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Evolved By Nature: Developing sustainable, silk-based alternatives to the harmful chemicals found in everyday products

The investment: In 2022, Teachers’ Venture Growth led a US$120 million Series C funding round for Evolved By Nature, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company that is using its patented Activated Silk™ biotechnology to replace petrochemicals in a wide range of consumer products.

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about how many petrochemicals and other potentially harmful chemicals are present just in our own homes. But they’re ubiquitous—in our medicine cabinets, in those bottles on the side of the tub, even in our closets. Reducing their prevalence is the mission of Drs. Gregory Altman and Rebecca Lacouture—PhDs in biotechnology engineering and biomedical engineering, respectively—who’ve leveraged their extensive research into silk proteins to create sustainable ingredients that can replace harsh chemicals without sacrificing the performance they provide. In 2013, Altman and Lacouture founded a company—now called Evolved By Nature—devoted to advancing the health of people and the planet, currently through the science of silk.  

Evolved By Nature’s platform starts with a natural and renewable material—silk cocoons—and applies the sciences of biotechnology and chemical engineering to produce a pure concentrate of silk peptides in water. Its patented library of peptides, which the company calls Activated Silk™ biotechnology, has the potential to protect, repair, and enhance the barrier function of anything with a surface. Given the Activated Silk™ peptides’ biocompatibility with human skin, Altman and Lacouture initially focused their efforts on creating petrochemical- and toxicant-free skincare products. But they soon found that, as a potentially vast platform of novel peptides, the biotechnology contained an array of efficacies dependent on the unique peptide harvested or polypeptide solution created. They realized its potential uses went far beyond healthier skincare and could include barrier-boosting cosmeceuticals, performance coatings for textiles, applications in aesthetic and regenerative medicine, and more. 

Among its abilities, Evolved By Nature has demonstrated that Activated Silk™ can replace polyurethane and manufactured chemicals as a safer, biodegradable coating for natural leather apparel and upholstery. Like polyurethane, it can make leather goods water-resistant and colourfast, but unlike polyurethane, Activated Silk™ doesn’t interfere with leather’s natural ability to biodegrade in the environment. Using Activated Silk™ to return leather to its natural standing as a more sustainable material is just one example of the biotechnology’s potentially massive environmental impact. 

The leather use-case had already attracted investment from Chanel, and the luxury giant participated again in the Series C funding round that Teachers’ Venture Growth led in 2022, which raised an additional US$120 million to help Evolved By Nature expand. 

We invested in Evolved By Nature because it produces a novel product that is not only sustainable—it’s scalable at relatively low cost, and backed by strong intellectual property protection. The company is well positioned to benefit from the growing consumer appetite for safer health and beauty products, and the fashion industry’s efforts to become more sustainable.  

The Series C funds helped Evolved By Nature set up a commercial-scale production line in its home state of Massachusetts. The plant has the capacity to produce 150,000 kilograms a year of Activated Silk™, and plenty of space for expansion.

In 2022, Evolved By Nature partnered with NFL legend Michael Strahan on a skincare line using the novel Activated Silk™ 33B ingredient that was specifically created to enable skin to enhance its own barrier function. The ingredient has been clinically proven to maintain hydration and calm redness. The Michael Strahan-branded skincare line—manufactured by Evolved By Nature and available in thousands of U.S. drugstores—will serve as a proof point for the company’s technology. It’s also a step in Evolved By Nature’s ambition to serve as a key sustainable ingredients supplier to the vast personal-care market. The company already has the ability to replace more than 1 million metric tons of fossil-fuel dependent ingredients like petrolatum, silicones and acrylate-based plastics in personal-care products. 

At Ontario Teachers’, we are committed to creating a lasting, positive impact on the world. That includes investing in businesses, like Evolved By Nature, that rely on renewable materials or otherwise contribute to a more sustainable economy. You can read more about our strategy in our latest Annual Responsible Investing and Climate Strategy Report.

“At Evolved By Nature, we’re focused on creating a more sustainable future, which encompasses many interconnected issues in terms of human and environmental health. At a time when scientists believe that the world is crossing a planetary barrier in regards to the amount of toxic chemicals our shared ecosystems can contain, we’re hyper focused on creating real, market-ready solutions to create positive change at a very large scale. Having the support of Teacher’s Venture Growth is instrumental in our ability to do that.”

Gregory Altman PhD, CEO and Co-Founder
Evolved By Nature