiter plates, along with deep-well blocks, are the new products that we are focusing on, but we are also now looking to expand our product line into other plastic consumables, cryo valves, test tubes, among many other things.  

It does not matter what shape the plastic is or what material they are - our technology is leading toward being able to clean them one by one and subsequently eliminate the full plastic waste. In addition, Grenova is looking forward to being able to grow our market base and our customer base to other continents, such as Europe, the UK, South Pacific Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Our reach is expanding far beyond how the industry is currently operating. We are focusing on the next generation of laboratories. For instance, something that we see in the future will be those 1536 small plates, but the industry has not fully adapted yet. We are investing to be proactive and offer the solutions for laboratories that are not as actively present in the market right now, but they will be ten years from now. To put it another way, we just always want to try to be ahead of the curve.

About Ali Safavi

Ali Safavi, founder, President and CEO of Grenova, is on a mission to enable laboratories around the world to become sustainable and waste-free. Ali founded Grenova, which is short for Green Innovation, shortly after graduating from college using firsthand experience he gained working in the lab industry. Today, his award-winning company has created the only technology solution in the industry that enables life sciences and healthcare laboratories to reduce their plastic consumables cost and biohazard waste by over 90%.Ali Safavi

As a result of his work, Grenova has eliminated over 900M pipette tips, equivalent to over 2.6M lbs. of plastic that would have otherwise ended up in landfills as biohazard waste. In addition, Grenova has helped the industry save over $70M by washing and cleaning pipette tips. Grenova headquarter is currently located in the Greater Scott’s Edition in Richmond VA, 32,000 sf. With over 50 employees. Ali’s ultimate vision is to implement an automated cleaning technology device in every lab across the globe to safely clean and wash all of the used plastic consumables from each lab’s daily operation and return them back to the lab for reuse over and over again without any compromise on quality and performance.

For these efforts, Ali was named one of the Top Healthcare Innovators of 2019 in Healthcare Technology magazine, Top Innovator by Silicon Valley Magazine, and Top 10 Best Successful CEOs of 2020 by the Industry Era publication. Grenova was recognized in 2019 as an “Inno On Fire” company by American Inno, rvAwesome Awards finalist by Venture Forum, and the Technology Project of the Year award winner by Richmond Technology Council. Ali has also been a speaker at the TED Talk.

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