From flax fields to Jay Z's venture capital fund, this Kelowna company is starting a tsunami of change | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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From flax fields to Jay Z's venture capital fund, this Kelowna company is starting a tsunami of change

Pela, the Kelowna company behind the compostable cell phone case, is growing at a breakneck pace.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Pela
October 29, 2019 - 6:00 AM

Hungry and humble.

Those are two characteristics the higher-ups at Pela, the company behind Kelowna’s industry-changing compostable phone case, look for in a prospective hire.

They’ve been cultivating a team who, like the company itself, is “hungry to change the world and humble enough to know they don’t need to be the hero of the story,” Kate Wilson, marketing director at Pela said recently while in the company office on the top floor of the Innovation Centre.

So far it's been a winning formula.

As the company has grown its employee roster from nine last year to 33 today, they’ve gone from a small business with an eco bent to a juggernaut disrupter in an otherwise wasteful industry.

To get a grasp on how far they've come, look no further than a measure offered in Canadian Business Magazine, which last month ranked Canada’s fastest-growing companies.

For growing by 3,609 per cent in a year, the Kelowna based company was ranked 20th across the country.

It currently sells about 1,000 to 1,500 phone cases a day and that number is bound to grow even more. In part, because they recently signed a contract to make the product available in Target and because of the $5 million investment from Venture Capital firm Marcy Venture Partners, co-founded by Jay-Z, Jay Brown and Larry Marcus.

“It’s confirmation we’re doing something right,” Wilson said of the investment and the attention it's generated both in the media, abroad and the community, itself.

The latter one is really the newest change. For most of the last year, people in Kelowna didn’t know about Pela, Wilson explained. Since the Jay Z news broke people tuned in, and they’re asking questions about what the company offers and shocked something that's turned the heads of celebrities has made a home in their own neighbourhood.

The material for Pela cases was founded in Saskatchewan nearly a decade ago by Jeremy Lang, who wanted to create something that wouldn’t add to the mass of plastic waste clogging up the ocean.

After research and trial and error, Lang created a material called Flaxstic, which is a blend of plant-based biopolymer mixed with flax shive, an annually renewable waste by-product of the flax oilseed harvest in Canada.

Its components completely break down into carbon, water and organic biomass so when you’re done with your case, you can put it into the compost and it will disappear.

Pela moved to Kelowna a year ago when management took a liking to the lifestyle and culture offered in the Okanagan and business has expanded since. The phone cases gained massive buy-in, and other products were developed made of environmentally friendlier materials, like sunglasses. There’s something new on the horizon that Wilson said is sure to “make waves.”

Regardless of the product, the aim is to use it as an entry point to start a conversation that will both educate and inspire consumers to make a positive impact on the planet. They've demonstrated that aim through everything from the $95,439.66 they've raised toward one per cent ‘For The Planet’ to cooking videos they offer on their channel.

It’s a concept that’s time has come both in terms of internal work culture and what consumers want, Wilson said.

“I think there’s a shift in what’s considered success. It used to be material wealth only, now success is not just wealth currency it’s also social currency,” she said. “Making sure that you’re impacting your social community or your environment is very, very important for everyone.”

To keep everyone engaged in that aim as the company grows will be the challenge ahead, though they have a recipe for success.

“The way everyone has been trying to do this business before, we’re doing it differently. We’re just breaking down any walls or barriers that existed before. So, if we find out that our product isn’t working, we have to change. If a partner is hesitant we have to resell ourselves — it’s fast.”

The company changes and adapts fast so consumers won't be blindsided and be able to maintain faith in the product and, in turn, make choices that are better for the planet.

Wilson said that she knows that in this day and age, people want to be conscientious, but it’s hard.

“I am not a zero waster, it’s intimidating to make a choice where you don’t know effects of the choice,” she said. “It’s noisy for us. We just want to make it as easy as possible.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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